In San Francisco at its Google I/O developer conference, the search giant announced a host of new products and APIs designed to pipe in data from people's cars, televisions, fitness habits and domestic routines to the Googleplex's data maw, and then on to app developers.
Though it makes some of the most powerful software in the world, today Google is still the world's largest ad agency. Despite self-driving cars and flying turbines, still over 90 percent of its revenue comes from advertising. So collecting people's habits and inclinations in order to better target those ads was never going to stay confined to smartphones and web browsers.
For instance, Backdrop, a slideshow for your television when it's unused, connects curious consumers to search results related to that content. Say Google serves up a dreamy picture of the Maldives -- consumers can find out about flights in a few clicks right on their television.
Google seemed happy to embrace how much it knows about people -- and that it will continue to do so.
"We want to understand when you're at home with your kids," said Chrome and Android boss Sundar Pichai to a hall of thousands of developers and countless more watching via YouTube from around the world (Google claimed over a million).
Much of this involves the promises already made with Google Now: get traffic before your drive or the weather before you ask -- predictive analytics designed to make life smoother. But Google's vision of a connected home goes farther than that. Demoing Android Wear, smartwatches that sync with your phone, a Googler showed that he could speak a reminder to his smartwatch to check for a package in the mailbox when he got home. Thanks to location services, his smartwatch was able to issue the reminder at the right time.
"Sensors will help [developers] understand [the user's] context so [developers] can provide useful information when you need it," Pichar said.
The watch is designed to be a proxy for the (arduous?) task of removing one's phone from the pocket. But this is still not an entirely convincing usecase, especially when being asked to pay hundreds dollars for the device. For instance, don't most people check their mail when they get home anyway?
To be fair, the Android Wear did seem useful when clicking off an incoming call or controlling the phone's music. But again, I'm not convinced the average consumer would need two computers strapped to their body to complete such tasks. Frankly, smartwatches continue to beg the question: "Looks cool, but does the average consumer really need that too?"
That question dovetails to Android Wear as a fitness tracker. Google unveiled Google Fit, an upcoming set of APIs designed to build health tracking applications, after earlier this month Apple unveiled the iOS version, HealthKit. The software is designed to give developers the tools to build applications around steps taken or tracking heart rate, depending on the wearable device.
But if you're not much for burning off those calories by walking, Google also announced Android Auto, which is trying to make the connected car a reality. The company (awkwardly) demonstrated driving to work in a "contextually aware" car -- with the phone plugged into the dash -- that operates via voice commands, though the demonstrator did push a lot of buttons while he was supposed to be driving.
Most car makers have already started building their own vehicle operating systems, complete with navigation apps, phone integration and voice controls. But this is a costly process. Google spread Android to mobile devices by offering it up to free to OEMs -- a similar strategy seems in play here.
Google even boasted about the Open Automotive Alliance, a collection of over 40 automakers pledging fealty. But it was hard not to draw parallels with the Open Handset Alliance, a toothless equivalency for mobile phones, announced when Google unveiled Android in 2007.
Finally, as expected, Google announced Android TV (and that Chromecast would stick around), a television operating system. Consumers can slide through movies and games, or access their favorite apps from a smartphone app. This is the kind of integration that should make Netflix queasy -- Google Play carries many of the same titles and the Google employee on demo duty navigated smoothly by voice commands -- again, it was a demo -- which felt like a stark contrast to the clunky Netflix app. Google said versions of Android TV would soon be running on models from giants like LG and Sony.
Of course all of this comes on the heels of Google buying smart thermostat maker Nest earlier this year, followed by Nest buying Dropcam, the home monitoring video software, last week. At this point it's hard to look at Google's vision of a connected home and see an area it isn't making clear inroads to vacuum up people's data.
Google Shower, anyone?
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