Google plans deeper push on home entertainment

Google is laying the groundwork for a deeper move into home entertainment that could see it launch its own hardware device, a move that would add a new twist to its intensifying competition with Apple.

Last month, the internet search company began a six-month test of a device that would hook into a home WiFi network while also linking to other gadgets in the home through Bluetooth connections, according to an outline of its plans.

While it has not disclosed further details, the outline hints at the development of a home entertainment hub with the ability to stream content between devices and suggests Google is seeking to grab a central position in digital home entertainment.

The company showed its hand in late December with an application to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to test a prototype of the device outside laboratory conditions. The application, reported by the GigaOm blog, is required for new equipment that might interfere with signals from other communications devices.

In another sign of its widening ambitions in hardware, Google confirmed this week it had hired the top product quality engineer from Apple, bringing it a leading expert in high-volume manufacturing of consumer devices.

Simon Prakash, a nine-year Apple veteran, had held the title of senior director of product integrity, though Google did not disclose what his new job would entail.

News of the device testing and senior hire comes as Google is close to a deeper push into hardware with its pending acquisition of Motorola Mobility. While it has said the acquisition was mainly to acquire Motorola’s extensive portfolio of patents, helping it to defend its Android mobile system against legal attacks from rivals, the deal will also put Google directly into the handset and TV set-top box business.

Until now, Google has worked with other hardware makers to further its ambitions in digital entertainment, for instance with the introduction last year of its Google TV software to bring its services to television sets. It also relies on other hardware makers to produce handsets running its Android operating system, though it has been closely involved with the development of the Nexus smartphones that carry its own brand.

The Motorola acquisition has raised the spectre of growing competition with some of Google’s own hardware partners, though it has promised to run the new business at arm’s length and not to favour it over other companies that rely on its software and services. It refused to comment on its plans for the home entertainment prototype.

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