Apple should fear new, ruthless Google

In spy stories there is always an all-seeing organisation. We learn its

influence touches almost every aspect of our lives and it knows

everything about us. But its true power is never really known until we

learn the most important element: how it is all connected. This week

Google spelt it out.

The Google I/O 2013

keynote took nearly four hours. It was exhaustive, at times oddly paced

and to those with their hearts set on shiny new gadgetry, rather

underwhelming. And yet Google spilt its secrets. The once-vague, even

fictitious connective tissue supposedly running through the labyrinthine

organisation turned out not only to be real, but brilliant. We

now have a vision of quite possibly technology’s strongest ecosystem.

Fixing Fragmentation
From

the outset the theme of the I/O 2013 keynote was to reverse common perceptions.

Google argued it is actually the computing world and its devices that are fragmented, rather than Google itself, and Google is the only company that can pull all the pieces

together. The irony wasn’t lost given fragmentation is the stick rivals

have long used to beat Google, but instead it was saying ‘choose whatever platform you like we will fix the rest’.
Google Cloud
To

demonstrate this it pitched open APIs that enable real-time

multiplayer gaming across Android phones and tablets, iPhones and iPads.

It promoted services running on different OSs that all look and run

in near identical fashion. It also claimed Chrome is now the most

popular browser in the world across PCs, Macs and Linux.

Did this approach convince? Partially.

Google has a long history of creating semi-open platforms and its

touting of Chrome comes just a month after it declared the browser would

fork

the open source Webkit engine at its heart. That said, what it did show

was a side its biggest rivals, Microsoft and Apple, have little to no ambition of entertaining. Score one, Google.

Practice what you preach
But reaching out to other platforms is pointless if you can’t unify your own. To this end I/O 2013 saw Google announce numerous measures.

First was the merger of all its instant messaging clients into a single new Hangouts service (available cross platform, naturally). Next came Google Play

games services, which enable real-time multiplayer, leaderboards, cloud

saves and achievements across Android. Leaderboards, saves and

achievements will also be available to iOS and through a web browser.

Equally

practical and symbolic were new smart notifications. If you own

multiple Google devices they will soon detect which you are using,

alert you once and dismiss further notifications elsewhere. This is

simple and long overdue, but not available on any rival platform, and

creates a much more pleasant multi-device experience.

Google even pulled out a party piece: a Samsung Galaxy S4

running stock Android that will seamlessly receive the latest Android

updates. Little information was given about global availability of the

unit, how many will be made or how long the partnership will last, but

it projected the vision of a company getting its most troublesome partner back under control.

The

struggling Google TV platform got an update too and notably the primary

benefit is to enable future versions of Android’s firmware to be

applied to any Google TV product within “weeks rather than months”.

Google’s claims were gaining credence.

Bring on big data
And yet cross platform support and unity were merely setup jabs for what Google knows is its knock-out blow: data. Google

has built everything around its foundation of search and it took its

indexing, algorithmic and predictive data so far forward at I/O 2013 it

is hard to see how Bing’s minority share of the market or search-less,

data licensing rivals like Apple can react.

For starters, using what it already knows Google is integrating voice activated search into Chrome and Chrome OS, training users to say ‘OK Google’ when they want information. As if the verb ‘to google’ were not already ingrained enough.

Meanwhile Google

Now’s predictive powers will add real-time public transit updates and

smart reminders to its ability to second guess your needs for

transportation, flight and hotel bookings, sports scores, birthday

alerts, weather updates, currency conversion and language translation.

The seemingly innocent Google Music All Access

even gets in on the act. The Spotify rival not only gives Google the

jump on Apple, which is yet to launch a full fat music streaming service, but it also has advantages in tracking real time user

listening habits and it can make recommendations based on their past

Google Music purchases. Google Maps

Most concerning for rivals, however, are Google’s new data mining techniques.

In its headline redesign of Google Maps, arguably the company’s finest service is now also a data-gathering colossus. New Google Maps learns every user’s travel patterns, offers

check-ins, encourages reviews of local businesses, integrates the

reviews of your friends and works as a discovery tool pinpointing nearby

alternatives to the businesses you search for. It also incorporates

company promotions and can differentiate physical activity (walking,

running, cycling) as you travel your route which will generate yet more

revenue streams.

Less heralded, but potentially even more

valuable is I/O’s evolution of Google Wallet. The Paypal rival is being

fused into Gmail, enabling cash payments to be made seamlessly by email.

It is US-only at launch, but a widespread roll out not only finally

finds a strong usage case for the service, it helps Google build data on

spend patterns and money transfers around the world.

In the battle for smart devices, it is hard to see how the company with the most user data can fail to provide the smartest.

Hiding Hardware
And on top of it all came healthy doses of self awareness.

“Frankly,

Google’s own services have been fragmented and confused at times,”

admitted Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of engineering for Google,

in what was the sort of confession a company only makes when supremely

confident about its future.

Google even knew when to shut up.

Android 4.3 and new Nexus devices were universally expected to get their

first public airing at I/O, but Google kept them under wraps.

New firmware would only ignite talk of how phone manufacturers are

already struggling to update to Android 4.2 and high powered, low price

Nexus phones and tablets risked switching the focus of news coverage to

whether Google was getting involved in a fight with hardware partners.

Both questions remain valid, but Google will likely delay them a

month or two so the dust can settle on the new vision of the company it

is promoting. The consequence of which serves as a timely reminder that

Google is far from perfect. Fragmentation of Android is a very real

problem, Chrome OS remains a niche platform and should Microsoft or

Apple ever get the gumption to buy Facebook – or at least heavily

licence its data – they could potentially bring Google-rivalling smart

data services to market themselves.

Don’t be evil
That

said what I/O 2013 announced to the world is Google is now a more

focused and dangerous rival than at any point in its history.

It doesn’t really matter whether Google’s master plan has been years in

the making or found relatively recently. The result is an ecosystem that is smart, compelling and most importantly thrives using data

assets its rivals can likely never match. All

of which conjures feelings of admiration, but also concern. In the spy

stories companies with this much power and cohesion are usually evil. And we all have our views on Google’s interpretation of that…

Next, read about how Samsung is planning to bring down Android…