Google I/O Themes

I spent the day listening to Google’s developer conference in the background, while trying to do real work in the foreground. So I can’t say that I caught all the details. But if I had been in the audience I can’t guarantee that I would have picked up that much more anyway.

What stood out for me through that semi-aware filter were two themes that seemed to be lurking under everything:

  • The web will conquer all
  • The coming of contextual awareness

Let’s look at those in reverse order.

Contextual awareness is the term that is being used to describe computing systems which take in all the information it can about you to better anticipate your needs. Another way we have heard it described is “anticipatory computing”. If you start typing into the Google search box you can watch it guess what you are searching for. Given the discussions today, that type of anticipatory computing is like 1G and Google already has its sites on 3G, 4G and 5G.

Google demo’ed a number of products today that had some element of this in them. From what we can tell, a large part of the Google+ social page draws heavily on these concepts. There were examples in Android, Maps and more.

This is a topic we have touched on in our discussion of location-based apps, and my guess is that it is probably a year or two away from being something that we see much more often. The basic technology is already in place, the struggle now will be building algorithms that can actually generate relevant data. That requires a huge data set to test, and Google seems to be in early stages of doing this.

The second unspoken theme was the ‘inevitability’ of web apps taking over. By this, we are essentially going back to the operating system (OS) wars. Google’s view appears to be that in the future operating systems will not matter. So long as a device has a modern browser it will be able to do all the computing that people need in their daily life.

This is a controversial view, and one which we do not wholly share. However, it is noteworthy that Google spent so much air time at their developer conference promoting this agenda. I think Android developers in the room should have felt a pang of anxiety. The man who now runs Android and Chrome is on stage openly promoting a world view in which their software work will eventually be obsolete. A point driven home by the lack of new features unveiled for Android at the event today.

I do not want to overstate this. Google is clearly very happy with Android and devotes a lot of resources to improving it. Nonetheless, our impression remains that this Android is a ‘maintain’ mode of gradual improvements. Our sense is that company management is much more excited by other forms of innovation. Android is going to be around for a long time, but…

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