Google's big tent strategy was in clear evidence this week at the Google I/O developers conference. The company with roots in linking ads to Internet searches now wants to own your wrist, your auto, your television and your whereabouts as you travel along in the Google cloud.
The big tech tent outlined by keynoter and Android boss Sundar Pichai is by far more comprehensive than any other single competitor or even groups of competitors. What does it mean?
Remember that Google is fundamentally a media platform connecting the whereabouts and interests of users with advertiser products and services. The more you know about your users, even if grouped in anonymous segments, the more valuable your media platform. So much for the underlying economics of all that Googlemania demonstrated by the 6,000 developers in attendance and the million or more watching the Webcast.
Now to the products.
Developing a consistent user experience across myriad media platforms while allowing the strengths of the individual platforms to shine through has been a conundrum for tech developers. The big flat panel television screen is a big canvas but not friendly to lean in and touch input.
An operating system that works just fine on a laptop doesn't necessarily translate well to tablets and smartphones. Typing messages on a wristwatch makes you look like an idiot, and texting while driving can get you or someone else killed or at least get you arrested.
The era of responsive design where content is reformatted depending on the device being used held promise but often faltered in the face of device proliferation. The Google plan to allow the device's strengths to shine through while the Google cloud does most of the heavy back-end lifting depends on rallying the developer community and getting customers comfortable with living within the Google world.
The Android L release with the user interface development platform named Material Design addresses the issue of finding the right balance between creating content geared to specific devices while retaining the Google look and feel regardless of the device you are using.
The demo looked compelling, but the proof is in actual use. The company added a library of prewritten software named Polymer to help the developers bridge the gap between Android devices and Web apps.
Google followed up on the Material Design discussion with an outline of a wide range of applications geared to specific environments. Android Wear is geared for watchlike devices and features sliding screens and pop-up notifications that address the issue of creating an interface on a small screen.
The use of voice commands was a big deal at I/O, and voice is clearly the up and coming command and access method for gabbing with the Google cloud. Yes, the whole Wear experience starts to look more and more like that Dick Tracy watch. Android Auto and Android TV were respectively the approach to automotive and living room versions of Android.
Google has secured a foothold in the living room through its Chromecast low-cost casting device, and the company is trying to parlay that success into the gaming and in-room communication space. Meanwhile, Chrome OS and the devices that run it are getting a deeper integration and compatibility with its Android brethren.
While not the primary focus of I/O, Google clearly wants to create a distinct workplace on Android devices while adding more capabilities to Google Office and the Google cloud. The company also wants to leverage the public cloud, related developer tools, real-time data collection and data analysis systems in its effort to make more inroads into corporate computing.
The big deal about Google I/O wasn't any one new product or service, but the universe Google is creating by building out a big tent platform ranging from wrist to cloud. The range is bigger than any other current competitive offerings and has customer appeal—if they are willing to put more and more information about their digital selves into the Google environment.
Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008, authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.