Amazon grabs a lot of attention when it comes to food tech. And rightly so, as the company bought Whole Foods, offers grocery delivery, is revolutionizing convenience stores, and so much more. But perhaps it should be its rival, Google, that we pay more attention to.
Google may not immediately spring to mind when you think of food, but the tech giant has been steadily adding features to its apps throughout the first half of this year. When you lay them out on the page, it becomes pretty apparent that Google has quietly becoming a food tech giant with a growing power that’s shaping where and how we eat.
Let’s take a look at the more recent food-related features Google has launched. So far in 2019, it has:
- Rolled out Duplex, it’s human sounding AI assistant that can make restaurant reservations.
- Partnered with Innit and Flex to enable new interfaces, cloud connectivity and smart kitchen software capabilities to appliances.
- Gotten its Wing Aviation subsidiary FAA approval to make public drone deliveries (think flying lattes).
- Launched CallJoy, a phone based system to provide outgoing basic information and data analytics for small businesses like restaurants.
- Added menu recognition to Google Lens, letting you point your camera at a physical menu to highlight popular dishes and see pictures of them.
- Integrated food delivery from third parties like DoorDash and Postmates directly into Google Search, Maps and Assistant.
- Added popular dishes from restaurants directly into Google Maps.
- Started showing discounts and promotional offers from restaurants directly in Google Maps in select areas in India.
This doesn’t even take into consideration the work Google researchers are doing with robotics in the kitchen!
In the age of the attention economy, it’s not that hard to understand why Google busily adding more food related features to its roster. Everyone, everywhere eats. If it can make that eating more “frictionless,” to borrow a Silicon valley phrase, then you are more likely to stay in Google’s ecosystem. The more you use Google, the more data they collect from you to make more apps that, in the company’s mind, will make eating out, or order in, better (and make Google more money).
A lot of these features are just natural extensions of tasks we are already doing. Google Assistant is an assistant, having an AI act like one to make reservations (even with its ethical complications) on your behalf is the logical evolution of that product. If you’re searching for a restaurant online then it’s a pretty good bet that you want to either eat there or get food delivered from there, so why not surface popular dishes and provide a delivery option.
Amazon may dominate our online shopping and most headlines, but a lot of what they are doing is vertically integrated: they own the grocery store, the online shopping all the way down to the delivery. (Though businesses like AWS certainly help food tech startups operate and it has recently invested in Deliveroo .)
Google is embedding itself further up the stack closer to our actual decision making. This gives it a much bigger and more direct influence over how we will eat. If you’re searching for the next big player in Food Tech, you don’t have to Google it.