Google I/O 2013: Services, services, services

Today was the keynote of Google I/O developer conference. The keynote is usually the place where major announcements are made regarding the Google ecosystem.

Despite impressive announcements, the most important thing that strikes me is not what has been released, but what has not been mentioned.

Services, services and more services

First, what are the main areas of focus this year ?

Either on Android, on Chrome or on the Cloud and server engine architecture Google is showing its consistency in pushing further existing services, adding new ones, and integrating all the pieces together. Here is the impressive list of highlights to their service stack:

  • Google Maps API V2 and location API improvements, with:
    • Fused location = faster, more accurate and more battery friendly.
    • Geofencing, ability to save up to one hundred location triggers per application.
    • Activity recognition based on the phone accelerometer. Device can know if your are walking, cycling, walking, driving. This is a battery efficient, not relying on GPS.
  • Google+ Sign in, brings deep integration between website and Android apps with Google+ service.
  • Google Cloud Messaging, Google Push Notification service, with three major highlights:
    • Persistent connections are supported between developer backend and Google, allowing sending a larger number of notifications faster.
    • Upstream messaging: This allows the device to send back notifications to the developer server, through Google platform.
    • Notifications synchronization between devices. Basically, this allows a developer to remove a notification from a device when it has been read / processed on another device.

Google Cloud Messaging is one our main area of interest. We are already working on the new features and we will have announcements to make soon under our mobile Boxcar brand. Stay tuned 🙂

  • Google Play Game Service, with:
    • Cloud Save to synchronize your game progress across devices.
    • Achievements and Learderboard, integrated with Google+.
    • Multiplayer API to help developer with networking part.
    • Matchmaking to find players to play with.
    • Cross-platform experience on Android and iOS.
  • Google Wallet: low profile (aka not really promoted in the keynote) improvements, like GMail payments, or easier checkout on mobile.
  • Better developer console to analyse how Android apps are doing and optimize their performance, more specifically:
    • Optimization tips
    • App Translation Service.
    • Referal tracking
    • Usage metrics (Google Analytics from the developer console).
    • Revenue graph
    • Beta testing and stage rollout management

There have also been announcements focusing on Google services improvements or addition for main users (as opposed to developers):

  • Google Play Store improvements to better promote apps to users.
  • Google Music subscription service (US only for now).
  • Huge Google Maps rework and redesign.
  • Search improvements with focus on:
    • more knowledge graph integration in search.
    • more integration of personal information and Google+, circle based personnalisation in search results.
    • Better conversation (aka iteratively refined voice search), with conversation-based queries coming to Chrome on the desktop.
    • Google Now improvements with more cards, to anticipate your search needs on the go.
  • Google+ improvements, mostly for end users:
    • Stream redesign
    • Hangouts chat system, which is a cross platform merge of all Google chats. It is cross-platform, focus on conversation, realtime, photo sharing and video group calling.
    • Photos management, with impressive auto-enhancement and sorting features.

Note from an XMPP developer perspective: Does the new Hangouts mean Gtalk and XMPP will disappear, along with interoperability ? There was not word about it, but I think so.

Impressive, isn’t it ?

Still, as a developer, that first day strangely leaves me with a feeling of unfullfilled expectations. Why ? I think to understand it, we need to list what Google did not talk about.

What Google did not talk about

In previous Google I/O, the center stage is usually taken by:

  • Android updates: There was none announced today.
  • Shiny new devices, usually prerelease to developers. Nothing on this part as well.
  • New unexpected projects, like Chrome, Google Glasses, Google TV, or even the now dead Wave.

On this side, nothing has been announced. No mention of Android for home or TV. No successor for the now dead Nexus Q. No update on Android Accessory Developement Kit. No glasses push. No new wearable computer.

Despite a few talks on Google glasses tomorrow, there have been little mention of the progress so far in the keynote.

This year, Google is focusing on services for several (valid) reasons:

  • Those services are updated directly on the devices through Google Play Store. They can more easily push the updates to the end users.
  • Services are perceived are Apple’s Achille heel.
  • Services are a way to put Google at the front stage and differenciatethe Google experience from the various Android forks. It also allow Google to differenciate from device manufacturers that are increasingly trying to get the front stage with their Android devices.

But as Google focus on Services, the story they tell is increasingly about themselves.

For Android developer, on the most major highlight (outside of Google Services) was Android Studio, a development environment based on Jetbrains Intellij, release today in early preview (version 0.1!).

Google have even been heavily promoting Chrome on Desktop, but now also on Android and iOS, focusing on bringing the same experience from all the environment. Along with the fact that both Chrome and Android and under the unique direction of Sundar Pichai, this leave a strange confusing impression.

My conclusion is that for Google, devices do not matter. When Larry Page says that he wants the technology, the device to disappear, he actually means it in the proper sense. Google Glasses and conversational search are a steps in that direction. They are the most straightforward access to Google services. Ideally, they should not even be needed.

It does not matter if you use Chrome, Glasses, Android or iOS to access Google Services. What matter are the services themselves and the contextual data that can be gathered to improve relevance and personnalisation of the service.

Sundar Pichai said two days ago that Google I/O will not be centered on the devices. It is because devices are not an end but a mean for Google.

I feel at this Google I/O, the goal of Google has never been more clear (if you look through the confusion I mentioned earlier).

At this very moment, the path of Apple and Google may split there:

Google wants to improve people lifes with services, making the technology totally hidden. Apple wants to improve people life by focusing on how people interact with the technology (touch, voice, and more). This goes through devices improvements (lighter, faster, easier to use), not making the devices disappear.

Today, I feel that we are at a turning point, I am really looking forward WWDC to see what will be Apple move.

(Source: Nati Shalom’s Blog)

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