Let’s dive into the five predictions and analyze Google’s strategy through the lens of its Google IO announcements.
1. Android VR Platform
Prediction: Came True
Most people predicted a VR announcement but assumed it would be just Google hardware. Our prediction of a VR platform came true—Google is fundamentally a platform for distributing, analyzing, and monetizing information. Apple, on the other hand, is a hardware company. When Apple releases its own VR headset, I expect it to take the form of a full (expensive) hardware/software stack. Google’s approach here is the same as on Android: release open source and give it to the community in an effort to jumpstart developer/OEM interest and reap the data rewards on the back-end.
2. New Nest Product
Prediction: Fell Flat
In hindsight, this was the first Google IO since Google split apart its various companies/moonshots and reorganized under the Alphabet umbrella. Nest is a separate entity and technically a sister company under this new organization. This might explain the lack of an announcement here, although Google’s own Android and hardware divisions have collaborated closely with Nest on software and hardware interoperability. In any case, the 2016 holiday season will be here soon. Nest will be in trouble if it can’t launch a new product in time to market it for the holidays.
3. Amazon Echo Competitor
Prediction: Came True
Everyone got the product name wrong but, as expected, Google launched its answer to the Amazon Echo — Google Home. The air-freshener shaped device is extremely important to the future of Google and represents what we may look back on as the first of tactics underlying Google’s strategic shift to put AI front and center of future product launches. Google is an almost $500B company because it acts as the primary gateway for the world to research information. In the future, there’s a chance that the medium through which we access information will shift from text to voice as high-speed wireless connections allow us to access content anywhere and everywhere. We’ve already seen the shift from PC to smartphone and the impact it has had on incumbent technology companies (most notably, Microsoft). If the Amazon Echo were to become that new primary medium for accessing information, that is an existential threat to Google.
Voice is particularly important in the car and in the home. Android Auto is Google’s investment in the car, although less important since your phone is typically with you. In a future of driverless cars, voice may be the primary way you interact with your virtual driver. The more important (and previously missing) piece of Google’s strategy was voice in the home. With arguably the strongest technology around search, AI, and voice recognition, Google has an opportunity to muffle the Echo and appears to be seizing it. We’re looking forward to the increased competition and innovation in the space.
4. Android N
Prediction: Came True
As expected, Google talked extensively about Android N. Somewhat unexpectedly, though, they opened up the name itself for a vote. By indicating that Android N will be released “late summer,” Google seems to indicate the N will be ready relatively earlier than previous operating system releases. One of the nicest surprises from IO was the announcement of Android Instant Apps. This essentially allows you to stream a portion of an app directly to the device, without having to install it! Imagine searching for a product, then opening up the product page instantly inside a native app. This functionality could have a huge impact on the mobile (and mobile web) ecosystem by more tightly integrating the web and native experience. I expect that it will drive additional app usage in those micro-transactional moments when you just need a to complete a small task and move on.
5. Android ChromeOS Merger
It didn’t quite happen as I anticipated; ChromeOS will not be simply merged into Android. Instead, Google announced that it had containerized nearly the entire Android framework so that Android apps are able to run seamlessly on ChromeOS. This means you can open Google Play, install apps, and use them just as you would on a regular smartphone or tablet running Android. This may be a much-needed boost for Chromebook’s presence in the educational space, and while less likely, may help to contribute to adoption in the enterprise. The announcement is somewhat surprising since it was also announced that Android N includes multitasking support — functionality that’s arguably better served on a Chromebook than a smartphone or tablet. Perhaps this is a transition period we will be talking about sooner than later — keep an eye out for further announcements on the interplay between Android and ChromeOS…
It is exciting to see Google finally going all-in on its strengths in AI. We saw a glimpse of this last year at the Google Photos launch, but now we see it front and center around every product release. Overall, despite the long lines, the hot weather, and the disappointing fact that availability of the products announced was almost all slated for later in the year, Google IO 2016 was an overall fantastic experience.