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Google Says, “It’s Our Turn” In Mobile

Chris Silva

This is a repost from Chris Silva's blog Make Mobile Work.

I spent yesterday morning at the Google I/O developer conference and, aside from people literally skydiving into the event – the news was largely tech-related and heavily mobile.


Google made announcements of its new Nexus Tablet, the JellyBean aka Android 4.1 OS and home media sharing features of its new Nexus Q device. Here is what stands out:

  • Android grows up – It was no accident that the Android portion of the keynote opened on the idea of smoothness. Android’s latest iteration, Jelly Bean was introduced with a lot of talk of both smoothness and responsiveness improvements. Google went to the extreme of illustrating this with video of super slow-motion shots of screen animations using a RED camera, shooting at 300fps. And yes, Jelly Bean looked smooth. Google also took the chance to trot out some user and activation stats, showing that 12 Android devices are being activated every second, with 1M new devices coming online every day, up from 400K per day last year. That’s growth!
  • Android gives iOS a run for its money with Jelly Bean – The first major upgrade here is Google Now, in addition to providing voice-activated search, the results of which are provided as constantly updating “cards” that will show information from sports scores to travel time to a destination persistently, looks like a mashup of Wolfram Alpha-powered Siri on iOS and constantly updated Android widgets. Siri may carry on a conversation with you, but Google Now learns patterns and will proactively notify you if your current meeting – based on calendar information – is running too long to let you be on time for your next, based on your established transit patterns.
  • Tablets, Take Two (?) – Google unveiled its Nexus 7 tablet, a 7 inch, slim tablet, with quad core processor and 16 core GPU. It was demonstrated showing blazing fast rendering on gaming demos on stage, it also has a strong media presence, with the existing Google Music and Books service tied in alongside newly-launched Google Magazines. Google will be selling the tablet direct via the Google Play store (similarly to the Galaxy Nexus) starting at $199. With its media centric use case and low cost price point, this is the Amazon Kindle Fire killer that will let Google re-take the #2 spot in tablets, and raise Android tablet market share.
  • Google Gets Ecosystems – The launch of the Nexus Q device, wow factor aside, had me and many in the crowd hemming and hawing over it’s $299 price tag. The unified media device, powered by Android, that allows for social sharing of video and music, is designed to live next to the TV and allow streaming video with group control when friends and family with Android devices are present. It seems odd that there’s no immediate tie-in to Google TV and many would argue – myself among them – that Google is not yet a media player so why launch… a media player? This is a move to show some serious commitment from Google of selling Android devices as an holistic ecosystem, across three screens: smartphone, tablet and television.

Some big announcements and a lot packed into their keynote, there was more to be said on the social front, which my colleague Jeremiah Owyang liveblooged here on Google+ naturally. What does it all mean for brands trying to capitalize on mobile and enterprises wondering what becomes of Android?

  • Brands need to pay attention to Google’s media play. At present there are three players in the mobile media space, goliath Amazon with its small fleet of devices, music and movie catalog Apple with all that resides in iTunes and Google. Until today, I’d have argued that the latter was an also-ran and that reputation won’t change over night, however, their investment in three screens and amping up content relationships to cover print, movies and music will be intruiging to users if the new tablet and Nexus Q catch on. Google has a lot of work to do, and will need media partners to make its ecosystem “real,” but not paying attention for brands and media companies is no longer an option. If nothing else, Android remains a volume play and their media market execution is improving.
  • Enterprises wondering when will Android standardize, there’s hope – We’ve seen a ton of fragmentation in the Android OS space, and we will continue to. Google is choosing to go direct with hardware to ensure that the latest, greatest software makes it to market on purpose-built devices. Sound familiar? It may have made iOS more palatable in the enterprise, even if initial versions were not work-ready, but Android has a lot of ground to cover. I see Google’s direct-to-market push at present as a temporary injunction, an infusion of good, working technology in a market that’s been plagued by the absence of both. If you can’t beat the carriers and device manufacturers, show them the way, that’s what I see happening here. The good news? This guerrilla tactic will smooth out the many bumps in the road to Android homogeneity.
  • Get ready for another wave – Both carriers and electronics manufacturers will begin to see intense pull from users looking to get the newest features of JellyBean demonstrated today. On the carrier side, spiffs and other programs to push sub-par Android devices will begin to yield significant return rates as more of the general population begins to get educated on what Android can be. Be smart and align with Google and its hardware partners to offer the best, retention rates and lower churn will thank you. Enterprises? There’s going to be another wave of Android to get familiar with and work with management vendors to support, however, as homogeneity begins to take hold, I expect to see a slowing of the rapid OS refresh rate and an evening out of user device preference toward later-generation OS versions. Hang in there!

As I often like to remind clients and readers of my research, we’ve only just begun when it comes to mobile. Counting Google out of the game due to the multiple party quagmire that has been Android to-date is premature and naive. Expect this ecosystem to grow and stabilize and, as a result, many mobile power dynamics to shift. It’s going to continue to be a great ride!