The rumors heading into this year's Google I/O conference forewarned a lack of new hardware, and they turned out to be right. There was no new Nexus phone or tablet or even a new version of Android announced to celebrate the 900 million activated devices to date. Maybe Google felt stung by the failed Nexus Q unveiled during last year's event, but the dearth of gadgets is more likely due to a strategic shift.
As multiple Google executives echoed during I/O, the company's true mission is to “get technology out of the way.” Google wants to get technology so far out of your way that you stop caring about the hardware altogether. After all, a gizmo is just a potential point of friction between you and the search giant’s services — and ads. Here are five signs Google may be done with making its own gadgets for good.
The Cloud is Now Smarter Than Your Smartphone
One of the most impressive demos during the Google I/O keynote was the new photo capabilities of Google . While the Samsung Galaxy S4 and other smartphones come littered with camera features, Google has migrated many them to its servers. Want that skin to look smoother, an HDR effect after the fact or an “auto-awesome” GIF? As Vic Gundotra, Google senior vice president, put it, “your darkroom is now a Google data center.” In other words, the smartphone is now subservient to the cloud.
Cross-Platform Capability Trumps Android Sales
Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps took great pains during his time in the spotlight at I/O to emphasize that the new mobile Google Maps will work on both Android and iOS — while also mentioning that it's accurate. Poor Apple, right? Not at all. Google very much wants iPhone owners to use its services and respond to its ads and offers, green robot be damned. The new Google Hangouts app also works on both Android and iOS, delivering the cross-platform capability Apple's Messages lacks.
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Google is Selling a Galaxy S4
If you need any proof that the Nexus line is no longer a top priority for Google, look no further than the special edition of the Samsung Galaxy S4 headed for the Google Play Store. The $649 device is by no means price competitive with the $299 Nexus 4, but it gives Google a cutting edge device while the company finishes up the Nexus 5 in time for the fall. Or maybe it doesn't need to. The S4 will not only have Google's latest software and services — sans TouchWiz skin — but it will support LTE on both AT&T and T-Mobile. Assuming the price comes down over time, why bother with a Nexus 5 at all?
Old Gadgets Can Do Amazing Things with New Software
You don't need a shiny new phone or tablet to experience some of Google's most exciting innovations. Take the new and improved Voice Search coming to the Chrome browser and Chromebooks. You can say “Ok Google” and then start hunting for everything from the population of China to pictures you took last year in New York. Amazingly, Google will soon be able to search not only the Web but everything you've uploaded to it to make your queries much more personal and relevant.
You're Becoming the Gadget
Although it wasn't a big theme during the I/O keynote, Google Glass wearers were everywhere atthis year's show. And most people I spoke to really liked it, with one Glass owner telling me that he much preferred it to his smartphone for taking pictures. The mission of Glass is clear: shrink gadgets to the point we forget we're using them. According to Google CEO Larry Page, “the main goal is to get happy users using Glass. We want to make sure we're building experiences that make people happy.” It's statements like this that tell me Google won't be truly happy until the day comes when gadgets — especially its own — become irrelevant.