Tom Inniss Journalist and podcaster

What I hope to see at Google I/O 2014

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A long, rambling list of things I believe Google need to address at I/O

Last year, Google decided to have a mammoth keynote during their developer conference, lasting over 3 hours! During this time they released an insane amount of new things. To give you just a brief idea of some of the things they released:

  • Android Studio – a brand new IDE
  • Google Play services which are cross platformed
  • Google Cloud Messaging – which brings new notification syncing
  • Google Play Music All Access – New music streaming service
  • Hangouts
  • A LOAD of G+ improvements
  • Completely rebuilt Google Maps
  • And a lot more on top

A year has passed since then, and the world of technology is not a slow moving beast. While Google have released and refined things I/O, everything they announced is now very much the norm, and things like Hangouts have been very hit and miss in terms of adoption and feature parity with other services. 

Apple’s recent announcements at WWDC were genuinely exciting, and demonstrated a company who were finally re-finding their feet, having the majority of their post-Jobs barely iterating. They’re back, and hitting hard with functional improvements to their OS’s, and a wealth of new API’s and services. To me, it felt fresh, interesting, and I found myself being pulled into the unfamiliar territory of wanting an iOS device. 

Google, please impress me.

Hangouts

When it was announced last year, I was filled with hope that maybe, finally, a unified system would be introduced, bringing Android and iOS users together in one unified techno-confab. Anybody who has used Hangouts will know though, that this simply wasn’t the case.

Google had rebuilt Talk from the ground up, but failed to improve any part of it. All they had managed to do was rebrand Talk. For ages, G+ messenger continued to exist, and SMS integration took until November. It wasn’t until April of this year that SMS and Hangout threads were merged. Yeah, seriously, nearly a year. 

Apple, a company not known for their web technology (Mobile Me, anyone?), has managed to beat Google to the punch by with iMessage. It not only comes pre-installed on every phone, and works without any interaction from the user, but now can send text messages and phone calls to your desktop. Why can’t Hangouts do this?! Google has had the components in place for years, with Voice, and Talk, and Chrome becoming the most popular browser. It is just a classic case of Google throwing something out into the public domain before really knowing what to do with it. Those ideas are subsequently taken by other companies, refined, repackaged, and then sold as new, groundbreaking concepts, that Google then has to implement. They so often leave themselves on the back foot. 

Hangouts needs to become the default messaging app on all Android devices. That is the only way they will seriously compete with iMessage or the wave of other messaging products out there. 

Alternatively, an API should be released, so all messaging clients can plug into the Hangouts interface. That way they create a truly unified messaging platform, where conversations across all apps are integrated. That would be seriously impressive, and finally end that question of “How do I contact you?”

Chrome OS

Let’s admit it, Chrome OS really isn’t a PC killer, and is never going to be until it finally decides what it wants to be.

When announced, it was meant to be the fast loading, always connected Windows killer. Years later, it is still incredibly fast loading, but Google have had to concede that always connected is not always possible. Thus offline apps were created.

Online or offline, the selection of apps is quite poor. Google need to acknowledge this, and step up to the plate to fill in the gap. If Google were to create their own iLife suite, that plugged into the power of Youtube and G+ Photos, they would instantly make the OS more appealing. The lack of a good video editor, or a simple, easy way to create and edit audio is simply inexcusable for a device that wants to always be in my bag. G+ makes an excellent photo storage solution, with easy uploading and really intuitive and tasteful editing prowess. But again, not enough is made of it. A desktop photo editing app, as standard, on every device would immediately show the power of their photo services, and bring people on board, instead of hiding in behind the G+ branding. On that note…

Break up G+

This will be controversial to the hardcore fans, and I’m in two minds about whether or not I want it to happen, but i think it is for the best.

G+ has been, at best, a tepid success for Google. They unfortunately tried to originally sell it as a Facebook competitor, before rebranding it as a “social layer” to your Google account. Again, had they given this more consideration before launching it, they may have had a chance. Instead, people logged on, found it to be quite barren, and immediately went back to Facebook.

Over time, more services plugged into G+, including (not without much vitriol), the beloved Youtube. This was the final straw for many users, who felt G+ was poison, and subsequently believed Google were desperately trying to prop up a dead product.

G+ does have nice parts. As I said, the photo backup and editing is really nice, if not a bit of a pain when it creates hundreds of folders for hangout conversations. If they sorted out the backend to no longer rely on Picasa, and broke it off as an individual product, for example, Google Photos, it would carry a lot less stigma. It should also have desktop editing on all the major platforms, with an accompanying app on smartphones.

You would still need to sign in with a Google account, and hell, it could even still share your data quota. It’s simply removing the branding that attracts such negative emotions with the internet world. 

Android Wear

Much has already been speculated and announced regarding this, but I have no doubt at all the big release will be at I/O. The latest rumours are claiming the the LG G watch will be given free to every guest of the developer conference, but what about the much anticipated Moto 360? I personally feel that some more details may be dropped about the circular faced watch, but it will ultimately have its own release event.

A new version of Android

5.0? 4.5? Nobody knows at the moment, but the recent update released by Google contained mostly (long overdue) bug fixes and stability improvements, but could also have sown the seeds for an update in 2 weeks time. 

It’s difficult to see what the new update could include. I would suspect if there now some more visual tweaks, given Matias Duarte’s comment about only being a third of the way through their visual overhaul. Changes to the settings menu are likely, given their ICS aesthetics, which many compared to Tron. Other little changes could happen.

The guys over at Android Police made a huge wave on the internet when they broke news that Google could be working on something called Project Hera. It is portrayed as something that could bridge the gap between Android and Chrome, bringing multitasking tabs to your device if you’re working on something elsewhere. It sounds, if correct, very similar to the Handoff feature Apple announced at WWDC, a feature I found myself very excited for even though I don’t have an iOS device that would benefit from it.

A complete overhaul of their service’s UI

While this feels less likely, I think it is in some ways overdue. Continuing on from Project Hera, there were leaks that the Gmail app on Android, and its counterpart on the web, were due another overhaul. I welcome this change, as Gmail is starting to look stale, and certainly nowhere as pretty as its competitors, even if it is the most functional. It’s crazy to me that they still don’t have a “Mark as Read” button as standard. Why, Google?! I’d also love easier to implement inbox rules, as I’m still using the label filtering system due to the sheer dislike of having to retrain my inbox.

Equally, Drive could do with some touching up, making it more responsive and less of an exercise in frustration to manage your files. Similarly with Calendar, it feels strange that these are all so modular, instead of being an integrated experience. 

The Unlikely

There are a few other things I’d love to see announced at I/0, but i’d be seriously shocked if they were announced.

The first is 64 bit Chrome for both Mac and Windows users. Long overdue, especially when mobile devices are now powerful enough to support 64bit computing, to not be able to browse on a desktop is ridiculous. I’d also love for Chrome to be less power-hungry on a Mac. My machine is getting old, and with battery life getting more and more temperamental, I really don’t want to have to switch to Safari to get extra time out of my laptop. 

It would be interesting for Google to release a new Pixel, but actually target it at consumers. As I stated above, Chrome OS is not a competitor to a ‘traditional desktop experience’. Imagine if, at    I/O they announced a completely revamped system, and had built their own hardware to demonstrate how premium the quality can be. In a world where a decent Chromebook can be purchased in the region of £200, if they created a genuine productivity machine, as gorgeous as the Pixel was and priced it in the realms of reasonability, then I believe they would be able to sway people who would otherwise purchase Macbook Airs. 

Google have a surprisingly good thing going with their Chromecast. It pains me to say that, excluding gaming, it can do nearly everything I do on my Xbox One, and it costs about £300 less. That is totally crazy, and Google need to be exploiting that as much as possible. Imagine if it could handle casual gaming, with everyone using their phones as controllers. Things like Uno, Monopoly, and other family friendly games would excel on this format. 

Podcasting on Google Music should already exist. Google are trying to sell this vision of a world no longer needing computers, yet for some reason the most seamless experience for podcasts comes from the bloated iTunes software. I want to be able to browse podcasts on the play store, and subscribe to them as easily as it is to download an app. This is really basic stuff, and could probably be built in a day if Google were that way inclined, but for some reason they still haven’t implemented it, and probably won’t think to at I/O 2014 either.

About the author

Tom Inniss

Tom is a journalist and feature writer with interests in politics, technology and culture. He currently works as the editor of Voice - an online magazine for young people interested in art and culture.

Tom Inniss Journalist and podcaster

Tom Inniss

Tom is a journalist and feature writer with interests in politics, technology and culture. He currently works as the editor of Voice - an online magazine for young people interested in art and culture.

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