Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Boring Google

I only loosely followed Google I/O as it was happening, but I’m catching up on its reception. The most pervasive sentiment I’ve seen is that it was, to put it bluntly, boring.

Karissa Bell, Mashable:

That wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t that long ago when Sergey Brin enlisted a group of skydivers to introduce the world to Google Glass. Or when Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division, the skunkworks behind moonshot ideas like modular smartphones, gesture-sensing radar, and clothing with embedded sensors, was a reliable source of shock and awe for I/O attendees.

This year, though, there was no sign of ATAP, which lost its chief visionary Regina Dugan to Facebook last year.

It’s not just ATAP, either. There was no sign of anything remotely experimental. Instead, we got to see the most polished version of Google’s augmented reality tech yet (which, by the way, started in ATAP nearly four years ago), new skills for Google’s digital assistant, VR features we don’t really need, and yet another fine, but also boring, update for Android.

I get the point that Bell is making here: Google has a reputation for having a bit of a quirky attitude that bubbles through their products and services. But I disagree — I’m glad that Google is being a bit more honest in admitting that they are a bonafide corporate entity, not a gigantic startup. Yeah, it’s a bit boring, but it’s the truth.

Of the experiments that Bell mentions, two — Google Glass and Project Ara — are officially on hold, but I wouldn’t bet on them coming out of hold any time soon. The gestural control system and connected jacket are scheduled to ship later this year, but that also seems to be the case for a lot of Google products: perpetually coming soon.

Ben Thompson:

This is why I think that Pichai’s “boring” opening was a great thing. No, there wasn’t the belligerence of early Google IOs, insisting that Android could take on the iPhone. And no, there wasn’t the grand vision of Nadella last week, or the excitement of an Apple product unveiling. What there was was a sense of certainty and almost comfort: Google is about organizing the world’s information, and given that Pichai believes the future is about artificial intelligence, specifically the machine learning variant that runs on data, that means that Google will succeed in this new world simply by being itself.

Before I/O began this year, Matt Birchler reflected on last year’s event:

Google’s I/O conference last year was big on flash, but little in substance that will actually move users away from iOS. Google Assistant has proven to be a big win for the company, as it has asserted itself as the best voice assistant out there for a lot of things. Google Home, which I don’t own yet, is a strong competitor to the Amazon Echo which has been gaining popularity.

But beyond the Assistant-related announcements, everything else was a bit of a letdown.

This year’s event was nowhere near as flashy. The Android updates seemed a bit obvious — the system now has notification badges for app icons, as an example — and that’s probably a good thing. Google’s big company reality doesn’t really match their wacky persona, and a dizzying array of new messaging apps every year is confusing in the real world. It’s boring, but it’s okay that Google is becoming more reliable and, well, normal.