Hardware is the new black: Google I/O 2014
I was extremely fortunate to be selected by the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) to attend Google’s annual developer’s conference (“I/O”) this year, along with several others from the Mobile & Advanced Product Innovation group. It was my first time to I/O, and it was a fantastic experience, so I wanted to write about some of the things that I found particularly interesting.
Women at I/O
Obtaining my ticket through ABI also granted me an invite to a Women Techmaker’s dinner the night before the conference. I was expecting a group of maybe twenty women sitting at a table in a restaurant, but was astonished to walk in and discover 180 women in attendance, with five other dinners going on at the same time in other restaurants around the city! Google X’s Megan Smith kicked off the event, suggesting that we not spend the evening lamenting over the lack of women in technology, but rather, enjoying the company of the amazing individuals all around us. And that’s just what we did. I sat at a table with a Google engineer, the founder of ThirdLove, and the VP of wearables at Adidas. It was great.
Last year, only 8 percent of the I/O attendees were women, and this year, the number was up to 20 percent. Clearly, there is still work to be done, but Google seems to be working hard to make changes. Two of the I/O keynote speakers were women, as were several of the session presenters. At the end of the dinner, we all got certificates for three months of free coding lessons with the Code School – something Google is currently offering to thousands of female tech workers. (By the way, if you’re a woman in technology and want to apply for a chance to take part in this initiative, just visit the application page and submit what inspired you to join the tech industry!)
The next morning, we were told that people would start lining up for the 9 a.m. keynote around 4 a.m. We opted for a more humane 7:30 a.m. As the morning went on, the line wrapped around the block and came back around us on the street. Everyone waited and waited for the doors to open, which oddly didn’t happen until about ten minutes before the keynote started. At least they carted around donuts, which were immediately pounced upon and devoured! Some people seized the time as a marketing opportunity and strapped on a backpack filled with coffee. Others used it as a chance to protest.
When the doors finally opened, we were hurried to our seats in a dramatic, frantic frenzy. We made it just in time, while others continued to file in a good hour into the presentation.
Two times during the keynote, protestors jumped up and started shouting. The first woman was upset about a housing eviction, and the second guy just kept yelling: “You all work for a totalitarian company that builds robots that kill people!” The presenters barely skipped a beat as security whisked them away.
There were so many exciting announcements, but it did get a bit long towards the end, and it was reflected in the #IO14 tweets. My personal favorite: “Google’s gonna need to clear out of Moscone soon for WWDC ’15. #io14”
Android: Not just for phones and tablets anymore
There were so many takeaways from I/O, but the most exciting for me is that Google really wants to be everywhere in your life. Anywhere you might use it, a single, continuous, contextual Android experience will be there. This includes wearables, cars, homes, computers, your living room, and beyond. The future Android will work on screens of all sizes, from tiny smartwatches to big screen TVs. It will be seamless, contextually aware, voice-enabled, and have a mobile-first emphasis. (I love that when you dismiss a notification, it’s immediately dismissed across all of your devices!)
This new Android can now be experienced in wearables, which was a huge focus of I/O. There were a couple of really great sessions on Android Wear, with much emphasis placed on context. With Wear, you have access to the user’s time, location, habits, and motion sensors. You can even see what the headphone jack is doing. So, when creating Wear apps, Google suggests asking yourself: What information do people really want, and when? How can you bring it to them quickly and non-invasively? Remember that the world is the experience, and technology is only here to enhance that experience. It’s like right-clicking on the world. It’s crucial to deliver just the right info, at just the right time.
As expected, two smartwatches were announced: the LG G and the Samsung Gear Live. The watch everyone is most excited about – the circular Moto 360 – will be available later this summer. (The audience groaned when this was announced! People really want this device, and they want it now.) Right out of the box, these watches will already be extremely useful, thanks to Google Now integration. (Check out what Google Now provides, as well as some of the other things you can do on the watches.)
Two apps were demoed to illustrate Wear: Lyft (peer-to-peer ridesharing) and Eat24 (food delivery). With Lyft, you simply say to your watch, “OK, Google, call a car,” and a car will come pick you up, right where you are. Eat24 lets you order a pizza from your watch in less than 20 seconds.
While Glass was not mentioned at all in the keynote, it was everywhere else at the event. There were Glass Explorer lunches and happy hours, sales and tech support in the Glass Bootcamp, oodles of attendees wearing the device, and multiple sessions discussing the device. There were demos showing how Glass can improve your free throws, putting, squats, and soccer kicks (conducted in a session.)
Other booths allowed you to check out news headlines, try cooking with Glass and a watch, and learn a new language while playing a game. Immediately preceding I/O, a Google+ post announced that new devices will ship with 2GB of storage. I attempted to pump several people for more info, but to no avail. During a session, it was mentioned that Glass will seamlessly receive notifications from your phone, just like an Android Wear watch. 12 new Glassware (Glass apps) were also announced.
Besides all of the announcements, the thing I enjoyed most about I/O was the overall spirit of the event. From the chaotic disorganization of the lines, timing, and booth placements, to the fun interactive demos, to the randomly placed hula-hoops, glowing jellyfish, and lightsaber contests of the After Hours event, there was so much to discover and figure out. Everything felt kind of strange, exciting, and limitless, with a vibe of “Look at all of this awesome stuff we’ve created! Now, let’s see what we can do with it together.”
Everyone I spoke to at I/O was incredibly helpful, down to earth, and eager to talk. I was pretty excited before I arrived in San Francisco, and now I find myself even more pumped up as I am back in Minnesota, filled with brand new ideas to discuss and connections to explore.
In an attempt to keep this post somewhat brief, I’ve limited the coverage significantly. There was so much more going on: App-indexing, Android Auto, Project Tango, Android TV, the Myo, Nest, cardboard, and lots more. If you have any questions or comments on any of these things, please feel free to comment! I would love to tell you more.
Kate Boeckman is a product manager with the Wearable and Emerging Product Technologies group at Thomson Reuters.