The Two Most Important Things at Google I/O

This story originally written by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at CITEworld. Sign up for our free newsletter here.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) I/O, the company's huge, all-important developer conference, had many, many things going on and many announcements.

There were two that stood out from a big-picture business perspective. 

1. Android for the developing world
Mobile in the developing world is a very big theme if you want to understand the future of mobile. I've argued that the future of mobile is more likely to come from Africa than from anywhere else. I've also argued, more generally, that the future of mobile will be determined by the next billion smartphone consumers in developing markets, and the "next next billion" in poor countries -- not by consumers in already-saturated rich countries. 

But more specifically, I've argued that there is an opportunity to disrupt the smartphone platform game from the bottom, just like Android is disrupting iOS, with phones and a platform specifically geared to the needs of "next next billion" consumers, in the classic disruptive innovation paradigm of coming out with a cheaper, lower-featured product that appeals to an underserved segment of the market and then eats its way up the value chain. This is the opportunity that Firefox OS is going for, and I think it has a good shot. 

When I described the opportunity, I wrote that Google could also theoretically go after that market, but that it was unlikely to do so, given a lack of interest, and a product roadmap focused on higher-end features to compete with iOS.

It looks like Google has been paying attention after all. At I/O, Google announced Android One, a new set of hardware references to combine with stock Android to make ultra-cheap phones for the developing world. Google showed off a sub-$100 Android One phone and said its program will begin this fall in India. 

Does this mean Google is going to win this market? Not necessarily, this is just an announcement -- a statement of intentions. But the game is on. Firefox OS is on it. Android One is on it. ZTE and others are on it. It's the beginning of the great next big wave in mobile computing, and it will be very exciting to watch. 

2. Android everywhere; Google everywhere
There was a meme going around a few years back about the Google-Apple rivalry: "Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at services." It gets at the fact that the cornerstone of Google's strategy is to get you using Google services all day every day, and lock you into those services.

(It turns out that Google did get better at design -- it also introduced Material Design, a new overall design look for basically all its software, including the next version of Android -- though probably not as good as Apple. Meanwhile, Apple is getting really good at services.)

But this theme really tied together what looked like a disparate set of product and technology announcements: Google wants to be everywhere in your life with its services and particularly with Android.

That was the theme behind the most important announcement of the night, Android L, the code name of the next version of Android, which is set apart by the fact that it's designed to work on phones, and tablets, and smartwatches, and TVs, and cars (Google announced a bevy of partners to put Android in cars), and laptops (Google announced that some Android apps are going to be available on its Chromebooks, though the details are murky). 

Google wants you to have a seamless experience, so that every flat panel around you (and on you) and every tactile surface is really another part of Google through which you interact seamlessly. So, for example, if you are wearing your Google Android smartwatch, you will not need a passport to unlock your Android smartphone or your Android car. Google is all around you, it's in the air, and all of the glass surfaces around you are just one way to interact with.

Over the past few years, Google has been basically throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, trying to launch or build as many devices and experiences as possible for every possible aspect of your life. Glass has been a flop (at least thus far), Chromecast has been an unexpected hit, and so on. 

Now that all these devices and experiences are out there, comes the next step: Unify them, both in terms of technology and software. Hence Android L, and in terms of user experience, Material Design. 

One Google everywhere, all around the world. Welcome to the future.

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