Ambient computing job postings have been surging at Google in recent months.

So, what is ambient computing and why is the company looking to staff up for it? Simply put, ambient computing allows people to integrate computers into their daily lives without even realizing it. In Google’s case, that means hardware that allows users to interact with its services no matter where they are. 

Google’s interest in the concept is not exactly new. Google first debuted its ambient computing hardware plan at its annual hardware event in 2019, describing the strategy as being everywhere in the background for its users.

Google Senior Vice President of Devices and Services Rick Osterloh said at the time: “The technology just fades into the background when you don’t need it.” From smartphones, to laptops, to home speakers, WiFi routers and even thermostats, “your devices work together with services and AI, so help is anywhere you want it, and it’s fluid.” That means “the devices aren’t the center of the system, you are,” Osterloh said.

Using job listing data from Thinknum Alternative Data, we found that Google has been ramping up its hiring for ambient computing jobs in recent months. On February 19, 2021, only two postings for open jobs at Google included the keywords “ambient computing,” while as of Thursday there were 13. Although still a small number in the context of Google’s over 100,000 workers, this surge makes for a 550% increase. 

The “great reshuffle” could also account for the uptick in open ambient computing jobs, but the jump may give us insight into what the tech giant is focusing on, especially as hiring is now bouncing back after slowing significantly early in the pandemic.

We know that Google’s hardware strategy is more than simply integrating its services with equipment manufacturers like Apple and Samsung. It’s possible that the company invests in its own competitive hardware because the devices on the market today are too constraining for the services it wants to offer. For example, Meta’s VR headset Oculus and Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa do not work as seamlessly with Google’s services as Google might want.

When Osterloh first described the hardware play, he envisioned users being able to use Google’s voice assistant feature to play music from anywhere be it at home, in the car or with friends, without having to touch a keyboard or screen. He described the technology as being “helpful” for the user, which is a step beyond Google’s original mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It’s no secret that a big part of Google’s overall strategy is to become fully integrated into users’ lives, though this brings with it privacy and antitrust risks. 

Rather than describing a new skill that job seekers need to have to get a foot in the door at Google, ambient computing seems to be a user-oriented term to describe the desired outcome of engineering hardware and synchronizing devices. It designates the integration of more interfaces and services where, from a user perspective, the device is already there and the user needs only speak to make it work. These listings, then, show us that Google is looking to continue to make a dent in the hardware space to maintain its advantage through device and data synergies. 

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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