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Google IO 2013 vs IO 2012: How did this year's keynote compare?

Yesterday's keynote was clearly different from what we saw last year, focusing less on hardware and more on developers. How do the two keynotes compare? What did this year's keynote say about Google's future plans?
May 16, 2013
Google IO 2013

Earlier this week Sundar Pichai warned us not to expect Google I/O 2013 to be anything like we’ve seen in the past. There would be less in the way of new products or a new operating system. Instead, the I/O 2013 Developer’s Conference would focus on, well – developers. How right he was.

I/O 2012 saw the introduction of the Nexus Q and Nexus 7. It had an exciting Google Glass skydiving demo. Then there was the announcement of Google Now and further detailing of the (then) new Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Google also updated Google+ with Calendar integrations, and introduced the Google Compute Engine as an infrastructure-as-a-service that enabled customers to spin up Linux virtual machines with high-performance networking.

What did we see at I/O 2013? A very different animal.

There was no Key Lime Pie, hell there wasn’t even the rumored Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. No Nexus 7 refresh. There were no skydiving demos or anything outrageous.

Instead, we saw a major update to Google Plus’ interface. A major Google Maps update. There were new APIs introduced for Google Play and the new Google Play Games service was a pretty big deal.

Google also announced it would take on streaming companies like Spotify with its own Google Play Music All Access. Then there were several improvements to Chrome, Google Search and Google Now.

Lastly, Google unveiled its Android Studio. The new developer tool is designed to make life easier for developers, which might not affect everyday users in the short-term, but in the long-term it means better apps.

That’s a whole lot of software and services shown off at Google IO 2013, where’s the hardware?

Actually, no new hardware was announced at all – though Google did reveal that Google Play would be getting the Galaxy S4 running stock Android.

In many ways this was a calmer I/O than seen in previous years. But is that a bad thing?

Google-IO-2013 IO  1600 aa

The deeper impact of Google I/O 2013

I would have loved a slightly updated Nexus 4, a new Nexus 7, the X-Phone, a smartwatch and a new version of Android. But to be honest, I was very impressed with this year’s keynote.

Last year’s I/O saw some great announcements, but I/O 2013 really hit one out of the park. Google’s keynote didn’t rely on new hardware or Android versions to excite the masses – instead it laid the groundwork for a better Google and a better future. Just about everything we saw at I/O 2013 screamed of polish and nearly every announcement will have long-term impact on both developers and everyday Google users.

I was practically on the edge of my seat when I saw the improvements to search for Google Chrome on the desktop, and started thinking about how these kinds of natural and smart voice systems could effectively change the landscape of search as we know it. Ditto for the improvements to Maps.

While I might not be a developer (my programming knowledge goes about as far as old-school versions of Basic and HTML…), I can appreciate the impact that Android Studio will have, especially when it comes to allowing developers to see how their apps will look across a variety of different devices and screen sizes.

Maybe it’s just me, but I really walked away with a sense that this is just the beginning of a bigger plan.

Most of the services announced were cross-platform when possible (Hangouts, Search, etc), and worked to give a similar experience regardless on what kind of device you are using it on, such as Google Search on iOS, desktop, Android.

I think that convergence and cross-platform interoperability will continue to be an important focus for the mobile tech industry in the years to come. It’s great to see Google getting onboard with these changes early, and unlike Microsoft with their Windows 8, the Mountain View giant seems to be making all the right moves.

Another key focus for Google seems to revolve around data, and how they will more effectively use it going forward. Obviously data has always been an important driver for Google, but what we are now seeing is a much ‘smarter’ system that can preemptively figure out what you want to search/ask about, auto-tag your social posts and more. We are just at the beginning of seeing where that can take us. Putting aside Big Brother-esque fears and privacy concerns, I think that the road to smarter data and information usage will have a positive long-term effect.

The stage is set, now we just need to see where Google takes us throughout the year, and into the future. What did you think of Google I/O 2013, compared to last year? Do you agree that this year’s focus is about laying the groundwork for a better future? Conversely, do you think Google dropped the ball this year?