Google I/O 2013’s opening keynote on May 15 didn’t have anything like the showy parachutists who landed atop the conference hall at last year’s gathering or a bombshell announcement about something as cool as Google Glass as in 2012, but at the same time, plenty of innovation is on tap.
That’s the opinion of several IT analysts, who told eWEEK that this year’s edition of the sixth annual I/O Developers Conference is instead showing off a more mature Google as it works to build its products out rather than make a Glass-like splash this year.
Last year’s show was certainly the stuff of legends, featuring the introduction of Google Glass, and an amazing live-video stunt with parachutists from an airship wearing Google Glass headsets landing on the Moscone West rooftop and repelling, bicycling and running into the conference to the cheers of thousands in order to give the wearable computers to Google co-founder Sergey Brin—who was already wearing one himself. Also unveiled were two new devices, the Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q cloud-based home entertainment hub, along with the Jelly Bean version of Android.
This year, the big announcements so far haven’t been as breathtaking, but they have been intriguing and steady, including a first-ever Google Play subscription music streaming service, new Google Play game saving and sharing services, new APIs for Android that allow developers to create apps that can be restricted to specific locations, and developer tools that will help them improve the sales and marketing of their apps for Android.
That’s not really much of a surprise, said analyst Daniel Maycock of Slalom Consulting. “I think they’re maturing their existing capabilities rather than try to break out a whole bunch of new ones,” said Maycock in an interview with eWEEK. “There’s the initial invasion, where everything comes out all at once, with new platforms and devices. It’s all new, new, new. To entrench yourself, you then have to update and mature what’s out there.”
Not having a blockbuster announcement this year like Glass won’t hurt Google, he said. “I think they’ve gone from a sprint to a marathon, and they know that’s what it takes to win the long game.”
Instead, what Google is doing is continuing to refine and develop what it already has so it can improve its products, said Maycock. “They got people’s attention. Now they need to keep it.”
Google I/O: Analysts Weigh In on Google’s Day One Surprises
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, agreed, describing this year’s I/O conference as more of a “geek fest,” rather than a launching point for Google projects on the scale of last year’s Glass debut.
“For developers, I think it’s great,” said Moorhead. “For you and I, it’s probably not so great, particularly when you compare it to last year. Last year it was one of the best keynotes I’ve ever seen in 20 years.”
This year’s keynote was about “the plumbing,” from the APIs to updates to Google Search, Google Maps and more, said Moorhead. “That’s plumbing, as opposed to a new category or a dramatically new kind of feature.”
What the keynote showed was that Google is at its heart an engineering company, he said. “The real Google doesn’t have people parachuting in and riding BMX bikes outside the building” like what took place at last year’s keynote.
Dan Olds, principal analyst for Gabriel Consulting Group, told eWEEK that while the flash of last year’s I/O opening was missing in large part, there were still some intriguing offerings announced this year, especially the new streaming music subscription product.
“I think it’s a pretty big deal what they’re doing in the music service,” said Olds. “They’re coming clearly after Apple and Spotify. In years past, this would have probably fit the bill for a big deal and a big announcement. In a very Google-like way, everything that they’re talking about is sort of extending what they already have and using it to exploit new markets and surround other players.”
Another notable moment at the opening day of the I/O conference, he said, was the announcement that Android has now celebrated the activation of 900 million devices, up from 400 million one year ago.
“That’s a big number,” said Olds. “I think that more than 100 percent growth over a year is something else that’s going to put Apple on the defense. They’re hitting at their biggest competition right where they live.” Adding to that growth was the related announcement that Android users have so far downloaded 48 billion apps for those devices.
“I think about 7 billion of those have been installed between my wife and daughter” on their devices, Olds said with a laugh.
Google I/O: Analysts Weigh In on Google’s Day One Surprises
Interestingly, the opening day of the conference didn’t hold much talk about Glass, said Olds. “From everything I’ve seen, they’re not talking about Glass much now. It turns out to be more controversial than they anticipated.”
Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, told eWEEK in an email reply that the conference is notable in that it “seems like it was less fanfare and more real developer conference this time, with focus on Android and its development environment.”
One place where that could be challenged, however, is in Android’s dependence on Java, which is owned and controlled by Oracle, wrote Kay. “But otherwise, it looks like full steam ahead for Google, including phones, tablets, supercomputing, R&D, and tools (like Google Maps).”
Another analyst, Rob Enderle of Enderle Group, wrote in an email to eWEEK that while Google is making good progress in developing its products and services, “what continues to amaze me is how little (given their social networking efforts) they seem to be learning about how people interact.”
Instead, Enderle wrote, Google “just doesn’t seem to feel they need to understand us to build products that would intimately connect with us,” such as installing a camera on Glass, which can be a bad thing for some users, particularly children.
“It is almost like it would be if Aliens (the little green men kind) were trying to build stuff for humans without ever having met one,” wrote Enderle. “Google isn’t alone and I would add Facebook to the list of companies building things that are designed to integrate with the way people interact without first really understanding how people interact. That’s why we seem to get this sense of high experimentation.”
The Google I/O conference continues through May 17 with a wide range of daily training sessions and code sessions where developers can get help with their projects, answers for code questions, and input and additional eyes on the work they are doing using Google code. More than 120 talks, ranging from introductory topics to advanced subjects about Google Maps, Android, Google Chrome, Google+, App Engine, Google Glass and more, will be featured in the technical sessions, according to Google.