The greatest show on Google Earth
For those who follow Google or use its products, Google's annual developers' conference is perhaps the greatest show on Google Earth. New announcements compete with planned and unexpected theatrics for legendary status.
As we eagerly await the opening of Google I/O, let's look back at the most memorable moments and biggest reveals from past years.
2010: Vic Gundotra’s “Welcome to Android” manifesto
The year is 2010, and the Google-Apple smartphone rivalry is just getting warmed up. Google exec Vic Gundotra stood onstage at Google I/O and delivered a manifesto of sorts for Android. And somehow, the rhetoric of political repression made its way into the smartphone scene.
“If Google didn’t act, it faced a draconian future where one man, one phone, one carrier were our choice. That’s a future we don’t want,” he said. “If you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone, then welcome to Android.”
2010: Tune into Google TV
Also in 2010 came Google TV, the company's first stab at home entertainment. Unlike the later Chromecast and Nexus Q products, Google TV wasn’t a streaming device. Instead, it was a smart TV platform that other companies could build into their own streaming products or HDTVs.
A handful of companies—most notably, Logitech and Sony—released Google TV-based products. None of them really caught on, but Google TV isn’t dead! Rumors suggest we may see Google TV reborn as “Android TV” at this year’s Google I/O.
2011: Would you like an Ice Cream Sandwich?
Back in the old days, Google had two different versions of Android: Android 2.3 Gingerbread for phones, and Android 3.0 Honeycomb for tablets. But with Android 4.0—dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich—Google unified Android into one operating system for tablets and phones alike.
Ice Cream Sandwich brought many of the new features introduced in Honeycomb to Android smartphones, and it made a whole host of improvements to just about every corner of the OS. Although it was announced at Google I/O 2011, Ice Cream Sandwich wouldn’t become available until it shipped with the Galaxy Nexus later that year.
2012: The curious case of the Nexus Q
In 2012, Google showed off the Nexus Q, an orb-shaped streaming device you could hook up to your HDTV. The Q was designed to work with your Android-based phone or tablet to stream video to your TV—or audio to a set of speakers, for that matter. Invite your friends over, and they could stream media from their Android devices, too.
It was a clever spin on the media streamer, and it looked cool. But...it never went anywhere. Google discontinued the device before it was even released and gave free Nexus Qs to those who preordered it.
2012: The Nexus gets bigger
Google has long used the Nexus brand for smartphones it considers to be the model for other companies to follow. In 2012, Google expanded the Nexus brand to include tablets, with the introduction of the Nexus 7.
This 7-inch tablet made by Asus featured a 1280x800-pixel touchscreen; a front-facing camera; built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC; and an Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset. The first Nexus tablet cost $199.
2012: Skydiving with Google Glass
Google I/O 2012 was a huge show, but the most memorable moment was when Larry Page interrupted the proceedings to publicly demonstrate Project Glass—now known as Google Glass.
But demonstrating a futuristic face computer wasn’t enough by itself: As part of the demo, five skydivers jumped from a blimp, as Google broadcasted video captured from the skydivers’ Glass headsets to the keynote audience. That’s one way to make an entrance.
2013: Flagship phones for developers
It seems like an obvious thing to do: Sell developer-friendly versions of popular Android phones that lack custom add-ons and vendor-provided overlays, and instead have the latest stock version of Android running on it.
Unfortunately, it took several years before Google announced a developer-friendly version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013. This edition of the S4 did away with Samsung’s customized TouchWiz interface and replaced it with unadulterated, stock Android, making it more like a Nexus phone than a typical Samsung phone.
2013: Larry Page talks...and talks...
Larry Page has feelings. Lots of feelings. Some of them make him sad. And at 2013’s I/O, Google’s CEO spent a full 45 minutes at the end of the keynote expressing some of those feelings.
In his rambling speech, Page discussed how advancing technology excited him, but he also took aim at perceived negativity—particularly from the tech press—and how it makes him sad. Poor Larry. :(