Google IO: Analyzing Mountain View’s Direction

Google IO revealed where Google was heading towards.

Google IO revealed where Google was heading towards.

Google IO 2013 was heavily targeted at developers unlike the IOs of the past. There was no real new consumer hardware and glasses did not make an appearance in the keynote. What Google did this year was to tighten the bolts and iron out the chinks. Google has a massive list of products and Larry Page’s appointment was meant to bring things together to unify the different services that could be rather haphazard at worst. That was what IO 2013 was about.

There were three main areas that Google focused on. It’s web services, content delivery and a different relationship with hardware makers. In doing so, its methods of dealing with competing companies – Apple and Microsoft, together with its short term vision of Android was revealed. Here are the key takeaways of Google IO 2013.

 

 

Web Services & Google+

The main driver of the keynote was web services. This is Google’s core business and it is good that they are returning to their roots. There were a host of updates from better developer APIs, tools and an OS version independent implementation. On top of that, new consumer focused features were unveiled.

Google's improved Search.

Google’s improved Search.

Search and Maps had major updates. Google’ Glass’ ‘Ok Glass’ commands can now be used on your desktop or laptop. This time you go with ‘Ok Google’. Searching has been improved to be more natural where you can use pronouns and they will base results on your search history. This is intuitive and is a step forward. Maps was tweaked to give a user more flexibility in comparing routes amongst other features.

There was also a huge focus on getting Google+ as the front and centre of all Google’s services.The unified messaging platform, called ‘Hangouts’, was launched together with a revamp to the Google+ UI. In addition, Google looked at what made Facebook popular and introduced a more web focused Picasa styled photo manipulation platform. Photos drive social networks and Google hopes that making your photos look awesome automatically will bring you to its platform.

 

There is no question that Google is the market leader for web services. It extended its advantage today.

 

Earlier this year, I called for Google to relook their web services and find ways to keep ahead of the competition. After all, Microsoft has been making a huge push on all fronts with Outlook, Bing and other web services. Google has responded. While Microsoft took the first step of unification, Google has kept pace. By expanding its feature set, there is no question on who is the market leader for web services. Microsoft and even more so, Apple, has light years ahead of them. Google pressed its advantage and largely took the right focus in making such services people centric.

Google has also shown distinct monopoly moves. This has been going for some time but none is more evident than Larry Page’s ironic complaint that Microsoft was responsible a standards war. Google in its announcements yesterday, moved away from open standards. Everything now runs through a Google+ account. If you do not have one, you will sorely miss conveniences that Google’s services, such as Search, has in store for you. Google’s unified messaging app ‘Hangouts’ moved away from the XMPP standard into one of its own. They attempted to smooth over it by calling the decision ‘painful’. But this has been Google’s mantra of the recent times. Ever since they became the big boys, they termed their own standards as open and called everything that didn’t work their way closed and obtrusive.

 

Google knows you the best online. It is scary yet convenient.

 

Google has pushed the envelope on the benefits of having a massive amount of user data. The expanded feature set of all their web services rely on the fact that they are the company that knows you the best, online. It is scary yet convenient. For the sake of consumer welfare, it must be stated that Google is no longer the ‘do no evil’ company. It is a monopoly and is making Microsoft-esque moves of the 1990s.

Google is playing it right as a firm and its web services are peerless. Google IO 2013 simply extended the advantage.

 

 

Content

While this was expected for quite awhile  Google announced its competitor to media services like Spotify, Rdio and Deezer.  Google Play Music All Access is a paid subscription with streaming access to a massive music set. With Google completing deals with three of the major record labels, the intent to take on content providers speaks volumes of Google’s vision. This is traditionally Amazon’s and Apple’s space.

While Amazon has its own cloud music platform, Google now has that and more. The same can be said of Apple. Apple was the company that made legitimate online music viable. Its iTunes store is still one of the most recognized ways to buy music content online. Yet, Apple has dragged their feet over signing deals with labels. I wrote earlier this year that content distribution would be a massive sustainable business model that will overtake their hardware division. Google has stolen in front in this aspect and it is disappointing to see Apple stagnate in the content distribution space.

 

This is traditionally Amazon’s and Apple’s space.

 

While it is true that more people will still use Amazon and iTunes, Google is pushing the right buttons because it is now possible to live within the Google universe – something that no other company can claim to do so. Music? Videos? Movies? Docs? Email? Search? Maps? You can do all that and more on Google. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and the rest cannot claim to come close. More worryingly, most of them have not even started.

 

 

Nexus Changes

There were no hardware announcements. No updated Nexus 4, 7 or 10. No new Google TV or Nexus Q. What emerged was even more interesting. Google showed off the Samsung Galaxy S4 running pure Android. It is basically the Nexus experience on a premium smartphone.

A Nexus experience on a Galaxy S4.

A Nexus experience on a Galaxy S4.

My first question was – why would Samsung allow this? Touchwiz is ugly but it is important from a branding standpoint for Samsung. Samsung makes good hardware without a premium feel. It’s strength has always been its ability to make the best Android skin as compared to Sense or Motoblur, etc. I believe that Samsung feels confident enough that features available on Touchwiz would be valuable enough for customers to choose Touchwiz over pure Android.

I think Google is the big winner in this move. A move that Samsung will regret if this catches fire. I will pick pure Android over any manufacturer skin any day. With a Galaxy S4 running pure Android, there’s no reason to get the original Samsung version. If this is made available internationally, I would be extremely tempted to pick up the Galaxy S4 where I can enjoy both high end hardware and a pure unblemished Android software experience.

 

You can now enjoy both high end hardware and a pure unblemished Android software experience.

 

Nexus devices have always had the issue of having mid tier hardware and this has now changed. If Google is able to convince HTC, LG and Motorola to do the same, it would be wonderful to see top tier devices running stock Android. I wrote a few weeks ago that Android was slowly slipping out of Google’s grasp. Google responded to that in a big way today.

 

 

Competitors

In terms of managing its competition, Google played nice with Apple. Apple is a hardware company and there are very little real points of conflict between the two. Google’s strategy is not to kill iOS or OS X. It’s strategy is to be a trojan. Most iOS users have already replaced Apple’s stock email, calendar and maps apps with Google’s own iOS alternatives. Google aims to do that with Chrome. Replacing Safari will allow iOS users to enjoy WebP, WebM and WebGL integration. The Apple user benefits while Google laughs all the way to dominance. Apple must respond by focusing on its software. It is being eaten from within by Google and Johnny Ive and co have much to do before WWDC 2013.

 

Apple must respond by focusing on its software. It is being eaten from within by Google.

 

Microsoft was left out because Microsoft is Google’s actual competitor. They want to be on all your screens, they want to be where you live both online and offline and so Google will not play nice with Microsoft. They didn’t. As Microsoft has chosen to compete on the web services front, it has plenty of catching up to do. This is even more urgent because Google has begun to turn off access to its services on devices running Microsoft software. It is a move that disadvantages the customer but this is what happens when two firms with world dominance in mind goes to war.

 

 

Android Maturity

Android hits 900 million activations in 2013.

Android hits 900 million activations in 2013.

There was no mention of Android 5.0 or 4.3. Android has remained in the 4.x range for two years. ICS was launched two years ago with incremental updates of 4.1 and 4.2 last year. The changelog on Google’s site clearly shows that Android 4.3 will be launched this year instead of 5.0. The simple takeaway is that Google sees no need to push its mobile OS up another level.

Google has been blamed for platform fragmentation and rightly so. Without stiff competition from Apple’s iOS or Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, Google is taking the chance to consolidate and delay new features. As such, Android 4.3 was not even mentioned during the keynote.

 

Google sees no need to push its mobile OS up another level.

 

The hope is that iOS 7 does something to shake up the competition. iOS has fallen behind and Google is getting complacent. Microsoft has to step it up with Windows Phone as well. Partners like Nokia are building incredible hardware devices but the Windows Phone OS is lagging far behind. This is a wake up call for Cupertino and Redmond.

 

 

Pressing Advantages

Google IO showed how Google plans to navigate the rest of this year. It has pressed its advantages in web services and mobile computing. It has addressed the challenges on the balance of power by hardware vendors. More importantly, it has also shown a strong desire to attack the content delivery sector.

This is a very ambitious Google and more so because it has shown that it is able to enter a submarket and be dominant. Competitors to Google must respond. For if they don’t, consumers will heavily disadvantaged.

 

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