Questions for Google at I/O

Google is holding its annual I/O developer conference this week in Mountain View, California. Some news of what’s going to be announced is already leaking out but there’s likely quite a bit more to come. With that in mind, here are some questions I’m hoping Google answers at the event, along with a brief explanation of each.

How is Google Managing Android Fragmentation?

One of the biggest challenges for Android continues to be the fragmentation in adoption of its various versions. As I writing this, the version of Android with the most adoption among the active base is Lollipop, which was released in 2014. Just behind it is Marshmallow, the version released in October 2015, while the most recent publicly available version, Nougat, has just 7.1% adoption, nine months after launch. Google has already announced Project Treble, an attempt to make OEM and chip vendor’s customization of new releases easier and quicker but, despite all its efforts over recent years, the fragmentation has remained.

How are Android and ChromeOS coming Together?

At last year’s event, Google announced Android apps would begin to run on ChromeOS but it batted away long-rumored suggestions the two operating systems would merge anytime soon. A year later, that Android-on-ChromeOS effort remains in beta, with many apps performing poorly. Google needs to demonstrate progress and, ideally, an end to that beta label with performance levels to match.

What’s the Role of Progressive Web Apps and Other Hybrid Models?

Last year, Google talked up Instant Apps for Android as a new model for installing Android apps but it has also worked hard for several years now on progressive web apps and other hybrid models which mix web and native components. We need both an update on those efforts and more clarity around the role of these various models alongside the pure native and web models and where Google sees them each fitting. As of right now, there’s more muddle than clarity.

Where is Android TV Going?

Android TV debuted two years ago at the event and it hasn’t gained significant traction since (as far as I can tell from my notes, it had no meaningful time in last year’s keynote at all). Some vendors, such as Nvidia, have built on it, but many others remain committed to either proprietary platforms or alternatives like Roku. Google needs to demonstrate it remains committed to the platform and it has unique features to offer to entice more vendors onboard.

How is Google Assistant Going to Grow?

One of the highlights of last year’s keynote was the introduction of the Google Assistant and a preview of the Home device which would debut in the fall. But one of the oddities in Google’s rollout of the Assistant was the way it hamstrung it by limiting it to its own devices at first. That’s begun to change but it’s reinforced the perception that Amazon, and not Google, has the winning open platform for voice, something Google can’t be happy about. Google needs to tell a story at I/O about how it’s going to change that and get the Assistant into more places with more vendors.

How will Daydream become More Relevant in the VR mMarket?

Another big announcement last year was the Daydream VR platform as part of Android and in the fall, we saw Google’s own first-party hardware in this space in the form of the Daydream View. However, the key challenge facing that platform remains the same as it was a year ago: with Samsung by far the largest player in mobile VR with its own platform, how will Daydream become more relevant in the broader VR space? Are more OEMs getting on board, not just by implementing Daydream support in smartphones but by releasing their own headsets? Also on the VR topic, how is Project Tango going and are we finally going to see some more meaningful progress with that?

What is Google’s Ambition in Cars?

One of the bits of official pre-I/O news from Google this year has been its partnership with Audi and Volvo under which a version of Android will now power the center consoles in those manufacturers’ cars. This goes beyond Google’s earlier Android Auto effort, which merely acts as an overlay on third party systems along the same lines as Apple’s CarPlay. It suggests Google has deeper ambitions there. It’s apparently not charging the car OEMs for Android, so what is its motivation? Is this just about getting the Google Assistant in more places?

How is Google Democratizing AI?

One of the big themes of last week’s Microsoft Build event was putting AI and machine learning tools in the hands of every developer, something CEO Satya Nadella has previously described as democratizing AI. For companies that create broad-based developer tools, like Microsoft and Google, that should be a key focus and it’s something Google has begun to talk about at its other events, including its cloud-focused Next event earlier this year. But we need to hear that message in the context of I/O too and see how it compares with what Microsoft shared last week.

Like many of you, I’ll be watching the keynotes and other sessions at I/O closely for answers to these and other questions.

Published by

Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

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