Google Puts the Smartphone in Control of All Your Digital Toys

NEWS ANALYSIS: Google showed at its I/O conference that it's putting Android smartphones in control of smartwatches, TVs, connected cars, fitness sensors and Chromebooks.

Google I/O

The post-PC world isn't a single world, but two worlds as it turns out.

There's the Apple version of the post-PC world. And then there's the Google version.

We didn't know about Google's version until the company unveiled it at Google I/O developers conference last week.

The Apple version of the post-PC world is one in which non-PC devices like smartphones and tablets are more popular and more important than more powerful PCs. In Steve Jobs' words, it's a world in which cars (non-PCs) share the road with trucks (PCs).

The Google version isn't just about popularity or importance, but about who's in charge. Google has made the smartphone the centerpiece and the control tower for the post-PC world.

Google announced a very wide range of new products, initiatives and other goodies at the conference. But what stood out very starkly, and which surprised attendees, was the degree to which Google had suddenly elevated the smartphone to the central controlling device for all other devices. Here are some examples.

The smartphone controls your watch. The star of the show was clearly Android Wear, Google's operating system for wearable devices. For now, it's a smartwatch platform. But Google executives have said that over time it will be for many types of wearable computers.

What became clear at Google I/O is that the Android Wear smartwatch is nothing more than a display interface for an app running on a smartphone. The same is true for smartphone notifications, smartphone messaging, smartphone email and smartphone location.

In other words, the smartphone is acting like "the computer," and the Android Wear smartwatch is acting like a peripheral device to that computer.

The smartphone controls your TV. Google TV, the company's previous attempt to control the living room, died a slow death in recent years. It's telling that the company's latest attempt, called Android TV, is named after the smartphone OS, not the company. Android TV is all about the smartphone.

For example, you can push content from your smartphone to an Android TV-powered set as if it were a Chromecast. You can also simply mirror what's happening on your smartphone onto the TV.

Any Android phone (or any Android Wear smartwatch) can function as a remote-control device.

What's interesting is that, as with the now-defunct Google TV, an Android TV is technology built into the set itself. But without the smartphone control, it's a completely uninteresting product. Phone centrism is what delivers its promise.

The smartphone controls your car dashboard. As the rumors suggested, Google's big push into the in-car entertainment system is called Android Auto (again, named after the smartphone OS).

Android Auto is completely and directly controlled by an Android smartphone. (The connection is so direct that it's weirdly not even wireless; you have to physically plug the phone into the dashboard.)