Google continues to tighten up and organize various services into key focus areas at its sixth annual developer-focused conference. A morning keynote that dragged well beyond three hours highlighted just how messy and unintuitive Google's product structure can be for end users. Even with ongoing leadership changes and reorganization efforts that aim to replace the horizontal flow of ideas and services that cobbled Google's chances for a more clear strategy for years, the company appears to have as many moving parts as ever.
Google is trying to get out ahead of these issues instead of hiding from the challenges it faces due to fragmented product lines. After more than 50 years of work and progress in real-time communication products, "we are still stuck with gadgets that get in the way," says Vic Gundotra, SVP of engineering at Google. "Frankly, even Google's own services have been fragmented and confused at times."
Google revealed changes and updates across most of its portfolio on Wednesday, particularly with respect to Android and Google Play, Chrome, Google+, Search, and Maps. "We view this as one of the most important moments in computing," says Sundar Pichai, SVP of Android, Chrome, and apps at Google. "At the heart of this journey is the impact we can have on people around the world."
He, and indeed Google itself, is putting an ever-growing emphasis on the company's two large platforms in Android and Chrome. The company has activated more than 900 million Android devices as of this week, marking a dramatic growth curve from the 400 million activations it had clocked by 2012 and the 100 million activations it reported in 2011.
Google wants to bring that number into the billions, and there is plenty of room for growth considering Android is still hovering around less than 10 percent in most areas of the world, Pichai adds. Google's business goal with Android is simple and very clear, he says. It wants to bring the power of the Internet to as many people as possible.
After announcing a series of new APIs and tools now available to developers, Google unveiled its own music subscription service that will compete with the likes of Rdio and Spotify at a non-competitive monthly fee of $10 per month. Much of the early reaction focused on Google's awkward branding for the service, which it calls Google Play Music All Access, but industry watchers and shakers could change their tune if Google is able to disrupt an industry that has mostly avoided Google's influence to date. Key details surrounding Google's new music subscription service were in short supply, but the service did launch in the U.S. within a matter of hours carrying an offer for a free 30-day trial.
Google Play is also growing exponentially, surpassing 48 billion app installs prior to the company's annual developer gathering, says Hugo Barra, VP of Android product management at the company. Google has paid out more revenue share to developers on Google Play over the last four months than all of last year and revenue per user is now two-and-a-half times what it was a year ago globally, he adds.
With 750 million active users on Chrome today, Google says it's now focusing on bringing the same level of speed, simplicity, and security that users expect from the desktop version of Chrome to mobile. "We think we can do to the mobile web what we did for the desktop web," says Pichai. "The same capabilities that you're used to on Chrome on the desktop are all coming to Android."
Google+ got a refresh as well, with a new three-column format that resembles Pinterest and some of Tumblr's themes, improved social streams, photo features, and a new version of Google+ Hangouts that the company is pivoting into a dedicated app for iOS, Android, and the web. The new Hangouts app will continue to evolve as Google intends to bring text, photo, emoticon, video chat, and eventually voice communications under one big umbrella.
Beginning with a bold declaration of "the end of search as we know it," Amit Singhal, SVP and software engineer at Google, introduced Google's vision and plans for the next wave in the evolution of search. Google Search can now set reminders by voice and bring conversational voice search and responses to all tablets, laptops, and desktops in Chrome. Google Now is getting a makeover as well, with a series of new cards for reminders, public transit commute times, music, books, TV shows, and video games.
Finally, the company also previewed its next version of Google Maps that it plans to streamline across all channels and platforms this summer.
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Matt Kapko has been writing about mobile since 2006, before it became cool. Based in Long Beach, CA, he has covered mobile entertainment, digital media, marketing, and advertising for several business media outlets. A former editor and reporter for RCR Wireless News, paidContent, and iMedia Connection, Matt is a regular freelance reporter for ClickZ. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattKapko or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 19, 2014