One of the things that really struck me about Google I/O this year was how much of it felt like a retread of old ideas.
Android TV? That sounds like the resurrection of Google TV, which wasannounced at the 2010 show. Android Wear and Nest? Recall the connected-everywhere vision of Android @Home, the big deal of the 2011 show. Android “L” is just the next version of Android — it’s got a lot of important new design elements and promised enterprise security features, but it’s an incremental release of an already immensely successful product. Google’s new attention to providing cloud infrastructure to third-party developers, while useful, is simply following down the same path Amazon pioneered with AWS a few years back.
I had a similar sense watching Apple’s developers’ conference earlier this month. Our writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry drew a lot of flak for his criticism of WWDCand how he thought it reflected on Tim Cook’s leadership as operations guy rather than visionary. I have a lot more admiration for Cook — his reorganization of Apple to be more open and less controlling, and able to concentrate on multiple huge complicated projects at once, are remarkable changes that bode well for the company’s future.
But I understand what Gobry was getting at. What’s the big vision? How does Apple see the future, and what products will it create or enable to help bring us into that future? This is the company whose last three hit products revolutionized the recorded music industry, created the smartphone industry, and threatened the consumer PC industry with irrelevance. (Not to mention, Apple was arguably the inventor, or at least the great popularizer, of the personal computer in the first place.) Instead we got a bunch of disparate ideas and some connective tissue that may or may not be used to construct products that we may or may not want.
Part of the “meh” comes from a misunderstanding of what these conferences actually are. Because Apple and Google have done so much to revolutionize technology for everybody, we sometimes forget that these are conferences for developers — the people who build the next generation of products that will wow and delight us. They’re not for the rest of us, really.
But still. There’s a sense right now that big technology companies and startups alike are casting around for the next big thing.
Everybody seems to agree that the next wave of computing will involve a bunch of previously dumb devices becoming smarter with new kinds of sensors and processing power provided largely by cloud services, and getting connected up in some fashion. This data will be collected and compiled and used to provide custom-tailored services, even to the point of anticipating your desires before you have them.
This is what’s behind Apple’s HomeKit and CarPlay, Google’s acquisitions of Nest and Dropcam its new connected car and TV initiatives, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s talk of “ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence,” and Internet of Things and big data efforts by enterprise giants from Cisco to SAP to Salesforce. Not to mention hundreds of startups.