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Home Sweet Google: What if the ads-everywhere model didn't suck?

Michael Simon | May 29, 2014
Imagine this episode of The Jetsons: George has to work late, so he calls Jane on his video phone to tell her he won't be home in time for dinner. She shows him a picture of new earrings she wants for her birthday, and when he hangs up, an ad for a jewelry store pops up. After Mr. Spacely lets him go, he taps a few times on his screen and hops in his flying car, where a trailer for a new movie begins to play, asking if he'd like directions to the space drive-in. Once he gets home (and stops that crazy thing), the lights are on, the temperature is just right and the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle has already whipped up a perfect prime rib dinner.

So we can probably trust Google when it says there won't be ads on Nest's current model of thermostat — and there's a good chance there never will be. As our homes get smarter, those sleek high-tech dials will likely disappear completely, replaced by mini tablet-sized screens that control everything from temperature to timers, but any ad delivery system will need to walk the fine line between practical and aggravating, a threshold that will be much lower in our kitchens than it is on our phones.

Hands-free everywhere

A smart home platform from Google would be radically different than anything we've used on a mobile device. For one, we won't need nearly as many apps, and our searches will be much more specialized: When we're standing in front of our refrigerators or microwaves, for example, there's a good chance we'll be looking for recipes.

With advancements in voice recognition from the likes of Siri and Google Now, however, we probably won't be plugging away at virtual keyboards and scrolling through search results, which seriously cuts down on the viability of AdWords as an option. If we're going to be talking to our appliances, they're going to be talking back, and while Google hasn't really explored the concept of conversational ads, it might be a way to get our attention without flashing banners in our face. Think of it like Her's Samantha, if she happened to occasionally sell you stuff.

It might seem creepy at first, but it would be much less obtrusive and garish than banners or pop-ups that force us to interact with them. If we ask it to raise the temperature on our Nest thermostat on a cold day, it could casually suggest a Southwest flight to Turks and Caicos. Eventually, we would just tune out the ads that don't pertain to our lives, not unlike the ones automatically generated by our searches (though a degree of humanity would make us more inclined to at least say no). Similar to Pandora, it would learn what we like and dislike, and at times it could be downright useful: If we're making a romantic dinner, it could suggest some appropriate music, or if we're missing an ingredient, it could direct us to a store nearby that has it on sale.

No one wants to deal with ads, but as our lives continue to shift away from print and live television, advertisers will closely followed. Google's ads-everywhere strategy might seem like a bleak Orwellian vision of the future, but it doesn't have to be. With a reimagined effort that eliminates the intrusion and focuses on the experience, the ads on the devices in our homes could keep us more connected without driving us mad or cluttering our screens.

At least until you slip on your Google Glass, anyway.


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