Google Versus The World

Just a few hours into I/O, Google’s annual state-of-the-union conference, and already we know who the search titan has its sights trained on: Everybody. Everything. Everywhere. And this is just Day One.

Google’s been grasping at ubiquity long before today, but this year’s I/O lineup – so far focusing on mobile, music and home automation (!) – signals a renewed vigour, an aggressive land grab that’s been coming ever since Larry Page took the reins.

And it’s not some flight of whimsy, either; every time a person uses Android, in any capacity, it’s another chance for Google to gather data, to serve ads, to perfect its algorithms. So when we talk about Android@Home or Google Music or Google Anything, remember that all we’re ever really talking about is Search. It’s a huge battle. Here are the fronts, and what it means for you.


The worst thing about Android smartphones? Fragmentation, a wonderfully long word with a horribly blunt meaning: your Android device is probably out of date, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But with the newly announced Ice Cream Sandwich firmware update, all that’s about to change.

What Google’s done – which had been hinted at earlier – is make its hardware partners promise that starting with Ice Cream Sandwich, all new Android devices must be capable of running the latest and greatest version for the first 18 months after they go on sale. Which means you’ll finally know what you’re getting when you buy one.

That kind of consistency has been the hallmark of the iPhone, and a major argument in favour of Apple’s platform – one that’s no longer nearly as valid. And the other goodies announced today, like kooky 3D headtracking and an Android Market 200,000 apps strong, bolster Google’s mobile cred tremendously. All of which makes you more likely to use Android, search with Google, and give the kind of usage data that results in laser-targeted ads. But wait – you didn’t think this was just about phones, did you?

Google’s thinking bigger. Android’s not confined to phones or tablets. Today’s announcement of the Android Open Accessory API means that the operating system is going to live in – and collect information from – anything you can dream up. Google showed off an Android-equipped exercise bike earlier as a for instance, but that’s just the tip of a very deep iceberg. Medical equipment, home entertainment – eventually, anything with Bluetooth can and will be run off of your Android device. Even better: it’s based on Arduino, the universal (and universally loved) open source hardware.

This won’t hit until closer to the end of the year. But when it does, you’re going to see Android everywhere you turn. And you’re going to like it.


OK, it’s true that Amazon beat Google to the first mainstream music storage locker. But Google just rolled out the first music locker worth using. The entire process of buying and navigating through Amazon’s UI is nightmarish, and if the early Google Music demos are any indication, it’s far more polished.

But what’s Google Music’s place among the MOGs and Rdios of the world? It’s gives pure music fanatics a trusty home. Casual users will still gravitate towards services such as MOG and Rdio because their music library consists of a few hundred songs and they just listen to whatever is recommended to them (which is fine!). More hardcore music heads, though, will opt for a well-conceived storage locker such as Google’s, which allows them to take their well-curated, supple music library and upload it to the cloud.They won’t get hundreds of new albums for a monthly fee, but they know what they like, and probably have things that the subscription services don’t offer. Meanwhile, Google amasses enough music collections to power a pretty kickass recommendation engine.

Oh, and Apple? Still working on that whole cloud thing.

Home Automation

The biggest surprise of the day? Android@Home. And if it lives up to its promise, it’ll be the Hulk to Apple AirPlay’s Bruce Banner.

Like almost all things Google, Android@Home is an open source adventure. In this case, a series of open source libraries with which devs can create home automation apps that are Android-compliant. Want to dim the lights? Do it from your phone. Forget to turn off the oven? Power it down from your tablet. As long as it’s plugged into an Android@Home receiver, you can manipulate it from your mobile device.

Compare that to the current state of home automation: three primary competing standards buffeted by proprietary systems, a jumble of pricy integration solutions and options. It’s manageable, sure, but it’s expensive and confusing and intimidating. You know what’s none of those things? A tag on the shelf that says “Made for Android” and an app on your phone.

And that’s just appliances. Within the Android@Home framework lurks Google Tungsten, the key to zipping your 20,000 song-strong Google Music collection to speakers throughout your house. It’s like an open source AirPlay, which means more choices and, hopefully, cheaper options.

And More

This is just the first day’s haul. Tomorrow? Google TV. Google Chrome. And who knows what else might be waiting in the wings for the grand finale. We’ll be updating with whatever they’ve got planned. In the meantime, you should start getting comfortable with the idea of Android, everywhere, all the time.