Quick impressions of Google’s keynote at I/O:

It’s clear that Google is realizing that just dominating desktop search, and mostly mobile search is no longer enough. The number of places where someone starts a “search” (it’s now much more than just a search with a few keywords) is rapidly multiplying. It’s in your home, it’s speaking into your phone, it’s asking a friend within a messenger, it’s asking within a new place on the internet, and pretty soon it may just be thinking something in your head!

The Assistant, and Google’s overall strategy for search as A/I was loud and clear, and fully on display. It’s a good one. But Google has a lot of catching up to do to build the products and own the spaces where we will actually do these new searches and new behaviors.

When they got into showing actual product demos, I felt for a second I was watching a Microsoft conference from 2003 where they showed internet product after internet product that looked like derivates of what others are building but where they hoped their strong brand would sell it through. This rarely works.

  • Google Home looked way too much like Amazon Echo
  • Their new messaging app Allo looked too much like Facebook Messenger and who needs a new messenger anyway
  • Their new video chatting app Duo looked just like Facetime with a twist of seeing the caller live before you pick up.

Also — why aren’t both of these messaging apps just Google Hangouts? How many messaging apps will Google have? Do they not have distribution on any of them? If they can integrate these features into core Android messaging and calling — just like Apple has with Facetime, it becomes interesting. Not sure they have the same leverage that Apple does, but it will be smart if/when they do.

The biggest thing they announced that is live now is Firebase. This has a chance to become a really important mobile development platform for small companies (it can mostly replace Parse which Facebook is killing) all the way up to big companies with a much richer and free analytics platform and replace Google Analytics, Mixpanel (which is getting expensive for many developers) and Flurry which isn’t changing much since Yahoo bought them. Firebase looks great and I’d encourage people to check it out.

I was much more impressed later with the technology demonstrations of things to come. These seemed much more the strength of Google then the derivative product demos.

  • Daydream VR plans can push the state of mobile VR with its standards. Hopefully this will instigate a lot of cheap clones of headsets that all basically work the same so the real VR battle can happen at the software layer where Google will have a fight against Oculus and others. The controller looked to be quite fun.
  • Google Instant Apps looks like a clever way to stream apps instead of forcing a user to download them. There was a lot of snark around “aren’t these just web pages?!!” which is mostly true. But if you can develop a rich app once and still get the benefits of the web this is a big deal for google and the web at large. I bet this gets more integrated as an ad or viral use case, but people still push users to download apps as much as possible. That home screen real estate still matters.
  • Android N, Wear, and Car looked like iterations on the core, nothing extraordinary. I hope they call it Android Nutty NcNutface because when the biggest idea is to open up the naming, that makes me worried.

All in all though, the energy at Shoreline yesterday was exciting and it feels like Google is setting itself up to now drive the agenda on search and assistants for a long time. They’d better, since that is their core.

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