Wednesday October 05, 2022

Google’s job at the I/O this year: Finishing what it started

Google is under greater pressure than ever to deliver unexpected results at I/O 2022. Google is expected to unveil the Pixel Watch, a more affordable Pixel 6A, and the latest Android 13 software and features. We may be surprised. We might see something completely different.
As always, the stakes are high for the new stuff. I have no doubt that Google can impress with these products. Google has a lot of announcements, some that are not so obvious. It’s not hard to see why I/O is so entertaining.
The Verge’s most exciting news could not sound any duller. We are not surprised by this, but we want to see if Google can make its products relevant for real people for the long-term. While releasing them is a first step, providing long-term, meaningful support for these new products and the platforms they operate on is something Google has yet to prove itself capable of, even after all these years. I’m not talking about security and OS updates. That’s the boring stuff. I want Google to go out on a limb and invest in these ideas and gadgets like it has more to lose than couch-cushion cash.
Google has never been a strong believer in follow-through. Many of its products have languished in ways which further confirm Google’s reputation for abandoning even the best ideas. There have been many I/O announcements that looked great, but didn’t live up to their potential. Google’s Assistant-powered Duplex service, which can answer or place calls for your, has struggled to gain traction among those who could benefit the most. There are also those that never materialized like Project Starline, which Google claimed could offer a more realistic video chat experience with depth sensors that make it appear like the other person is at the table.
The Pixel 6 was supposed be Google’s bold return to hardware. However, a slow launch has prevented it from happening. Photo by Becca Farsace/The Verge

It failed to live up to the hype it created with its marquee products in 2021. The scope of its Stadia cloud gaming streaming platform was dramatically reduced less than two years after Google made game streaming a major tech company. Android 12 has not made any significant changes and the Material You widget rollout (it should be called Mehterial you) has been disappointing at best. The Pixel 6 launched with a buggy launch that it hasn’t fixed with any worthwhile updates. These phones were supposed to show people that Google’s Tensor processors are worth their time and signal “okay, now it’s serious”. My Pixel 6 isn’t as fun to use as my old Pixel 3.
There are many reasons Google has not provided post-launch support. Allison Johnson, my colleague, thought the Pixel 5A was a great midrange phone. Instead of going global with wide carrier support, like most manufacturers these days with phones they are excited about, Google released this phone only in the US and Japan. They didn’t partner up with carriers to increase availability. It’s possible that you didn’t know about this phone’s existence unless you are a Pixel fan.
This approach seems to suggest that Google wants hardware success on its terms. And to fail on its terms. This strategy may be due to Google realizing it won’t always be at the top of many tech hardware categories that it participates in. It’s odd to see such a directionless strategy, considering the evidence within Google’s business (Google Photos and search, Chrome, Android and Workspace to name a few), that investing heavily can yield success.
Redditor claims that he has the Pixel Watch. Image: u/tagtech414

Smartwatches are a good example of what to look out for. The Pixel Watch, Google’s first flagship smartwatch, will be unveiled at the I/O. This is a great time to launch the device, as Google has set a new standard in smartwatch sales after years of being absent. It’s hard to imagine what would have happened if Google had not left. It was another category that Google initially gave some muscle to — until it didn’t.
In 2014, Google launched Android Wear, a dedicated smartwatch platform to compete with Apple Watch. The company brought in the likes Samsung, LG and Asus to make hardware. Each design was unique, but all were plagued by the same ho-hum software and slow performance. While Android Wear offered more options than Apple, all of those options were not great.
Google continued its software investments in the space by releasing a rebranded Wear OS that offers more features and a better user experience. Even the most powerful watches running Google’s new software could not overcome the first-gen issues — even the LG Watch Style & Sport, which were meant to take Wear OS to new heights.
Google’s support has slowed down with fewer major updates, and even fewer must have apps. Although a few manufacturers, such as Fossil or Mobvoi, have kept the torch alive (and more recently, Samsung with its WearOS 3-powered Galaxy Watch 4), the platform’s position is not great. There is a lot riding on Google being successful in reviving it. Even if the company does unveil a new product, it is possible that Google’s best chance of success with smartwatches lies behind it. Nearly all of its OEM partners (except Samsung) have given up. I still hope that Google will provide the same level of support for its Pixel Watch as it does for its Pixel phones.
Google has the opportunity to start over this year, regardless of whether it is a hardware or software product. The best and worst part about Google’s strategy is that it can’t stop trying new things. Despite the fact that there are some constant fixtures in Google’s strategy, such as Android, its search business and Google Assistant, there is little to no logical line with its hardware or software. Although it’s exciting to see what the company does next I have come to doubt Google’s ability for six months or even six weeks after launch to care about its products. I would love to be proven wrong.
We’ll be able to see the new products on the I/O stage. I am eager to see if Google realizes that the initial impact of these products is less important than the long-term support.

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