Google wants to be everywhere with everybody, all the time

Internet giant wants to knit together all of its devices and services, developer event hears

Sometimes you just need to have a party, even if there's nothing special to celebrate. That was Google's situation on Wednesday, when it held its annual conference for developers on a perfect spring day in the outdoor amphitheatre adjacent to its Silicon Valley campus. There were no headline-making announcements, no big reveal of the sort that Steve Jobs would make (iPod and iPhone) in his glory years at Apple. The tech world moves too fast these days for companies to save products for an annual event; they appear when they are finished. But the conference must go on anyway.

Now in its 11th year, Google I/O – short for input/output – offers a chance for the search and advertising giant to broadcast its ambitions. The event, which lasts three days, is really for the benefit of independent software engineers who work on Google technology. But the two-hour opening keynote is closely watched by the tech media.

Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, began by talking about Google's impressive reach. Seven of its products – including Search, YouTube and Maps – have more than 1 billion users each. The Android operating system software is on more than 2 billion devices.

Google’s ambition, as Pichai and the speakers that followed him made clear, is to knit all those devices and services together. A Google user – which means just about everybody, in Google’s vision – will interact with the company all day long and do it so seamlessly that they barely notice it.


The smartphone, which allowed people to slip the chains of the desktop, first pushed Google in this direction. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are now speeding it along.

AI-first world

“In an AI-first world, we are rethinking all our products,” Pichai said. The future that the company sketched out was one in which people communicate with their Google devices by talking to them rather than typing. And the machines will anticipate trouble without your asking. They will warn you, for instance, that you need to leave for your child’s soccer game 15 minutes early because there is heavy traffic.

Simply pointing a phone at a restaurant would bring up reviews of it. And a search for a small product – a screwdriver, say – in a vast hardware store would be enabled by what Google calls Visual Position Service.

"GPS gets you to the door, and then VPS can get you the exact item you're looking for," said Clay Bavor, Google's virtual reality team leader.

With an audio interface, VPS would be a gift to the vision-impaired. What could possibly stop Google? For one thing, the ambitions of a few competitors. Google Home, introduced at I/O last year, was rushed out to compete with Amazon’s Echo. While Google does not release sales figures, analysts say Home lags far behind the Echo, which recently announced new features that Home does not have. Perhaps Google can catch up or perhaps Home will become another Google Buzz, a social network that failed a few years ago.

The same caution goes for Google's efforts in virtual reality. It is developing its first stand-alone headsets, done in partnership with Qualcomm, Lenovo and HTC, which will be released this fall. But Facebook and Samsung already have their own well-publicized VR initiatives.

At the end of the keynote, Pichai discussed a new initiative called Google for Jobs that will pull data from partner sites to making job-hunting easier. One major job listing site, Indeed, is not one of Google’s partners. Within a few hours of the keynote, the company fired back.

"We are happy to see that 13 years after Indeed launched, Google has woken up to the fact that searching for jobs is one of the most important searches in anyone's life," said Chris Hyams, the president of Indeed, in a statement.

That makes another battle joined.

– New York Times Service