Lending Coherence to Rapid Innovation

Google I/O 2012

Yesterday morning, amidst a steadily swelling stream of leaked information, my expectations for the opening Google I/O keynote began to devolve from reluctant optimism to neutral disinterest. Be it a spherical media streaming device with an atmospheric price-point or an excessively bezeled tablet, the immediate sentiment protruding from Moscone West was of unnecessary production, poor planning, and uninspired decision-making.

Despite such premature judgment, the keynote live-stream found its way into my browser later in the morning. Listening to the audio, hearing the wavering nervousness of excited voices and prepared speeches, my feelings concerning the announcements underwent a tidal shift. Prior to the event, the disjointed leak of information served as a resounding disservice of the interconnected and innovative nature of Google’s announcements. Lacking personality, fully-developed detail, or any semblance of context, the Nexus 7 and Q appeared as little more than shoddy bastions of typically Google-esque products.

During the event, however, Google’s outward consideration of its product-line took a significant leap toward coherent seamlessness and interconnection. Whereas, in years past, Google’s keynotes traditionally consisted of rapid innovative announcements with vague linking statements between each, this year’s keynote was characterized by a distinct sense of rolling relations. From Jelly Bean to the Nexus 7 to Google Glasses to Google+, Google deftly transitioned its disparate ecosystem from that of disjointed innovation to coordinated message.

The entirety of the event was laced with dramatic nuance and subtlety in a truly impressive manner. Borrowing from the endlessly examinable nature of a Jobsian keynote, Google was able — for the first time in memory — to gloss over even the smallest of details. For a company known for its rampant geekery, such a dramatic addition to its outward facade is a remarkable thing to behold. Rather than embarking upon lengthy treatises as to the various granularities of its announcements, Google moved from announcement to announcement focusing solely upon the various elements of mass-market appeal. For only a brief moment, for instance, Google announced that Jelly Bean was the codename for Android version 4.1 and that it will be available over-the-air (OTA) in July.

Considering the fact that Google is currently embattled in a fight to bring its extensive Android user-base onto the latest version of the operating system, Google just dealt an exceedingly strong hand toward the increase of Android 4.X usage. Google is, of course, no stranger to minor iterative numbering for its Android updates but, in this instance — given the broad quantity of improvements and additions — I’d say the numbering stems from a strategic mindset more than that of a fitting numbering scheme.

Moreover, with the announcement of the Nexus 7, Jelly Bean marks the seminal arrival of the Android operating system in the collective consumer consciousness. Foregoing the oft-maligned skinning of its third party partners, the Nexus 7 provides an affordable, untouched window onto the true Android ecosystem. Sporting a focus on film, television, and literature, the Nexus 7 is the antithesis to the originating Android versions of yore. Leaving mentions of openness and volatile messages of conflict behind, Google instead spoke primarily of its various innovations for the end-user.

Considering the relative lack of adoption of Google’s previous flagship Nexus devices, the Nexus 7 is indicative of Google’s future plans in the hardware space. As is demonstrated by the Google Play Store, Google is wholly intrigued by the three central battlefields in the war for the modern consumer: phone, tablet, and living room. With the Nexus Q and Nexus 7, Google has its own solutions, its own control, and its own brand presence in each industry. Regardless of the impracticality and ridiculous pricing of the Nexus Q, Google yesterday made a cohesive and important statement utterly indicative of a resurgent and innovative company.

Thus, having demonstrated its coherent and extensive investment in the three-screen world, the keynote then looked toward the future with Google Glasses. Interestingly, rather than presenting Google Glasses in a scientific and isolated manner, Sergey Brin interrupted Vic Gundotra in the middle of a technical demonstration of Google+ to announce the impending aerial arrival of a pair of Google Glasses. Although the spectacle of sky-divers and BMX riders was certainly a marvel to behold, it is the real world sentiment expressed in this scenario that drove the message home. Picking the most extreme of athletes, the most outlandish of circumstances, and yet sustaining a flawless few minutes of uncontrolled execution, Google outlined the future viability and practicality of its oft-judged headwear technology.

Available in a limited fashion for developers early next year, Google demonstrated that it is no longer a company interested in innovation for the sake of innovation. Instead, Google asserted its vested interest in the present and future of technology, and embossed its intentions to follow through in each of these fields.

Although many have been quick to decry Google’s product announcements and plans as impractical and pointless, I find myself optimistic for the prospect of a competitive, coherent, and innovation-driven company. For the first time in years, Google’s plans for the future are readily available for discernment and appraisal in a realistic fashion. Foregoing the geek-centric product announcements of years past, Google has highlighted its interest in the most average of consumers, and has laid the groundwork for its entry into the most contentious of areas within the technology marketplace. In doing so, Google has — in my eyes — produced a sound argument for the re-consideration of Google as a technology giant.

Having broached all manner of privacy concerns, ineffective hardware products, and outlandish executive-spouted claims, Google today appears ready for the broader consumer market. Android appears to have reached a point of readiness for the average person, seamlessness has become a goal, and — most importantly — Google has defined a poignant and far-reaching narrative for its future. Rather than disjointedly spewing innovative products in the hope that something might stick, today’s Google is actively and affably focused upon improving the status quo, with a quiet — but important — eye upon the future.

Perhaps the Nexus Q is a abject failure in terms of pricing and execution, but the ideology beneath it is endlessly indicative of a responsive and consumer-focused Google. Accordingly, in my eyes, I tend to regard yesterday’s announcements as Android 1.0. Shedding complexity, focusing upon the user, and relying upon increased practicality, Android has arrived at a point of relative market readiness. Insofar as Google now owns its own hardware wing and has demonstrated its willingness to exert control over this hardware and software marriage, it is from now on that Android re-embarks upon a process of intrigue for the broader technology community.

Given my outspoken investment in innovation, I cannot fault Google for its announcements yesterday. Although I may not be at a point of outright adoption, I must say that my interest has been piqued, my impression of Google lifted, and my excitement for the cohesive innovations of the company growing.

For the technology community, the battle between Microsoft, Google, and Apple is a fascinating, important, and beneficial thing to behold. Without sustaining dogmatic adherence to one company over another, the end-user will be rewarded with a great many innovative gifts over the coming months and years, and that’s certainly not a bad thing at all.