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Google I/O: a designer’s take

By Adam Beckley / May 22, 2013

In many ways, I/O 2013 felt extraordinarily philosophical and personal. Bypassing the wow factor of previous I/Os (the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich, the Google Glass parachute trip), this year’s conference instead told a personal story about technology that minimized our tech dependency and allowed more time for personal connections.

A unified Google

The big news this year was not the release of a new Android OS, nor was it the release of Google Glass, but the introduction of Google as a unified service. From the personalized and voice recognized searches, to the simplified, exciting and vastly improved Maps, to the more human-interest based Google+ — the theme of this year’s I/O was more about the personal experience than it was about technology.

Google, for better or worse, has evolved into a company that predicts and adapts to its user, from remembering the last point of interest of a search inquiry, to the adaptive, helpful (if not somewhat overbearing) nature of Google Now. At several points during the keynote, Vic Gundotra, SVP of Engineering, made mention of “technology getting out of the way,” heralding Google’s intention to be an invaluable tool in the service of humanity.

Heading towards the end of fragmentation

Since Android is an open-source OS which can be modified by carriers and manufacturers, the Android ecosystem has presented developers with a fragmentation problem. In other words, apps that work on one Android device may not work on another device. With its recent code-base changes, it’s clear Google has become dedicated to addressing some of the problems caused by fragmentation. In time, Google’s focus on narrowing Android permutations will increase the quality and satisfaction of the platform’s applications.

Increased interest in design

In the interest of a unified ecosystem, this year’s I/O featured a heavier emphasis on design. Previously, the openness of Google’s platforms were only understood by developers, as there has been little-to-no design cadence. After Jelly Bean, Android released their design guidelines, shedding some light on the process of designing for Android.

At this year’s I/O, they took their design messaging further, holding at-capacity sessions on Cognitive Science, UX Design for Developers and a Wonder dissertation on the roots and practical applications of Android’s newest design principles, led by Android UX Lead Rachel Garb and User Researcher Helena Roeber. During the keynote, Google also reintroduced Google+ with an intuitive masonry layout and the personalized intelligence of relevant threads. It’s clear that design is at the forefront of their solutions, and it gives me hope in how we’ll see it used the future, particularly on the Android platform.

A cautious approach to Google Glass

While Google’s newest, most futuristic device was this I/O’s most prominent fashion statement, Glass was not part of the lineup of major announcements seen in the keynote.

Google Glass presents a paradigm shift in how we use and experience technology. It’s appropriate that Google displayed patience and caution in underplaying Glass at this conference, as this is a device that demands a more disciplined approach to development and design. The panels regarding Glass were more directed to understanding the clear and stringent rules involved. Considering this is astonishing new territory and that the social and psychological impact of this technology is not quite fully understood, it’s appreciated that Google is displaying a steady temperance towards the awareness and deployment of this device.

Overall, Google surprises

This conference wasn’t device-heavy — we didn’t get to savor the features of a new Android OS, nor did we get to walk out of the Moscone Center with Google Glass. Instead, we were pleasantly subjected to the Google’s convergence into a powerful and integrated ecosystem. These integrated service announcements promise vast new user experiences, an exciting design development from an engineering-dominated company.