Google’s I/O Developer Conference, held this week in San Francisco, featured a number of new product launches, including Android TV, Android Wear, Android Auto and a new smartphone and tablet operating system. But as Google continues to grow, the event has also evolved to be more than just a stage for unveiling its newest technologies. Below are five big takeaways for those not among the 5,000 attending the event at the Moscone Center, or the 1 million following the event’s livestream on YouTube.
The rivalry with Apple expands into new markets
The rivalry between Google and Apple has taken on new heights. In addition to competing over the smartphone, tablet, and apps markets, Google and Apple now go head-to-head over TV (AppleTV vs ChromeCast/AndroidTV, Cloud-Based Storage (iDrive vs Google Drive), laptops (MacBook vs ChromeBook), fitness tracking apps (GoogleFit vs iFit), and wearable devices.
Speculation has built for months that the two giants are working on a smart device for the wrist, and in unveiling Android Wear this week, Google was able to throw the first punch. The design looked admirable (some thought the presenters, all of whom were wearing a form of Android Wear, were wearing regular digital watches) and the functionality appeared to match the aesthetics. Some of the more impressive features included the ability to respond to texts by voice, weather and traffic updates preemptively provided by your context, and hands-free accessible Google Now. All of these elements fell in line with Google’s general guiding principle of “what you need to know, when you need to know.”
The highly-anticipated introduction of Android TV, which in many ways mirrors AppleTV, and upgrades to the streaming service Chromecast, have likewise raised the stakes of the competition within the Smart TV market, and while Google seems to be alone in auto, it is widely believed that the late Steve Jobs had aspirations of building an Apple car. Regardless of what happens there, the other markets promise to accelerate the decision facing users: as devices become more integrated, do I align myself more with Google or Apple?
Women take center stage (kind of)
After declaring “we’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity” in a self-disclosed report of its own demographics last month, the event planners were careful to highlight the contributions of female Googlers and technologists. At the top of the presentation, it was noted that 20 percent of the attendees were women, up from 8 percent last year. Shortly thereafter, Sundar Pichai (Senior VP, Android, Chrome, and Apps, and the event’s lead) introduced an all-female group of developers from Nigeria, who were watching the event via live stream. Later in the presentation, a short video told the story of a group of middle school girls from Texas who built a geolocation app to help their blind classmate. Ellie Powers, a Google Play Product Manager, and Avni Shah, a Director of Product Management of Chrome, meanwhile, were two of the nine keynote speakers, presenting on updates to Google Play and the Web Experience, respectively.
Stronger emphasis on design
The presentation spent a substantial amount of time discussing what is being called “Material Design,” an aesthetic that will be used across all of Google’s services in the future. After Pichai, Matias Duarte, Director of Android User Experience, asked: “What if pixels didn’t just have color, but depth?” The answer to his team’s question is a new UI and color scheme. This emphasis on the aesthetic elements of Google’s upgrades and new products is a response to the popular “Android is for robots, iOS is for babies” paradigm. The positive reception to the UI updates, and the aesthetics of the Android Wear (with help from LG and Samsung), will help Google fight this stigma.
There were a lot of stats
Some of the statistical highlights Google dropped on the audience: there are now over 1 billion active users of Android devices; and they send over 20 billion texts per day, 93 million of which are selfies. Google also revealed the average American checks their phone 125 times, is in the car for one hour, and has the TV on for five, each day.
In drawing so much attention to the way people interact with the world, it is clear Google wants to play an even more pervasive role in the lives of its users. This includes those it hasn’t won over yet. Android One, hardware and software solutions for developing markets, will be launched in India this fall, with help from OEM partners Karbonn Mobiles, Cromax, and Spice. The goal: “to reach the next 1 billion users” (it was announced earlier in the presentation that Android had eclipsed the 1 billion active user mark).
Protesters take issue with Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto
The keynote did not go out without a hitch. In fact, presenters were interrupted not once but twice by protesters. The first, a third-grade teacher named Claudia Tirado, began yelling during a presentation by engineering director David Burke, ostensibly over her eviction from her Mission District home by Google lawyer Jack Halprin. The other, who has yet to be identified, accused Googlers of “working for a totalitarian company that is building robots that will kill people.” As far as anyone can tell, the claim is related to the company’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a DARPA-funded robotics company, last December. Dozens more protesters were assembled outside the Moscone Center, dressed in Star Wars garb and accusing Google, whose corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” of instead being the “Evil Empire.” Between concerns about user privacy, the gentrification of San Francisco, and the recent diversity report, Google has increasingly found itself in an unfamiliar position: the source of public criticism. Such is the burden of being one of the world’s most visible companies, a fact that Google I/O 2014 reaffirmed.