Thoughts from Google I/O or a Three Day Tour

Last month I set out on a trip to California to visit with family, investigate working on the Left Coast, and attend Google I/O. I/O (Input/Output) is Google’s annual developer conference and their stage to announce products, strategy, and outlook for the year to come. I/O has been home to the unveiling of several big efforts by Google over the years: Google Wave, Google Music, Google TV, and less known but nonetheless interesting developments like Android @ Home,a home automation project using Android OS and Arduino processors. 

This year was no different. From a product standpoint the Google Nexus 7 tablet, Nexus Q, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and the continued evolution and integration of Google+ into their overall family of services, the conference gave developers and consumers a good look at what Google will emphasize over the next twelve months. 

Plus skydiving with Google Glass.

Aside from the whimsy and excitement, there were a lot of telling moves and advancements coming out of the conference. Android will continue to play an ever larger role in the way people interact with Google. One of the potentially most transformational announcements though, while not directly Android related, is the continuing Google+ strategy coming into focus.

Timeline

For the last year or so, Facebook’s biggest feature rollout has been the move from the traditional profile to the Timeline, both for personal and brand accounts. Like many of Facebook’s advancements, Timeline caused a panic. For some, Timeline is a whimsical look through the past, chronicling a user’s Facebook history along, what else, a time line. Facebook users and visiters to their pofile alike can scroll through a running chronology of status updates, photos, and more. But what really makes Timeline compelling, for those who don’t mind the stalker aspect, is the ability of a user to fill their in their profile for events that didn’t happen on Facebook or happened before Facebook existed. My Timeline begins in the fall of 2004, but if I chose to do so, could be expanded back to the day I was born.

On this last part, as people/investors worry about Facebook’s ability to generate profits, making the Timeline a pathway to baby books or photo albums, physical or electronic – it doesn’t matter – just in a format that can survive should Facebook shutdown or decide to end Timeline for “the next big thing.” Facebook is in the position to make a really compelling real-life version of the dream advertised in Google’s Dear Sophie video.

One of the announcements about the future of Google+ was, in my opinion, the foundation for Timeline done right: history. History is a private collection of “moments” which can be written to your account by third party apps through an API. Google+ users are already familiar with this feature in its initial form, Instant Upload. Instant Upload sends pictures taken on your smartphone to a private photo gallery connected to your Google+ account, automatically. 

Moments restores sharing power to the user and does away with the concept of frictionless sharing. What’s nice is that someone can use the latest social apps all the time, but only share certain pieces of information. This can be for privacy or simplicity. I am a big fan of Instant Upload because I don’t have to go through all my photos and select which ones to upload, which to keep on the phone, which to post etc. Like a Dropbox folder, my photo gallery is the same on my phone and in the cloud. I can share from either device, but I don’t need to make anything public. 

Someone could create a personal implementation of Path using the Google+ history API and an artful presentation of moments. Even if Google were to shut down Google+, the data is in your Google account, it isn’t something that will cease to exist. If Path gets acquired, the creators get bored, or whatever scenario you can imagine occurs, will user be able to export their journeys? Unlikely. at least, not in a human usable format. This isn’t a shot at Path, but the social network built around chronicling your day is a good comparison to the sort of experience that Google+ moments could allow.

Glass

Project Glass aka Google Glass, the smart headware being developed by Google made as big a non-release debut as possible during I/O. 

There were Google employees with (inactive) units on their heads and the previously mentioned skydiving stunt. 

A large section of wall, and several display counters were devoted to taking developer pre-orders (and a few basic, questions), a commitment to pay $1500 dollars at some time in 2013 for a developer version of the futuristic eyewear. While the sight of Glass upon the heads of Googlers, and the skydiving, and a few heart-tugging videos of babies smiling at their mother, rather than a camera, make Glass appear on the horizon, this is a device that can’t quite be called a product yet. It rises above the level of vaporware solely because Google has the muscle and vision to make the dream a reality.

While Googlers could reveal bits and pieces of their experience, for instance, Glass can be worn with a baseball hat, little is known about the interface, operation, hardware, software…etc. Episode 153 of TWiG (This Week in Google) boils down what Google is willing to share about Glass into an episode title “Did I Mention it Takes Pictures?” 

The technology displayed in the initial concept video is still a ways off, but this is the technology to watch over the next few years. For the curious, the song is “lover’s carvings” by Biblio. Ironically, it is not available in the Play Store. But licensing and copyright issues are a matter for another time.

Google Now is the first step in a radical shift for the search engine: giving people what they want before they know they want it based on their search and travel history, and probably lies at the core of Glass. Google Now is a Siri competitor as well as a look into the future of search, powered by intelligence and location awareness. 

Nexus 7

This is the most practical, most ambitious, and potentially most profitable consumer product Google has launched in a while (disclaimer: as a Google I/O attendee, I received a Nexus 7). 

The Nexus 7 is a seven inch tablet running the latest version of the Android OS, 4.1 Jelly Bean. It’s loaded with processing power, unlike many previous Android devices, is light in the hand, easy to read, and fully integrated into the Google Play Store. Essentially, the device is a Google-centric version of the Kindle Fire. Ideally, all the content downloaded to the Nexus 7 – apps, movies and TV, books and magazines, and music will be purchased from the Play Store, with Google getting a cut of each sale. 

Over the next year Google will try to change our perception of the company. Not just a search engine, but a smart guide. The Play Store, Google Now, and Nexus devices form a continuum of information, media, and suggested knowledge. In another year, the next Nexus device may be a Google version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy capable of directing, informing, and entertaining.

Author: mikecarlucci

Data Analyst @Northeastern. Words @SportsPostHome, @BanishedToPen & social media @OverTheMonster. IG/SC mikegcarlucci mike@mikecarlucci.org

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