Google may be selling over a googol devices nowadays, but that doesn’t mean it needs a store to show them off.
So says Android chief Andy Rubin, who argues that consumers just don’t need physical stores nowadays. “They don’t have to go in the store and feel [devices] anymore,” Rubin said during a roundtable on Tuesday, as reported by AllThingsD.
In Rubin’s eyes, consumers are already pretty well served by the power of the Internet, which they use to make smart buying decisions without physically seeing what they’re considering buying.
In many ways, Rubin’s attitude toward physical stores is a reflection of Google’s identity as an information company: Google is all about the data and the cloud, not brick-and-mortar. What good is holding a device in your hands when the collective hivemind of the Internet can tell you what you’ll like before you even touch it?
That may sound naive, and I don’t completely buy it myself, but it makes its own kind of sense, at least when you consider how Google thinks.
But something tells me that reality will eventually force Google’s hand. As we’ve seen with Apple’s stores, storefronts are more than just places to sell gadgets — they’re the primary physical faces for their companies. This is especially important now that hardware devices have become windows into their respective companies’ entire ecosystems.
Just consider Tim Cook’s recent comments on the Apple Store’s transition to something greater than just a store:
There’s no better place to discover, explore, and learn about our products than in retail. It’s the retail experience where you walk in and you instantly realize this store is not here for the purpose of selling. It’s here for the purpose of serving. I’m not even sure “store” is the right word anymore. They’ve taken on a role much broader than that. They are the face of Apple for almost all of our customers
For information-based companies like Google (and hell, even Amazon) stores are what bring their products into the physical world, where people need to touch devices before they buy them, and where buying is a part of the larger, more experiential process of shopping.
This is the reality of selling hardware. Rubin may deny the utility of storefronts, but there’s a reason why you can walk into a Best Buy right now and play around with a Chromebook. Hardware is physical, and we must touch it before we really understand it.