updated 09:53 am EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Three staffers discuss the good and the bad of the 2014 IO keynote
With a massive industry keynote, such as yesterday's Google I/O event, comes discussion. Google gave us a lot to toss around with L, Android One, Android Auto, and Android TV, all four both good and bad simultaneously. Join MacNN editor Charles, and Electronista writers Mike and Jordan as we evaluate the ins and outs of the 2.5-hour keynote kicking off Google's annual I/O conference.
Compared to recent keynotes, why was Google's so boring? Is it the difference between public and private-facing events?
Jordan: There are a number of reasons why it felt like the I/O keynote was one of the least entertaining things possible. First, there wasn't really anything exciting announced at the event. Yes, Android TV was confirmed. Yes, the first of the watches using Android Wear are available. Android Auto made an appearance, as did business improvements and interface changes with L. While the sum of all these parts do prove to have some interest, everything seemed plain and without flair.
Charles: The first 45 minutes were actually quite good. After that, it simply fell off the rails, with an array of speakers who were HIGHLY variable in public skills droning on about uninteresting stuff while saying essentially *nothing* about security (from the current top platform for viruses and malware) or what percentage of current Android users are going to be able to make any of this work without a new device.
Mike: Larry Page has a well-documented voice problem. Sergey Brin said at the Code conference that there are just things he doesn't want to do. However, between the two of them, there isn't a Steve Jobs, a showman, and they seemingly haven't hired anyone with any on-stage chemistry.
Jordan: No one on stage had any personality! It was nice to see a diverse number of people on stage compared to other press events in recent history. However, no one was really engaging or brought a commanding presence to the stage. Instead, everyone explained their bits in ways that even the audience attending didn't care about. It was a sad sight to see. You could tell that some of the people were engineers at their core as they rambled on about their technology during blocks in the 2.5-hour long show.
Mike: While we were doing the coverage of the keynote, we initially held off on publishing release information on the new Android Wear watches, expecting the ability to do some omni-hardware release post. While I appreciate Google telling us how successful their cloud services are, and that they're depreciating some APIs, maybe that should have been done in a press release.
Charles: As I was watching it the first hour, I kept thinking "yeah, that's not going to run on the SIII or original Note ..." and "when the 'L' are they going to update my device to let me download this?" Another thing I thought a lot - particularly during the "stats" portion of the opener was "that's a load of BS." Hands up anyone - anyone at all - who thinks Android has 62 percent of the tablet market. That six out every 10 tablets you see are running Android. I notice that Sundar Pichai was very careful to use the word "shipments" a lot.
Mike: Good lord. Shipments versus sales. Not this again. Apple, Google, Samsung get in fights about this all the time. Who cares who ships or sells more? This isn't an age where market dominance determines who gets the most shelf space in Babbages, you know. Consumers need to stop measuring self-worth on the worldwide adoption of the product that they love. Apple and Google will both be around for a long time, and toss the 40-60 percent of the market thing back and forth forever, locked in eternal combat.
Charles: Some jokers on Twitter claim that Google hired the protesters to periodically wake people up. The second half was that bad. I'd dare our more Android-loving readers to compare the Apple keynote to this Google one and tell me which one they made it through. It was quite painful after the first 45-50 minutes. Which is a shame, because the first bit was really quite well done and watchable.
Mike: Oh yeah, hey, the protesters! The first one, the lady, was being evicted by a Google attorney from a home she's been living in for a while. He's the new owner, he purchased the house recently. He, as the owner, has the right to not renew rental contracts! She can protest all she wants about gentrification and displacement, but she's not the only one who has rights here. The second guy thinks Google is building Skynet from the Terminator movies, I think. Maybe, but not today.
Charles: As for "L" - boy that sure looks nice, just like it did when Scott Forstall brought it to iOS 6. Seriously, this is like a cross between Forstall and Ive. Cynic that I am, however, I have to say I kept thinking of how many Android devices either don't have the graphics chops to handle all this new animation and shadowing, or can pull it off at a terrible battery cost. My guess would be that anyone who has a device that can run KitKat well will be able to upgrade at some point. The vast majority of the user base, not so much.
Mike: L. Why L? The dessert metaphor was working pretty well, is this a way to get corporate IT to stop snickering when they talk about Android updates? I was really hoping we'd get information on the rumored Android Silver, with more curation and hardware control. Google is a secret sieve -- if its rumored, then it generally exists, so why not?
Jordan: Sadly, it seems like the people in the crowd had to be gifted a free watch just for staying awake.
Mike: Also, where was Google Glass?
Android TV and Android Wear - Why do these matter?
Charles: On the subject of Android Wear: using the watch to replace checking your phone all the time is a bright idea, so full points for that. Answering a call on your wristwatch looked stupid and obnoxious when Dick Tracey did it in the 1930s, and it still looks stupid now. The problem with Google is that they don't know when to stop. Dear Microsoft, sorry Google: please stop calling everything you do Windows, sorry Xbox, sorry Android. You've actually made Apple's tendency to call many of (but not every) thing they do "iSomething" look less silly.
Jordan: I'm not entirely convinced that they do, especially when it comes to Android TV. Google is coming into a crowded market with several devices that have wide adoption. It's going to go head-to-head with Apple, a company that has seen success with Apple TV and continues to build upon. Going further, they'll have to put up with the Fire TV from Amazon. While no one outside of the company knows the popularity of the box or sales results, it is going to be competitive because of its streaming services and catalog. It's in a similar position as Apple.
Mike: First of all, if the Android TV platform doesn't get a Steam Streaming app, I'm going to be very disappointed. The Android TV seems to be getting a lot more love than Google TV did, but that doesn't take much effort. That said, a few minutes in an almost three-hour keynote isn't a sign of a great deal of confidence in the branch, despite having big players interested.
Jordan: Smaller streaming devices like the Roku, a number of upcoming streaming sticks, numerous small computers, HTPCs and video game consoles are also going to get in the way. It's funny, as they are also competing with themselves because of Chromecast. The market is just going to be segmented further by the number of boxes that will pop-up.
Charles: Android TV is likely to be marginally more successful than Google TV was, but I didn't see anything that Apple TV isn't going to have by the end of the summer. On top of people unhabituating themselves from "TV" generally (apart from a very select roster of top-quality shows), we again hit what I now call "Nest Syndrome" - do I want Google to have info on what I watch? Do I want my clothes to spy on me? Do I want to get punched in the face for wearing Google Glass because I can't convince people I'm not recording them?
Mike: Smart watches are some aspect of the future of computing, but it remains to be seen how well adopted they are. I haven't worn a watch with any regularity in about 30 years -- sometimes for practical considerations, but I have just never liked them. I'm still not sure what the killer feature for a smart version of the old-school digital one is. Videoconferences from them will be an exercise in nostril inspection. Also, as a reminder, Android is free to device manufacturers because Google wants to show you ads. Do you want ads on your wrist?
Jordan: Android Wear on the other hand, is something I think Google needed to do. Having a platform that can tie into existing Android frameworks is going to be a bonus when it comes to growing wearables. There will be competition, but that's unavoidable in the current landscape. Developing a platform to create devices with, as well as sell to developers, is business strategy that Google has proved is important.
Mike: Oh, yeah, the question. Yeah, both matter, but it remains to be seen how much until devices ship, and the public buys them -- or doesn't.
Is Google too late to the game with Android Auto, or does it still have time to compete with Apple?
Mike: Just because they only now announced it, doesn't mean that they haven't been working on it for years. Open Auto is a massive consortium of developers, and Android Auto compatibility doesn't mean a lack of CarPlay compatibility. In fact, Audi has come right out and said that its in-dash system is compatible with both. Both require a touchscreen, but it's a dumb touchscreen, and requires a connected smartphone to work.
Jordan: Google should still have time to get Android Auto up to speed with CarPlay. While I don't think the industry needs two standards, but I'll admit that it is a better way to do things compared to allowing the auto industry to take the lead. The best part is that automakers are saying that both standards can exist with one another. Pioneer proved that a deck could handle all devices with the AppRadio series. Even though it transmits exclusively through Bluetooth, it supports iOS, Android and mirroring. Android Auto will offer something more powerful.
Charles: As long as car manufacturers can offer compatibility with both CarPlay and Android Auto, then great! People who prefer Android products get what they want, Apple people get what they want. That would be all good. If this becomes a war, then Apple probably wins because privacy.
Jordan: Timing could be seen as an issue, but the open initiative means that it will be adopted. Audi announced that it would already be putting Android Auto into 2015 car models. I think it would seem silly for carmakers to adopt one standard, but not the other. Since the market is fragmented, it could be a deciding factor in purchases.
How will the $10 a month unlimited Cloud services affect the industry?
Charles: Google Now used to be interesting, but it gets more disturbing by the day. I was also quite put off about the casual way all the Google hipsters kept talking about how much all this stuff collects on you in such a casual way. Privacy? I don't think these Google people have any concept of the word at all at this point. Compare what little Google said about privacy to the lengths Apple went to when they intro'd Touch ID (or the privacy-enhancing features in iOS 8), and I think you have the whole story of the difference between these two platforms in a nutshell. Nobody on that stage seemed to "get it" when it comes to user concerns, because the user is not who Google's customer is.
Jordan: For the number of people that use Google's Drive and document services, this could be a very good thing. The cost, the tools and the encryption make it a bargin for companies that require cloud services for daily business. Will it make a large impact overall? Probably not. People are slow to move into the cloud, grasping onto products from Microsoft as long as they keep making them. Nothing Google announced today is really something that would pull business away from competitors. It could however, make it a good alternative to Office 365. The Office integration is something every Drive user should be happy about.
Mike: I think this is a response to Amazon more than anything else, with its free photo storage offer. Unlimited storage in the cloud is a really great idea, and it'll need somebody with the sense of scale that Google has. This is potentially the best idea that Google had in the keynote, assuming people can get over the implications of advertising and privacy.
Charles: I noticed those words that *weren't* among the bullet points - privacy and security - more than I noticed the marquee features. Much of the new offerings look interesting, but they all have that "cloud" over them (sorry) that the presenters are just too clueless to give us in a sales pitch, which is what keynotes are about, right?
Is there any reason, other than industry trends, for Google to jump into health with Fit?
Charles: I'll bet they do a better job than Samsung, but not as good a job as Apple. Google is chasing a trend; Apple has been thinking about this for years, making selective hires, building it slowly. Google is, as usual, slapping something together like a kid writing his book report on the bus taking him to school.
Jordan: I don't know. Personally, I'm getting tired of all of these health features that are tied into phones for a number of reasons. As I've said before, many of them are just gimmicks. That doesn't mean all of the features are, but I'm still waiting for a feature to be presented that I must use. Did Google need to do it for competitive reasons? Yes. Is it bringing anything different to the table? Not really. It is still collecting health data to be used in applications. I think that has widespread implications for health records and privacy. If the data is reported back to Google and later lost, it will be a massive problem. Fit is allowing users to determine which data is collected, but I'll admit I don't know every detail in how it works.
Mike: I've said it before, there are massive privacy implications with health tracking and information like this given to Apple, Google, the startup down the street, or anybody else. I don't think that this is an industry trend that Google followed -- Calico was started up a while ago, which is Google's life extending effort in its Moonshot program. I suspect that Mountain View has made selective hires over time, and I think there's more to come from them about this soon.
With the release of Android One, do companies, like Mozilla (Firefox OS) and Blackberry, still have a chance to compete in emerging markets?
Jordan: I don't think they will. While Mozilla and Blackberry have shifted their mobile pursuits into the emerging markets, the low barrier of entry for Android will end their efforts. Blackberry is already struggling as a company, shedding its high-end phones for a chance to turn some sort of profit. Mozilla on the other hand is attempting to make low cost phones with Firefox OS with manufacturers in these territories. If either of those companies were to have a chance, I think it would be Mozilla. This is especially true when you consider it appears to be a lower financial risk.
Charles: Android One looks interesting, but if they're going to go this route - and I'm sure it will help them in developing markets - then we need to stop pitting "iOS" phones against all "Android" phones in comparisons and start ranking things by class. What Pichai described as an example for India wasn't really a smartphone. People aren't going to be buying apps on that, they'll be listening to FM radio.
Mike: Yeah, so? Just because Apple isn't interested in the low-cost market doesn't mean there's not money to be made there on the backs of phone users by Google. Google's involvement with hardware vendors is only intended for one purpose -- to not make Android, and by extension, Google look bad because of terrible performance. It'll also be able to steer manufacturers to use component X, instead of Y, possibly simplifying future Android development.
Jordan: The true competitors will be the companies founded in the emerging markets, not the developed ones. Fortunately for Google, Android already has a good grasp in these areas, allowing them to get an even greater share with cheaper phones. China and India are going to be the biggest battleground for mobile in the next few years. Making a low cost series of phones is going to be appealing to a significant number of people and businesses. If Google can shove its way into all of the local phone makers, Android One will be a great development. It won't be without its problems though, which may include government intervention, especially in the launch country of India.
Charles: The truth of the matter is that most Android phones don't really qualify as smartphones, they qualify as phones. Just phone/text/game machines, not much else. True smartphones - premium devices like the Lumia, the HTC One, the Galaxy S phones and yes, iPhones - belong in a category where they alone compete. Trying to claim that a Micromax device should be lumped in with the iPhone 5s as a "smartphone" is like saying that a Ferrari and a Matchbox model of a Ferrari are equivalent.
Mike: Yeah, but without gas, they both have four wheels and can roll, so there's some similar functionality. Quad-core and fancy GPUs are the gas for this clumsy metaphor that I'm extending. Do we need an extra classification between feature (flip) phones, and smartphones? Semantics. What defines a smartphone anyway? Both the cheapos that will be cranked out by Android One will run apps, so doesn't that make it more than a feature phone?
Charles: I think Android One might actually hurt Google longer-term, as it will make the difference between premium and basic smartphones (and the profitability of their markets) even clearer. Even though Google and others make "premium" Android devices, the Android One phones aren't really "sticky" in any way - making it possible for users to jump to another platform easily without risking a large investment. That alone encourages experimentation and discourages loyalty.
Mike: Google doesn't care if you as a hardware manufacturer are profitable. More Android equals more eyes on Google services, and this is good for overlords Brin and Page, and for Google in its entirety.