Expanding its ecosystem and making Android the lynchpin for all things smart
Wooing developers and the auto industry just first step; other industries to follow
ONE of the world’s most awaited developer conferences, Google I/O, ended recently with a slew of announcements by the search giant, including smart wearable devices, a preview of the next iteration of the Android operating system (OS) dubbed Android L, as well as revelations on how Google Inc plans to expand its ecosystem.
Addressing approximately 6,000 developers, Google’s Android chief and rising star Sundar Pichai spoke of how this year’s conference was “one of the most comprehensive releases it has done so far,” The New York Times quoted him as saying.
But behind the headline-grabbing attention, which you can read all about here on CNET lies a much more subtle but impactful subplot – that Google is expanding its ecosystem and making Android the lynchpin for all things smart, as well as making an ecosystem of devices that is much more contextually aware and interconnected together.
The Times noted that Google I/O, has become an important place for the company to woo app makers to build software for its Android software system, which powers more than one billion devices.
“What’s striking is the way each of these three major companies – Google, Microsoft and Apple – is seeking to participate across four key domains: The home, the car, the body and the mobile world at large,” it quoted Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research as saying.
Indeed, Google had already signalled its intention to move into the home last year when it acquired Nest Labs, a low-profile digital thermostat maker, for a price tag that was anything but – a whopping US$3.2 billion.
Compared with last year, where the focus was more on devices including the much-talked about Google Glass, this year’s Google I/O conference zoomed in on developers and what’s in it for them in the coming years.
Following announcements earlier this year when Google rolled out Android Wear, its operating system for wearable devices, it has been growing its Android ecosystem and making it accessible to developers over the past year, a development that makes sense not only to programmers but also to investors.
Carolina Milanesi (pic), chief of research at analyst firm Kantar WorldPanel, told CNBC that in order for Google to win over investors, it must first win over developers because they are the ones who build the apps for the Android ecosystem.
“Now more than ever Google is trying to charm developers and keep them in [its] ecosystem,” she said. “[Its] success is heavily dependent on them.”
Milanesi said developers not only have to choose what ecosystems they will build for; they also have to choose between platforms – like wearables or mobile – within those systems,
“For developers the question is always, ‘Where should I place my bet? ‘Do I focus on building for Android, the driverless car, wearables?’
“Google will need to get them to see that it’s not a question of picking and choosing, but how they all work together and help them see the vision and decide where to focus,” Milanesi said.
As to how far this strategy will play out in the coming year, Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, told Digital News Asia (DNA) that it’ll only be a win for Google if it [is able to] make existing Android developers more likely to try their hand at extending their apps to different platforms.
“It sends the message that the application programming interfaces (APIs) and programming conventions are the same, so you don’t have to learn a completely new platform when moving to different channels,” Hammond said via email.
One clear sector that Google is definitely turning to is the automotive sector, taking the cue from Apple which launched its connected car initiative, dubbed Apple Carplay, earlier this year. Google’s version is called Google Automotive Link or GAL for short.
In a nutshell, the two tech giants are looking to connect a Google or Apple device to the dashboard LCD screen, which many of today’s modern cars are already equipped with.
Think of it as using your dashboard heads-up display to access all the functionality on your smartphone such as Google Now or Apple Siri, turn-by-turn navigation and music player, to name a few. The connection also allows users to use voice commands to control radio knobs or to use gestures on systems with a touchscreen to conduct a task such as sending an SMS.
At Google I/O, the company named 40 automotive players representing 25 brands which have agreed to the Open Automotive Alliance.
Google also said it would provide the Android Auto software development kit (SDK), including APIs for audio and messaging for GAL, which would be made available with the Android L OS.
All this seem well and good, but will these initiatives work?
“Google and Apple control nearly 90% of the mobile market,” Praveen Chandrasekar, research manager at Frost & Sullivan for telematics and infotainment, told tech news portal TechNewsWorld. “Would [the auto industry] want to miss out on that opportunity?”
Having Google and Apple participate actively in the market will help it coalesce around two standards, Chandrasekar said. “The big question for [the auto industry] is, will integration with Google or Apple help them make money?”
Queried on what the kind of pitfalls Google must avoid going forward and how should it ensure success, Forrester’s Hammond said that the device ecosystem may get too connected and customers may feel like they have to choose to go ‘All Android’ or ‘All Apple.’
“It’s not a big deal when I’m buying a US$150 tablet, but it’s a big deal when I’m buying a $25,000 car,” he argued.
“Making sure that non Android devices can still get a benefit through notifications and web apps will remain important and I’ll be watching for signs of a ‘walled garden’ approach as these additional incarnations of Android near production release,” he said.
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