Google Cofounder Talks Video Store and More

by , 6:30 PM EST, January 7th, 2006

LAS VEGAS -- Google cofounder Larry Page delivered the final keynote address of CES Friday afternoon. Like the company itself, Mr. Page's keynote was markedly different from those of other executives at CES. The soft-spoken billionaire wore a Google lab coat and carried a packet of notes, as if he was making a presentation to a class, not unveiling new products and services from one of the most widely watched companies in the world (see our photo gallery from the event for more information).

Mr. Page, who created Google as a graduate student at Stanford, made no attempts to mask his academic and engineering roots; his keynote was virtually free from the marketing glitz that normally accompanies these events. He took the stage driven in by Stanley, the robotic Volkswagen Touraeg that recently won the DARPA Grand Challenge. Mr. Page praised the vehicle and the Stanford team that developed it for demonstrating what vision, talent, and technology are capable of creating today.

From there, he turned to a demonstration of Google Local developed for car dashboards. Think of it as your GPS on steroids, harnessing the power of Google Earth to not only provide directions, but also enable the driver to compare on screen what he should be seeing based on his location with what he is actually seeing. Mr. Page then demonstrated the new Google Local for mobile, a similar implementation of the technology available today for select mobile devices.

The world as Mr. Page sees it

In an unusual twist, Mr. Page proceeded to take a break from Google and to express to the audience his two biggest gripes about consumer electronics, both of which center around adopting open standards. The first is the lack of interoperability between devices. Why can't one person with a digital camera not directly share photos with another person in the room with a digital camera, Mr. Page asked. Similarly, why can't one's Bluetooth cell phone not be used to start a Bluetooth enabled car's engine? The examples were numerous and Mr. Page pleaded with device makers to get together and adopt open standards to make such inter-device communication possible.

Mr. Page then lampooned the multiple power adapters device makers force upon consumers, with each device generally requiring its own custom power adapter. There's no reason why a universal intelligent power adapter shouldn't be possible, one that automatically detects and provides a device with the power it needs courtesy of a standard power port that all devices would feature. Doing so, Mr. Page said, would also save device makers money, since they wouldn't need to manufacture different packages of their product for different regions of the world because of the power limitation. Once again, it comes down to adopting a single open standard, since the technology already exists for doing this.

Similarly, Mr. Page criticized the various instant messaging protocols, blaming the lack of interoperability between services as a result of instant messaging's corporate development roots, compared to the universal e-mail standard that was developed by universities and that any computer with any e-mail client can take advantage of. Google's response to the issue has been its Google Talk client, which yesterday gained full compatibility with AOL Instant Messenger.

Mr. Page then turned to the ever-increasing technological gap between developed countries and developing countries and the social responsibility companies and governments should feel for bridging this divide -- this was not your typical keynote presentation. Only 15 percent of the world is on the Internet and Mr. Page feels delivering Internet access and technology to poor parts of the world is an important component of increasing the advancement of developing countries. To that end, Google has thrown its support behind MIT's $100 laptop initiative and Mr. Page encouraged other companies to think and act similarly.

With his rants and desires for the future aside, the keynote's focus returned to Google, which earlier that day released Google Pack a collection of free applications for Windows bundled together for easy downloading and installation. Pack makes it easy for Windows systems to be brought up to speed both with malware protection and handy applications, including Google's own suite of products and others like Acrobat Reader and Mozilla Firefox.

While the highlight of the keynote for Google watchers and analysts was surely the forthcoming Google Video announcement, prior to launching into that Mr. Page told the audience that it has always been a dream of cofounder Sergey Brin to develop a Google implant that can read a person's thoughts. With that, he ushered in the "prototype" a shadowy figure wearing a colorful head contraption that turned out to be none other than comedian Robin Williams, who then launched into a five minute act about Google, the Internet, and technology that left the audience roaring.

Google Video Store

Following Mr. William's act, Mr. Page moved on to the day's biggest announcement: Google Video. Calling the original incarnation of the service "weird and innovative," Mr. Page introduced the new Google Video Store, which is also "weird and innovative." The service will allow anyone to sell their video online for a price of their choosing, the justification here being that producing video content is often quite costly and that enabling providers to recoup those costs -- from the college kids who put together an amusing short to the independent studios that lack a marketing budget -- is important.

Google also announced its own partnerships with a number of premium content providers, including CBS and the NBA, which will make all NBA games available for viewing 24 hours after they have aired. The premium content will cost US$1.99 per episode, identical to Apple's iTunes Music Store pricing. Premium content utilizes Google's own DRM scheme and thus requires the new Google Video Player, currently available only for Windows but coming soon for Mac. The store currently offers more than 3,000 videos, with more coming each day.

While Mac users can't as of yet tap into Google's premium content, non right-protected content can be viewed in a browser or downloaded in video iPod or Sony PlayStation Portable formats.

Broader View

Like Intel's Viiv strategy and its media partnerships announced the day earlier, the Google Video Store leaves open the question as to how much longer Apple will be able to snub other content providers in its quest to dominate digital delivery. Mr. Page mentioned that Google was open to offering different DRM schemes, presumably suggesting that iPod-friendly premium content using Apple's FairPlay DRM could be offered in the future if Apple obliges. To date, Apple has refused to license FairPlay to anyone.

Next week's Macworld Expo will surely offer a better glimpse at what the future holds for Apple and content delivery, but even with 70+ percent market share, Apple may end up finding itself in a difficult position if it decides to go up against the likes of Intel, Microsoft, and Google alone.