The nature of big annual conferences run by big companies means that when the time comes for the keynote, something big must emerge. For Apple, Microsoft, and, more recently, Google, the big thing is usually a portable device, new software for those devices, or the rare but attention-getting thing that was entirely unexpected. But what happens if there isn’t a big new thing, right on time for the yearly show, or the big new thing isn’t quite ready to be big?
Usually those chosen-for-big-ness things get rushed (see: Android’s tablet-focused Honeycomb version of Android), or artificially pumped up (see: the way-too-loud of Beatles songs on iTunes, or most Microsoft events). Almost never does a company announce that they’ve been working hard on a number of fixes, improvements, and smart ideas for a next version that isn’t quite ready yet, but will be soon. Because nobody would attend that conference, or feature its keynote in the news, right? Google has the last of June’s big three conferences this week, and lots of people are attending, and expecting big things.
In my head, though, there’s a version of Google’s I/O conference that isn’t a mix of device announcements and giveaways, far-flung details of lab-like projects (Android-controlled stereos and refrigerators, anyone?), and statistics written in 120-point font. It’s a recitation of all the things Google has quietly fixed and promises to work on around its ecosystem, and it’s geared firmly toward the people who use Google services every day, and don’t just happen to be in the audience. Dream with me, won’t you, of some imaginary announcements from the stage of the Moscone.
“We’ve done it. We’ve created a great version of Offline Google Docs, or Drive, and it’s available right now. Seriously. Refresh your browser. We stole the people who work on Dropbox’s version control team and put them to work on this. You’ll never have to outsmart our servers again.”
“Remember that pledge we made about keeping all new Android devices up to date for at least 18 months of their life? We’re re-launching it. We found tougher negotiators and lawyers this time around, and we’re creating an Android Update Team dedicated to helping push and test updates.”
“This new version of Android that’s optimized for tablets, 4.1, Jelly Bean? It has a few new things, maybe some Google+ integrations, a few Maps tricks. But honestly, our supreme focus was on responsiveness, stability, and user experience for core apps. It was hard work, and it’s hard to give our team some tough love, but it needed doing.”
“Instead of giving away devices this year to every attendee, we’re going to give them a few options: buy them at a seriously cheap and subsidized cost from us, donate them to charities that can use them, or ‘sell’ your device back to us in exchange for significant Chrome, Android, and YouTube purchase and promotion credits. We want to send the right message about what this conference is about.”
“Everyone’s waiting to see what our reaction is to 3D maps and a voice-powered assistant that a certain other company is promoting heavily. Our reaction is to improve our keyboard, existing voice recognition, and accessibility features, and to pump even more data and open up more API in our existing Maps and Earth system, so it knows far more about where you’re going and what to expect on the way there.”
“Maybe this seems like a less exciting conference: more modest give-aways, talk about incremental improvements, no self-driving car on stage next to me. So check your email. You’ll notice that you’re getting the first release of Google Goggles when they’re ready, shipped to your home. With Angry Birds: Outdoors pre-loaded.”
“The version of Ubuntu we use inside Google? You all can download a version of it for your desktop or laptop, with just the most secret Google-y stuff removed. It’s also really to install on a Chromebook, if you want. It’s really fast and has lots of neat little fixes. Linux powers everything we do, and we wanted to give back to its most enthusiastic users.”
That last one? I know, I know. But a dork can dream.