The days of sprawling, never-ending experimental projects might be over for the tech titans. Microsoft is making one of the biggest pushes in their decades-long history to make Windows run about the same on multiple devices. Apple already has a streamlined interface for iOS devices, and the Mac is catching up with syncing services that actually work.
Today at their annual Google I/O conference in San Francisco, the search giant announced Android M as a maintenance release that will refine the more radical interface changes they’ve made over the past year. New VR tech that uses a cardboard design you can make on your own enhances and tweaks rather than radically redefines.
When the biggest news from your own tech conference has more to do with an array of GoPro cameras, you know there’s something afoot. This time, it’s not too alarming.
Sundar Pichai, the senior vice president in charge of projects like Android and Maps, spoke about the need for refinement and streamlining. This is a trend that makes sense for anyone who has followed tech for more than a few years. Before the days of Facebook and Twitter, and even before Google became a tech monolith, those in IT circles spent many long hours in meetings with business groups trying to explain the need for simplicity. In the 90s, IT admins tried to explain how it makes more sense to use one main operating system for all computers. Then, we tried to explain that everyone using a different app for business purposes or even a different phone didn't make sense.
Over the last ten years, Google has thrown its rather large and well-funded hat in the ring multiple times in countless categories. They wanted to form a vast social network with Google+ which is now being broken off into bits and pieces. They tried an RSS reader, they tried to reinvent videoconferencing, and they even have plans to make cars smarter.
However, the big news from Google I/O might be the new Photos app, which is really about making life easier for end-users. One of the key presentations involved a grouping and sorting feature. When you take photos of the same person over time (say, your grandchild), Photos can keep track of that and help you find all of the photos. While that might seem like a feature from an Apple app a few years ago (because it is), the group them share functions looks interesting. we no longer want to just find images and content with common themes; we want to share that content with other people and have them comment and interact with the content.
Photos also lets you group photos according to the date, and you can make sure Google syncs all of your connected devices like tablets and phones all have the same photos. It’s a nod to the fact that few of us just have one mobile device or even just one phone these days. We need help organizing and sorting; we don't really need brand new features.
Google also announced a new platform for the Internet of Things called Brillo. Once again, it’s about streamlining. The idea is to be able to talk to your phone someday and say things like “raise the temperature a little” and then say “and play a song by U2” and have that actually work (using the Nest Thermostat and maybe a Bluetooth speaker in the living room). Today, it's incredibly fragmented and confusing.
I’m excited about this effort to streamline. I’m looking forward to the day when technology is running in the background in the car, at home, and in the office and we don’t have to figure out how every device works. It’s particularly annoying when you have to deal with a Settings screen that works differently on every gadget you own. Make it simple, please!
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