At the Google I/O conference in San Francisco last week, the search giant revealed more plans to push its technologies into the lives of essentially all individuals. In this sense, Google's reach and capabilities put it far ahead of any other company in terms of the access it already has to personal information. A typical tech user who relies on a few selected services might well depend on the company for his email, his phone, his tablet OS, his maps, browser, and, of course, search. If privacy settings are not locked down, there is almost nothing of immediate importance that Google won't know about him.
So much information has drawn scrutiny, especially from European authorities, who carefully monitor what Google collects and how it uses the data. As importantly, the EU provides its denizens with the ability to opt out of Google search results. In this sense, the appreciation that you and I are the product Google is selling to advertisers, is far more advanced in Europe than it is in the United States.
With so much information already at its disposal, what more could Google want? The I/O show, which is the company's annual confab for developers, focused on wearable computing. The give-away was an Android-based watch that could be tethered via Bluetooth to an Android phone. Doing this turned out to be a lengthy exercise in yak-shaving with an end result that made users immediately aware of the dearth of practical apps. At present, you can use such a watch to receive phone calls, tell time, set alarms, and count your steps. Yeah, the net benefit over the phone that sits in your pocket for the whole setup to work is that it serves as a pedometer. We're still in early days, of course, which is why Google was giving out the watches to begin with. But I suspect wearable computing needs a lot better killer apps to drive demand among users. If it catches on, though, Google will likely know even more intimate details of its users' lives.
Last year, when the company discontinued the Google Reader a useful aggregator of Web content tailored to individual preferences several articles appeared on Reddit and Hacker News regarding disconnecting entirely from Google. Ultimately, the conclusion was that a complete disconnect was very difficult to accomplish and often meant accepting notably inferior solutions simply to spurn Google. This might lead one to fear a dark inevitability about Google's presence. However, it's worth noting that the company has been one of the most proactive protectors of its data, especially from the prying eyes of government authorities.
If the role of Google is inevitable, certainly the choice of its technologies by developers has nothing preordained about it. And so, the Google I/O show is put on to promote new technologies and to try to smooth the path for programmers who want to engage further with the company's software offerings. Unlike previous years, this show was two days long rather than three, and only a few of the technologies received full corporate attention. For example, the Go team was forced into doing presentations in a cramped booth among vendors. They had to shout over the clamor of neighboring booths and found themselves attempting to communicate with developers who were obliged to stand and who could barely hear what they were being told.
Trying to figure out what this means in terms of Dart's and Go's respective fortunes is akin to assessing the relative favor of Politburo members by their seating arrangements overlooking a May Day parade. You conclude what you can because no one is going to actually tell you.
And that's a problem. When dealing with Google technologies as a developer, it's hard to commit completely because you don't really know to what extent the company is committed to the technology and API it wants you to use. In the last few years, Google has killed off dozens of projects and dozens more APIs. Of the former, Google SearchWiki, Google Wave, and Google Reader are but three examples. Because there was no session on Google+ at I/O this year, there was rampant speculation that it, too, would be chopped soon.
Android seems like a solid bet. So do Gmail and Google Office. (Both of which enjoyed major upgrades at the show.) Chrome is certainly another solid bet. And of course, search. But after that, things get hazy. Google Cloud (that is, Google App Engine) was once a hot offering that the company badly mismanaged. Today, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Red Hat Open Shift, and VMware Cloud Foundry all present more interesting developer options than App Engine.
While Google is a company of nearly endless innovation, it needs to engage in far better communication with developers. Rather than promote the latest gee-whiz features, it needs to stabilize its plans and APIs so that programmers can truly know what they can rely on and what they might need to rewrite due to its experimental nature. In this sense, Google should take a page from Microsoft and IBM, which (due to being enterprise vendors) understand and accept the need to commit long-term to the technologies they induce customers to use.