Across the internet, many people and various tech sites were disappointed by the developer-focused conference Google holds every year, known as IO. Much of the major news out of IO was revealed on the first keynote two weeks ago, but we wanted the hubbub to die down first, so that our analysis and idea of what has changed is more clear. It’s easy to dismiss an event when we first hear or read about it. It is far more difficult, then, to still keep an objective viewpoint and understand what we’re shown. Nevertheless, our aim is to provide you this non-bias, no-nonsense perspective.
How Google’s core driving force has shifted
Let’s dive in from this angle: Every company has a motive, a force which drives its business.
- For Microsoft, this is very much driven by the enterprise, even though they are now trying to appeal to people. Their goal is that you run all of their products on everything the same way, whether it’s your cousin’s iPad or your friend’s Kindle tablet, and Windows will also work beautifully along with Androids and iPhones.
- For Apple, the motive is driven by hardware. They don’t have many web services, and no search engine, nor knowledge of the enterprise.
- For Amazon, it’s products. How can they put their catalog in front of your face?
- Finally, for Google, it’s search and quick, instant information location. How can they do this without your privacy being violated?
Shifting from Phone to…
One reason people felt disappointment in this year’s IO conference was due to a lack of announced hardware. No new Nexus tablets, no weird routers, no streaming devices. Android N, while somewhat major, only seems to re-design the notification shade and allow you to reply to texts from there.
Yet those who see the outcomes of this conference so bleak are ignoring important details. Android N also came with a new Android Wear release, along with an Android VR platform. It re-designed some of Android Wear’s UI, adding a keyboard, 3-d or force touch support… Wait a moment!
It’s clear that Google cares about Android Wear, and this is aimed to finally bring those devices in better competition with the Apple Watch. Complications, the ability to run apps natively on the watches from a store, and of course integration with search will make this an excellent choice for many. Expect there to even be some loyalty if the company can push the platform in the fall. Of course, let’s hope those watches will have built-in speakers now, as the screen reader is already here.
The connected home and devices
Earlier, I mentioned “weird routers”, which was the On-hub device Google announced last year. At the time, enthusiasts did not completely understand its purpose. It had components and processing power far beyond what a regular router would need, so it was speculated that the contraption would serve a future purpose in Google’s home efforts. This might be the year we can finally gasp for some fresh air as we see it fit more into the company’s ecosystem.
Amazon shifted Google’s company efforts
With Alexa, Amazon has established the Echo as a platform for finding out information, and on a more pertinent level, made quickly shopping for grapefruit juice simple. A person can now yell out anywhere they are, and if located in a Prime-now zone, could have that juice at their door in two hours, only by using their Echo.
Google always wanted “Google now” on your phone. It served as the backbone to their context-aware engine, allowing you to have convenient information at your fingertips. The rise of small internet devices is once again changing this. Alexa proved to us that people want something which they can easily expand (with new skills, new abilities), that always-on listening is OK so as long as it’s not being sent through the cloud and there’s no weird camera light creeping people out, and how important having an ecosystem is.
The problem with Amazon is that it lacks search, even if it has a product catalog. Google’s new Assistant can easily tap into a catalog of pizza stores, regular businesses, and products through search. Ultimately, this might prove to be more powerful, especially if the awareness is natural and pleasantly-present. Google referred to this as “ambient technology” — because it’s meant to be all around us.
Allo is a new platform to test the waters
The other confusion came with the seemingly contiguous cycle of another messaging platform. We have Hangouts (which is sticking around of course), Messenger, and Google’s other messaging app (which Hangouts was supposed to get rid of, you know.) Allo and it’s sister Duo will be audio/text and video apps respectively.
These are different from Hangouts, however. They take advantage of this new Google Assistant intelligence. This is seemingly a nod to Microsoft, who recently launched conversational agents in Skype — allowing you to order pizza just by talking to a bot. Google will take this one step further — it will offer you a good place to eat if you and your friends are talking about grabbing food soon. It will suggest auto-replies, even if it’s a picture — the AI will know what it is and suggest “cute dog!”
The idea is that we are, in fact, moving beyond our phones. In the future, technology will be organically present, but perhaps not in the creepy way we imagine it. The control of how much you allow this to help your life, and/or where you would like it present, is still yours. You might only want Google to hear you when you’re wearing your watch, not when you are lying in bed and asking questions out loud like a crazy tired person. Allo, if not successful, allows Google the chance to retreat should people consider it too creepy.
Google IO was big this year, if only because it gave us an idea of Google’s vision, or at least what the company has learned over the year. They made nods to all their major players, bringing technology in line to the connected future we’re building. While not announcing new hardware, every single platform was refreshed (including the age-old Google TV!) – We also had a glimpse into the new Assistant and smart-speaker home future. While hardware is nice, what will power the future of our world?