Google has announced the imminent demise of a couple of its vertical initiatives. Google Health is being retired on the 1st January 2012 (with data available for download for a year after that) and Google PowerMeter is being switched off in September this year.
On the official Google Blog, the following comment summed it up:
"Both were based on the idea that with more and better information, people can make smarter choices, whether in regard to managing personal health and wellness, or saving money and conserving energy at home. While they didn't scale as we had hoped, we believe they did highlight the importance of access to information in areas where it’s traditionally been difficult."
The principle behind both was sound. To open up access to information and allow people to make more informed choices. The main problem (as identified above) seems to have been gaining scale. There just weren't enough people interested in these applications to justify continuing with in its current state. This is somewhat ironic since we at Machina Research expect that smart metering and healthcare will be a couple of the major drivers of M2M, accounting for 2 billion connections.
It's also interesting to contrast these free apps with the multi-billion dollar/euro/pound healthcare IT systems which inevitably don't work properly and run over budget. Or indeed to contrast with the billions that will be spent on smart meters. Admittedly both of these will offer additional functionality (for instance, it's tricky doing electricity network load balancing without a smart meter) but the lack of appetite for applications that do broadly the same thing is eye-opening. Admittedly I don't think Google did much of a job of advertising them, so some fault could be levelled at them. It seems however, that at least for these applications, unless someone forces the public to adopt something (e.g. through the EU mandate on smart meter deployments or large IT projects) nothing happens. Google had hoped it was otherwise.
Personally I think they were pushing at an open door with both applications and with a bit more promotion and a lot of patience I think they could well have taken off. It would have taken a few years though. With regard to PowerMeter, I'd anticipate that it will resurface at some time in the future, folded into the Android@Home development, as discussed in an earlier blogpost. Power usage is clearly one of the main parameters relevant to a home automation system, so its inclusion seems obvious.
In the title of this blogpost I've termed this over-the-top M2M. That's a bit of a tortuous expression and not 100% accurate but it is trying a non-facilities-based approach to solving some of the issues that M2M seeks to address. It's not a perfect analogy but I liked it.
Incidentally, Machina Research has reports out currently on M2M in both the healthcare and utilities industries (the latter being focused heavily on smart metering).