Google revealed a lot of things at their 2015 Nexus Event yesterday, including a playful sense of humor when it comes to poking their competition, but the most important thing on display was the thing they never mentioned by name: Sundar Pichai’s Google.The most important thing on display at the 2015 Nexus Event was Sundar Pichai's Google.Click To Tweet
As incoming CEO of a company now joining a larger conglomerate known as Alphabet, Pichai’s Google was always going to be a different Google. This would be true, if only because many of Google’s former branches such as Google X and Life Sciences are being spun off as their own companies.
There’s more, though, as we saw on stage at the first Nexus event with the company truly under the guidance of the new CEO, who has been more-or-less in charge in all but name since Larry Page announced he’d be stepping back to focus more on the big picture.
In the course of the event, we witnessed several shifts in the strategy and philosophy of Google under their new leadership, ones which may fundamentally change how we understand them in years to come.
They’re a Devices Company, for Real
Sundar Pichai’s Google is no longer playing around about making devices. They’re not just making phones anymore as an exercise for their developers and selling them at cutthroat prices to app makers and fanboys, or creating beautiful laptops and glowing media balls no one wants at prices no one can afford, or creating ‘blank canvas‘ software for partners to play with.Sundar Pichai's Google is no longer playing around about making devices.Click To Tweet
They’re a serious contender, now, able to deliver innovative and aesthetically pleasing devices, and do so for no more and often much less cost than their competitors.
Doubling-Down on Budget Premium
In 2014, Android’s Nexus program took a different direction with the Nexus 6. Apart from its phablet-sized form factor limiting its audience appeal, it was priced beginning at $649. Nexus fans had become accustomed to Nexus being about powerful specs at an affordable price, with minimal compromise to the user experience or the feeling of being ‘on the leading edge’ of the ecosystem.
This year, like Apple, Google released two phones, two Nexus phones at the same time for the first time in the history of the program, and those phones went back to the formula. Not only are they priced to move, but designed and engineered to take on the flagships from their biggest competitors, with the Nexus 6P starting at $499 and the Nexus 5X starting at $379.
The Pixel series also took a turn for the budget, along with their switch to Android, with the Pixel C starting at $499 + $149 for the keyboard, which for the Pixel series of devices is a hugely discounted entry price. At first glance, the Pixel C appears to be, to quote a line from Google CFO Eric Schmidt (referring at the time to the future Nexus 7), “A tablet of the highest quality”. The Pixel C is favorably comparable against the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface, depending on how it performs in the real world and not just in a sneak peak. The price is, therefore, fair if not exactly what you’d call cutthroat, either.
In his opening speech, Sundar Pichai also made significant mention of developing markets and Android One, Google’s Low End ‘Nexus’-like program for developing markets, so the overall theme that emerged was ‘High Quality, Low Cost Android Everywhere’.
Google is a Design Leader Now
One thing that might have gone unnoticed, in fact should have gone unnoticed by most people if it worked well, is that Google unveiled three devices, each designed in collaboration with Google but none of them built by the same companies, and yet they all looked like the work of a single design language. 5 if you count their two new Chromecasts.Google is a Design Leader Now.Click To Tweet
Hauwei made the 6P, LG the 5X, and we don’t even know who built the Pixel C (Google doesn’t share branding on the Pixel series), but they were as cohesive in terms of having a distinctive design as anything that might be expected from Apple.
Android 6.0 also helps bring more elements of the Material Design language for the web and app ecosystem to Android, and this Googley design language is at least worthy of favorable comparison with, if not more elegant and unified than, Apple’s own design language for software.
Where many people felt that Google+ was ‘forced’ on Google users, committing them to a social network their friends and family didn’t want to use, either (leaving many of them alone and lonely the few times they logged in), Google Photos, ironically a child of Google+ itself, is the exact opposite.
While uploading photos and creating ‘Collections’ with Google Photos still requires a Google account, sharing is now well and thoroughly divorced from Google+, or any social network or commitment. While it has always been possible since Google Photos launched to share photos and albums via a link with anyone, allowing them to view shared photos with no setup or sign-up required, Shared Albums takes this ‘Link Loving’ strategy one step farther.
Soon, it will be possible for users to share a collaborative album by sharing a link that allows other people to not only view the shared photos, but also to add their own photos to the same album, or simply subscribe to (‘Join’) the album to receive Notifications of future updates, with no setup, i.e. no account or app required other than, at the minimum, a browser.
Even the way the Photos team describes this, ‘no strings attached’ and ‘no setup required’ sharing, are almost a patricidal backstab at Mandatory Google+ Accounts. Google Photos doesn’t care where you share to, or who you share with, it exists only to give you more Googley algorithmic magic: photos automatically organized and enhanced, and easily Searchable with simple keywords.
Expect this spirit of ‘openness’ in sharing and collaboration to continue for Google, as they distance themselves from the Google+ Everywhere strategy and a ‘walled garden’ approach to requiring accounts to use their products in general. Sundar Pichai’s Google is ‘tearing down the walls’ Google+ built.Sundar Pichai's Google is 'tearing down the walls' Google+ built.Click To Tweet
Googley Smarts in Everything
The new Google wants to remind you on every screen that their algorithmic magic is running in the background. Android Marshmallow introduces a lot of changes, but most notably, several of these changes are extremely Googly: Direct Lockscreen Access to Voice Search and Actions, Improved App Search, an On Device Dynamic Prediction Engine to display app shortcuts in the app drawer based on predictions of what apps you use at certain times of day or in sequence or who knows what else (your location? activity data, i.e. are you walking, driving, etc…?), battery improvements courtesy of yet more algorithmic magic, Voice Interactions with Apps, and of course Now On Tap.
This is isn’t exactly a new direction for Android, but Google’s Algorithms are now everywhere in the user’s face, and even in a dedicated sensor processor in their new Nexus phones called the Android Sensor Hub. The operating system itself funnels the user towards this underlying intelligence at every turn.
This is clearly leading to a future of mobile devices that do all the work for you: they will show you what you need, when you need it, when or even before you think about it, and if it isn’t right there in front of you, they want you to just speak or type a Search or Voice Command, rather than scrolling through app drawers and homescreens and generally doing things in a manual, analog, or old fashioned way.
This is what Google does: algorithmic smarts. This is also where the power of controlling the dominant market share matters: with over 1.4 billion 30-day users of Google Play, Google has one of the world’s largest and most enviable firehoses of user data to apply their algorithmic core skills with.
I love technology and how it changes our lives. There’s something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it’s really cool, too.