There is both a lot happening at this year’s Google I/O and very little, depending where you look. Obviously, if you are a developer who builds Android and even web apps, you are a kid in a candy store. If you are looking for new hardware, there isn’t much that wasn’t out there already. Neither Google co-founder took the stage this year after successive years where Sergey Brin led the introduction of Google Glass (which is all but absent this year) and Larry Page led an epic Q&A last year.
This year, Sundar Pichai led the show which focused (mostly) on Android and Chrome.
A couple of big Android announcements stood out. Android is being actively used by 1 billion people, so anything that Google does here is big. Even more interesting to Google is growing its tablet market share even if much of that growth is in the low end.
Speaking of low end, Android One, a stock low-end $100-ish phone program for developing nations like Pichai’s birthplace of India seems like a dream come true for for the “next billion users.” Google has some local partners and looks to take this to Africa, Brazil and other parts of Asia.
Android 5.0 ‘L’ is a big step up from the 4.x builds in terms of design. The usability, notifications, and overall UI are all improved dramatically, but in a less jarring way than when iOS went from skeuomorphic 6 to flat 7. Google calls this, along with new layering APIs, “Material,” and will have a preview available tomorrow. The problem, as always, is that OEMs will be slow to adopt the new changes and upgrade existing handsets. Google hasn’t really addressed this problem for the 1st world like it has with the Android One program (jealous?).
Google only showed off Gmail and the dialer but obviously other apps will see significant upgrades in “L.” Mobile Chrome tabs will now be integrated with apps in the switcher, which is one of the themes of the day: Chrome is becoming more like Android and Android is becoming more like Chrome.
To that end, Google is allowing some Android apps to appear on Chrome desktops. Evernote and Flipboard were carefully shown but performance is clearly a problem. Don’t expect games to work this direction.
Speaking of performance problems, Google ran into a number of issues on the demos. I counted at least four significant blunders throughout the keynote which indicates to me that they were either trying too hard or not practicing enough. Probably a bit of both.
The main event was Android everyWEAR. Google explained its wrist, TV and auto strategies which were all tied to the phone and Google Now’s spoken interface in one way or another. Wear watches by LG, Motorola and Samsung were shown off with a simple UI that ties heavily into Android phones.
Google spend some time talking about its cloud offerings and took some shots at Amazon and Microsoft, touting flexible pricing based on usage and scalability.
Glass was conspicuously absent, as were YouTube and Google Plus. Ads, Fiber, Search, Maps and most of Google’s other divisions like X were also no-shows. In fact, if you weren’t under Sundar Pichai one way or another you probably weren’t going to have a presence at this year’s show.
Google preemptively threw him to Bloomberg for this week’s cover story. The question is: was this Pichai’s year or Pichai’s Google?
Oh and sadly there were no red blood cell nanobots. Not yet anyway. Maybe Google IO 2024.