I decided to have a duvet day today (Thursday 12 May) and stayed home to watch the Google I/O – all warmly wrapped up in my duvet:
What I liked: There appears to be a greater focus on developing what they already have and making it better rather than brand new features that get a lot of attention then eventually wither and die on the vine. A good example of an improvement is Google Assistant being able to pick up that you’re looking at the device then being able to ask a question without having to start with ‘Hey Google’. The really cool part they then showed is the ability for Google Assistant to work even with broken sentences – the natural language capabilities are surpassing Apple even when it comes to on device processing – no doubt by creating models based on huge sets of data collected over the years.
Google Wallet (link) got a mention in the keynote however information was provided further on 9to5Google where it appears that it pretty much falls into what I expected – Google Wallet then inside Google Wallet you’ll have Google Pay, ID’s, drivers licence, travel cards etc. so basically it is what it should have been from day, what Apple Wallet is today.
Although not mentioned in the keynote itself the 9to5Google website reports that Google Messages RCS group encryption (link) will arrive in beta form later this year. Although end to end encryption for individual messages was deployed when it came to group chat it fell back to unencrypted. With this move it pretty much closes the functionality gap between iMessage and RCS. The big question is whether Google provides a RCS client for iOS (since it wouldn’t be duplicating the existing SMS it should result in it being rejected) or whether Apple themselves step up regarding RCS support. One thing to keep in mind is that RCS messaging is mandatory for 5G handsets (link) so eventually they’re going to have to implement it by either having a set of servers that take care of RCS (like how Google has done with Jibe) or leave it up to the carriers to implement it themselves.
What I didn’t like: Once again they announce the Pixel and or it to be only available in 13 countries. At this point I really have to wonder whether Google’s hardware division is actually interested in becoming a serious hardware provider, whether this is just a place where smart people can muck around, they’re scared of angering Samsung or they have a gentleman’s agreement with Samsung particularly around Wear OS of not going into certain markets (maybe all of the above?). Yes, there is Samsung and their product has improved immensely since the days of TouchWiz but for many they want the pure Google experience without all the Samsung fluff and crapware such as the pre-installed applications from Microsoft (I’d argue that very few people want and those who do want it are quite capable of downloading it from the Playstore).
One of the other things is the fact in many ways it still behaves like a startup which causes frustration particularly when it comes to the constant upheaval be it in the area of messaging or even their payment solutions. It appears that Google has finally settled on RCS being the future of their messaging platform but it took a lot of painful stops, starts and abrupt cancellations to get here which has created unease in ‘early adopter enthusiasts’ who tend to be the very sort of people who evangelise for your organisation aka ‘the family member/friend who is good with computers’. A similar situation occurred a couple of yeas ago when there was a premature announcement of Google bank accounts then having to walk it back then cancelling the idea. This was part of the much larger focus on a much wider ambition regarding the GPay/Wallet app resulting them falling behind Apple – Apple having a more coherent vision from the outset where, although all the features weren’t available all at once they developed their Wallet app to have the flexibility to accomodate features that’ll be added in the future.
Conclusion: I get the impression at this point that after almost 2 decades and a half of upheaval at Google, the flinging ideas against the wall and then see what sticks, there is a move by Google from having a startup mindset to an established business. Although their hardware devision has been nothing but a major disappointment in my eyes, it appears that from the outside we’re seeing the Google Workspace take over the driving of development regarding their productivity services, YouTube is taking over the Movies side etc. Play Store will probably get rebranded at some point as purely as either an App Store or ‘Google Store’ where apps and hardware can be sold (much like how Microsoft does it) etc. Hopefully this should mean that going forward that any investment into the ecosystem should result in an assurance that long term that Google isn’t going to suddenly pull the rug out from underneath you. With the focus on building on what already exists rather than gimmicky new features it tells me that Google’s focus going forward is about ‘fit and finish’ when it comes to executing ideas so hopefully that should mean many more years of Android 13 like releases. For those wanting a much more exhaustive recap on Google I/O here is a blog that goes into a lot more depth than what I have done (link).