At Google I/O Wow Factors Took a Backseat to Making Money

NEWS ANALYSIS: The hosts of Google I/O were smart to keep developers' attention focused on business opportunities with real money-making potential and not on glitzy but impractical research projects.

Google glass, robots, driverless cars and Internet satellites were among the Google wow products that weren't mentioned during the keynote address at Google I/O. While a wowless keynote draws a media yawn, the company's emphasis on the business at hand made good sense.

At the keynote and accompanying sessions, the Googlers outlined a "big tent" strategy where a smartwatch, smartphone, TV, connected car, tablet and laptop consortium—all operating within the Google Cloud—opens new markets and opportunities for developers. While driverless cars and Internet satellites are cool research projects, developers need a way to make money from their coding efforts now and not at some distant future date.

Too often, vendors fall to the temptation of trotting out a lab project as a product that is right around the corner and, by implication, poised to turn into a big, new revenue stream. Hewlett-Packard fell victim to this recently at its Discover conference, when company executives focused on introducing the HP Labs-driven "The Machine" computer.

The Machine is interesting but will require significant advances in software, photonics and memory technology to make it to the marketplace. If you want to reach further back, does anyone remember Bill Gates showing off the Microsoft SPOT smartwatch in 2002? At least the SPOT actually made it to the product stage.

Developers need paths, not projects, and the ability to use the same Google development skills over a wider range of products is an appealing proposition.

The tools and services introduced to the developer community at I/O make for a lengthy list. The Android L release includes a new user interface design, new alignment with the Chrome operating system, and security and container features aimed at the corporate marketplace.

Detailing the information stretched the keynote to a nearly three-hour marathon of slides, multiple speakers and props, including a shell of an automobile. The two projects highlighted in a later session from the company's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) lab were also more oriented toward development dollars than just a big wow factor.

Project Tango is geared toward rendering 3D images on smartphones and laptops using a combination of multiple cameras and location technology. The ability to render 3D images of building interiors is one of those sensible uses of 3D that the TV 3D community has yet to find.

Project Ara seeks to break open the smartphone into component sets that consumers can mix and match to create a phone individualized for their needs and budget rather than imposed by vendor marketing.

The Google I/O event was taking place at the same time as the World Cup, and while I/O had a lot going for it, the full use of video to convey the excitement and opportunity at the Google event still has a long way to go.

The World Cup coverage conveys the pre-game buildup, multiple shots and commentary during the game and more post-game coverage than even the most stalwart soccer fan can consume.

Google, and the rest of the tech giants, still think pointing a camera at a keynote stage is all you need to do for a successful webcast. While the news from I/O was interesting, the keynotes and other sessions I watched via webcast had all the excitement of one of those Soviet crop reports from the 1950s. Google is full of smart people, and I bet they could come up with a better way to convey their conference content and value if they worked on it.

Developers left I/O with lots of new tools, services and platforms to play on, but now it will be up to them to bring their creative impulses to bear to produce products that expand markets and prove monetarily fruitful.

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.