Last week Google did something strange--it called a surprise press conference to promote its future mapping tech. Maps aren't a particularly core Google product, you may think, but of course what Google was doing was pre-empting Apple's announcement this week of its all-singing, all-dancing iOS 6 mapping solution. It's a reminder that there are still quiet battles raging in the Great Tech War of 2012, with Google very much in combat mode.
Google this week signed an agreement that ends a protracted IP battle in France over Google's book-scanning project. As PaidContent notes, under the deal's terms over 600 French publishers and a writer's group will cease their lawsuits against Google because they get to retain control over which e-books are sold through Google's Books channel, and Google has to maintain a database so authors can monitor their copyright status. The deal comes simultaneously alongside a new French law that allows for royalty collection on e-books, and is seen as a hint at the way e-books may now explode across Europe--with its complex, layered IP laws.
Google's books effort is also a direct challenge to Amazon, of course. And there's a neat wrinkle in the new French law that actually suggests Amazon may be prevented from selling many e-books that Google is allowed to distribute, right at the same moment it seems Amazon's poised to roll out its Kindle Fire Android tablet to Europeans alongside its app store (a direct rival to Google's own Android efforts).
But Google's also said to be prepping its own Android tablet due by the end of June, in a very similar 7-inch format to the Fire--which made initial leaps in the tablet market, partly due to its Apple-defyingly low cost of just $199. Google's product is likely to seriously threaten Amazon's one, quite deliberately, because Amazon's buried Android so far beneath a UI that's designed to serve Amazon's interests alone that Google probably doesn't see any revenue or user data from the deal. Where Android is "crippled" on the Kindle, Google's product will be the full monty--apps, navigation and all ... and, of course, you'll be able to access Amazon's content on it too.
The Google tablet is also a swipe at Apple, which still maintains a commanding lead in the tablet market with the iPad. This is a situation Google would love to reverse because, if you look at the analogous smartphone market Google dominates numerically, but because revenue streams are spartan from Android products Apple steals the lion's share of revenue despite selling fewer devices. Hence Google's attempt to launch a smartly designed, premium-branded Nexus tablet with its most tablet-friendly edition of Android aboard for a very low price that may be $199, 50% the cost of an entry-level iPad 2.
Apple's slowly moving to edge Google out of its iOS services, and its digital assistant Siri--responsible for diverting search traffic away from Google--is getting seriously upgraded and coming to iPad too...making Google's Nexus tablet even more critical a product. The Nexus tablet will also probably come with Google's revamped mapping solution that also has an offline mode, something Apple's system lacks, which may make the Nexus tablet a more useful navigation assistant than the iPad in some circumstances (and definitely so for Android smartphones).
Meanwhile Google is quielty, relentlessly, tweaking and polishing and pushing Google Plus, its social network and its plan to rival Facebook's stranglehold over many aspects of this market. At the end of May Google abolished Places and instead added location-based information about local restaurants, stores and so on directly into Google Plus. Then it bought Meebo to promote its IM services and probably Google Plus too, buying the chatting and social sharing expertise the company displayed in its independent products. By slowly streamlining Plus and integrating it into pretty much every Google product, Google's trying to make it a de facto social web, one that's more sophisticated than Facebook's simple web-based social portal.
And then there's the overt, game-changing effort to rival Facebook. It's not necessarily Plus. As Forbes points out it may actually be Google's amazing wearable-computing Project Glass. Glass' augmented reality has plans to integrate sharing, chatting and photo-snapping right into its hardware and in-eye-view user interface--just as the early releases of photo and video suggest. In fact we don't know yet how far Glass's influence will spread. It could be a whole new front in the tech war to win consumer's spending dollars.