A few hours ago Google held the keynote presentation of their yearly I/O developer conference. My housemates and I, all being computer science students, put it on the TV and discussed the announcements as they happened. This post is a summary of my thoughts on what happened.

As a Developer

There is only really one thing I can take away from the announcements, and that is that Google ‘gets it’. I suspect this comes from a deep-rooted respect for developers within the company, after all, the founders were both developers.

They announced a new IDE for Android development, which appears to address many of the issues people have had since the beginning - most importantly device fragmentation, and some of the new APIs in Android are clearly going to benefit developers far more than anyone else.

But there is a bit more to it than this. In the Play store developer console, developers are now given recommendations on how they can improve their app, including which languages to translate to, and even built in options to send text to translators. To me, this looks perfectly suited to small ‘indie’ developers, and companies who can’t afford market research teams.

On top of this, the ability to launch alphas and betas of apps, and then roll out a production version to a small percentage of users to make sure there are no issues, shows that Google is dedicated to helping developers be better at making high quality, reliable, applications.

I saw a lot of negativity coming from (iOS) developers on Twitter during the keynote, and given all of these announcements, plus some of the amazing tough computer science problems that Google is tackling in so many of their new products, I have to wonder are these developers being dishonest, or just delusional?

As a User

From this perspective, there were a large number of announcements. Music, search, maps and photos are all being overhauled.

  • Google now has it’s own music subscription service, and combining it with their cloud music storage, it looks like a serious competitor to Spotify and Rdio.
  • Search now features natural language voice searching, with real answers and context like with Apple’s Siri.
  • Maps allows you to zoom all the way from photos inside a building, right up to seeing the whole planet, with live cloud maps.
  • Photos now finds the best photos from your collections and has an ‘instant enhance’ feature to make them even better.

Is there anything truly groundbreaking here? These all sound like something Apple could launch at WWDC in a month, so what’s so special about them?

  • The subscription service will benefit from Google’s history of learning from your music habits, and even your YouTube history, and will be in a much better position to suggest music to you than Spotify and Rdio, which have both received criticism from my friends for their poor music prediction ability.
  • Voice search sounds like Siri on the surface, and the interface is very similar, but with Google’s knowledge graph, and the information from products like Google Now, it’s going to be a whole lot more useful, and if you think talking to your computer is a bit too Star Trek for now, just use the text search instead.
  • Apple Maps isn’t that bad right? Google take street view photos of shops, look for signs in them, and use those signs to place business information in exactly the right place. They read signposts at roundabouts and intersections to figure out how cars are allowed to drive around them.
  • iPhoto has had ‘instant enhance’ for years, I think even Picasa had it, what makes Google’s so special? It knows if there are people in the photo and optimises for that. Not enough? It will recognize when you take multiple photos of the same thing, and will merge them to make sure exposure is correct, and to make sure that you get a photo where everyone is smiling at the same time. It does all of this by learning about your photos over time.

Many of the products and features that Google announced today have been done before, and even done very well, but in almost every case Google has brought something new to the table, something only it, with over a decade of data can do. How many companies are there who can learn from your data in this way? I can count them on one hand, and unfortunately Apple isn’t on the list.

Of course the issue that is always raised with this sort of technology is privacy, and this is an interesting issue. From personal experience, it seems like the media and people in the technology industry care about privacy a lot more than the general population. However, Google were careful to point out at every opportunity that the clever stuff that could be considered creepy by some people can all be turned off. I probably won’t do this. If I’m going to be shown adverts, I’d rather see ones that are targeted at me, and I’m happy for Google to sell my music listening habits to market researchers in return for better music recommendations.

As a developer, I would really like to start developing for Android. As a user, I am looking forward to Google’s new web services, and Apple are going to have to catch up at WWDC to keep me on iOS for my next phone.

On a side note, after all the announcements, Larry Page came on stage and delivered a moving speech about using technology to change the world. There aren’t enough companies who are really trying to make the world a better place, but I really think Google, or at least its founders, are dedicated to this.