MIA at Google I/O: Glass, Google+ and other projects we're still wondering about
You won’t find anywhere in the universe more welcoming to Google Glass than Google’s I/O conference in San Francisco. So why wasn’t the technology even mentioned during Google’s keynote address?
As Google rolled out new platforms for the television, the car, and wearables (including fitness devices), as well as an aesthetic and functional redesign of Android, some of its more famous projects—like Glass, or its Google+ network—were conspicuously absent. Also MIA were projects that Google’s been kicking around for years, like the perennial autonomous car.
Google isn’t necessarily obligated to update attendees on its moonshots. But for products that are shipping, or are presumably about to—Glass, for example—you’d expect at least some updates. For example: an explanation of how Glass will interact with Google’s two new wearable platforms, Android Wear and Google Fit.
For the two days that Google has the tech world’s eager attention, the company has an opportunity to show a receptive audience how products like Glass and Google+ could fit into its big-ecosystem picture. Instead, we’re left with open questions about where these projects are going. And history has proven that products Google doesn’t talk about can quietly die, too.
Android Wear, and Glass?
At Google I/O, Google showed off both Android Wear and Google Fit—basically Android designed for smartwatches and fitness trackers, respectively. Add Google Glass, with its own set of “Glassware” apps, and you’ve got three sets of devices, with three (apparently) discrete platforms.
On stage, Google executives sold Android Wear as an opportunity to avoid fumbling about in your pocket for your smartphone, and as a glanceable interface for quickly communicating important information. But those are also the selling points of Glass, though Glass adds the ability to shoot photos and video. Glass, Wear, and Fit all tap into the smartphone, which serves as a central communications hub for all three efforts. Yet Google never discussed the potential for this four-piece ecosystem, and that’s baffling.
We know that Glass will get Android Wear’s notifications capability in the near future, so there are clear ties between the three platforms. But it just seems odd that we’re left to draw these lines between these disparate devices, without Google bothering to explain the distinctions.
Some questions I have: Can Google Fit use the GPS device in Google Glass to calculate the distance I’ve jogged? And with designer versions of Glass already available, could a sport-Glass derivative be far behind—one that could communicate with a Fitbit, throwing up a real-time step and distance monitor in the corner of your eye? How does it all fit together?
Google+: the social network that time forgot
If there’s one trend I noted throughout the I/O keynote, it’s that Google’s newest technologies facilitate interaction with you, your data, Google, and its partners. Less was said about interaction with other users, such as one might do on a social network like Google+.
In April, Vic Gundotra, who ran Google+, abruptly left. And the social platform, while allegedly capturing “hundreds of millions of users,” still hasn’t managed to put a serious dent into Facebook, although it’s evolved into both a photo repository and an identity management solution. Vibrant Google+ communities do exist, but are centered more around technology enthusiasts than regular folks.
I don’t see that changing. The notion of sharing anything via Google seems to be slowly fading, while the notion of storing all your digital data on Google is gaining momentum. As of Wednesday, you can pay $10 per month and receive unlimited cloud storage. And the bar will undoubtedly come down from there.
Android@Home, and Nest
In 2011, Google announced Android@Home at Google I/O. “We want to think of every device in your home as a connection to Android apps,” said Hugo Barra, product management director for Google, at the time.
Google partnered with Lighting Science, a manufacturer of lighting products, to develop light fixtures that could be controlled by an in-home wireless network. Since then, we haven’t heard anything about Android@Home or any partnerships in the space.
You can argue that instead of designing a wireless interface for the connected home, Google simply bought everything in it. Google bought Nest, and Nest, in turn, just bought Dropcam. But Android@Home remains nowhere to be found, and Google said not a word about Nest or Dropcom—or the connected home concept—at I/O this week.
The acquisitions give Google ownership of two of the most high-profile connected products out there, and more purchases may be in the offing. Nevertheless, Google neglected to mention any of its recent efforts in the connected home space, nor any plans about how it plans to go forward. The omissions were glaring.
The jury’s still out on whether Google+ will be retired or morphed into something else, like a simple platform for maintaining all our Google identities across products and services. But if Google+ quietly fades away, it wouldn’t be the first Google product to do so. Google is heartlessly Darwinian in its approach to products. Once announced, they seem to be given an update or two, then evaluated. If they fail to deliver, they’re left to wither and eventually die.
Google launched Google TV a few years back. Today, it was kicked to the curb in favor of the new Android TV. The collateral damage was Logitech, whose Logitech Revue set-top box bore the brunt of Google TV’s failure.
And there’s more: Google Latitude. Google Reader. Google Knol. Google Buzz. Google Labs. Google Wave. All of these quietly died within Google, usually marked with a brief blog post and some online lamentations.
I’m not trying to suggest that Nest or Dropcam are dying, or dead. That’s ridiculous. But I have a Nexus Q sitting by my desk, too. In 2012, Google delayed the high-profile streaming media device to, as the company said, “make it even better.” Instead, it took it behind the barn and shot it.
When the Google I/O buzz dies down, consumers and developers will have to decide whether to buy into Google’s future vision—a decision made harder when Google itself doesn’t lay it out for us. I would have liked to have seen someone, especially Larry Page, come out on stage and tell us what Google products we’ll be using in five years.
Because what Google doesn’t talk about is sometimes dying, or already dead.
For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.