Although aimed at developers, Googe’s I/O 2013 conference, like Apple’s WWDC is notable for the product announcements that come with the keynote. This week’s keynote from Google was three hours long and on a first pass, you would be forgiven for being underwhelmed.
The announcements were mostly enhancements to existing services and applications, rather than anything radically new. However, on deeper inspection, they signal where Google (and its competitors) see the battleground over the next year or two and where they are likely to consolidate their efforts.
Google Play Music All Access
Of the significant announcements, Google Play Music will now offer an “All Access” streaming service for $9.99 per month.
The success of services like Spotify, Rdio and Pandora have prompted speculation that it was only a matter of time before Apple and Google provided their own services and that has indeed turned out to be the case.
Spotify and Rdio have a small window before this becomes a significant threat to their business as the service is currently only available in the US, at least for sign-up. You need a US credit card in addition to your computer being goe-located there, after that it doesn’t check.
A new interface for maps extends Google’s dominance in this area and shows how hard it is going to be for Apple to really compete in this space, even if it ever does manage to get the basic problems with its service sorted out.
The maps now have more contextual information depending on what you are searching for. Find a restaurant for example and a card will pop up allowing you to explore the interior in 3D along with user photos. Related information will also show up on the map highlighting Google’s increasing use of personalised information.
Although Google’s answer to Facebook still has some way to go to really gain traction, its features keep getting better. Google has made Hangouts (the Skype competitor) more useful by merging it with its Google Talk functionality. This is really a revisiting of the Google Wave idea but making it a useful enhancement of existing products rather than a separate function.
Google has upped the ante with its handling of photographs, offering more space for high resolution images and more consumer orientated photo processing tools (you are not alone Instagram).
Probably the most interesting aspect of this however are the automated features: tagging of photos using image recognition, selection of photos that are not blurry, shot in low light, etc. These features highlight Google’s ability to use sophisticated algorithms for artificial intelligence-like functionality that its competitors, like Facebook and Apple, will struggle to match.
Native Samsung S4
Consumers who were waiting for a refresh on Google’s Nexus 4 phone will be somewhat disappointed that this didn’t happen. Google instead chose to offer a Samsung S4 with its native Android user interface.
This is actually quite a clever move on Google’s part because it nullifies some of the criticism that it has been getting recently about the dangers of Samsung’s success translating into its dominance of Android.
It will also be interesting to see how sales are influenced by the version of Android running on the phone, and also whether this means it will be possible to install the Google Android version on S4s bought elsewhere (if they can be unlocked).
There were a range of other functionality upgrades announced including the availability of Google Now, with the personal assistant program being enhanced and available on the PC.
Google’s Cloud Services
Google has seen increased competition for cloud services from all sides but most notably from Apple’s iCloud and Amazon Web Services, albeit in different parts of the business.
The Google Compute Engine has been made available to all users and not just those paying for high levels of support. It's likely it will struggle to match the richness of functionality that Amazon Web Services is rapidly bringing to market, in addition to providing locally hosted instances of Cloud which provide companies and government with onshore access to these services.
Overall, the rate of change of Google’s product releases has slowed and what we are seeing is mainly consolidation with some new features. This is not going to satisfy those looking for “revolution” but it is becoming increasingly clear that we are not going to see paradigms being shifted this year.