Google reveals its real face: unfocused, unoriginal and a little bit evil

Photo: Roberto Baldwin/The Next Web

Wednesday’s Google I/O keynote offers a window into the search giant’s world. Photo: Roberto Baldwin/The Next Web

Google’s keynote presentation at its I/O developer’s conference today offered a revealing picture of the company itself: meandering, unfocused, copycat and just a little bit evil.

The two-hours-plus keynote had a lot of everything, from a new version of Android to new phones, smartwatches, TVs, cars, Chromebooks and big data — but much of it was deja vu from Apple’s WWDC two weeks ago.

On the surface, Google puts forward a better face than Apple. Instead of Apple’s parade of middle-aged white guys, Google strutted out a multiethnic, multicultural mix of men and women onstage. There were plenty of allusions to the World Cup — a truly global sports event — and a shout-out to Google’s all-female programming team in Nigeria.

The main presenter, Sundar Pichai, is a self-made man; a smart, hardworking guy from a modest background in India who worked his way up the ladder.

Pichai showed off Android One, a low-cost platform for sub-$100 smartphones for the world’s poor. Noting that most of the world’s population doesn’t have Internet access, he described Android One as Google’s attempt to reach the “next 5 billion users” in emerging countries.

It looked great. I’d love to buy into it. It made Google look inclusive, altruistic and forward-thinking.

By contrast, Apple’s executive team looks like the villains in Elysium, building beautiful but exclusive gadgets for the rich in a floating space station.

But as Google protesters point out, it’s all an illusion. Google doesn’t really care about the world’s poor — it’s aggressively trying to grow its data-collection platform to sell more ads. Not that some good can’t come of Google’s expansionist plans: Android One and other initiatives will likely continue to bring Internet access and services to more and more people around the world, but ad revenue is the bottom line.

Meanwhile, Google is affecting other changes that attract protesters of different stripes. There are protests against its workforce, which is helping to change the socioeconomics of the Bay Area, and its passivity on the issues of Net neutrality, which threaten to alter the backbone of the internet.

One man in the audience at I/O protested Google’s purchase of Boston Dynamics, which builds robots for the military: “Don’t work for a totalitarian company that builds robots who kill people,” he shouted before being escorted out.

Apple’s truth trumps Google’s fake altruism

Apple’s public face is whiter, older and more corporate than Google’s, but its message — we want to build the best products — is more honest.

Yeah, Apple’s premium devices are expensive. Apple will probably never sell billions of cheap phones to users in poor countries. But with Apple you get what you see; there’s none of Google’s fake altruism.

Lots of the products shown at Google I/O today were clearly copied from Apple. Android’s new Material design UI looks like iOS 7 with shadows; Android now supports 64-bit CPUs; Android TV and Android Auto are straight-up clones of Apple TV and CarPlay.

The only original thing — details about the new Android Wear platform — appeared unfocused and underwhelming. Showing off myriad functions of wrist-worn computers just demonstrated that, like Samsung, Google still hasn’t figured out good reasons why you’d want to wear a computer on your wrist. We’ll see what Apple comes up with later on this front, but the long-rumored iWatch will likely focus on health and exercise.

Tellingly, most of Google’s presenters wore smartwatches — but not one of them wore Google Glass, which may or may not signal that Google is about to kill the headgear of choice for “Glassholes.” Those wearing Google Glass in the audience looked like they didn’t get the memo.

At the end of two hours, everyone was flagging. And as the keynote approached its third hour, someone joked on Twitter: “Will no one stand up and yell that this is going on for too long?”

At this point, the most revealing moment transpired. Eric Schmidt was introduced, but instead of Google’s chairman, an unknown engineer walked out. It perfectly encapsulated the WTF aura of the event.

In the end, the lineup of products looked like a hastily thrown-together imitation of Apple’s pipeline; any unity was marred by protesters; reporters had fallen asleep; Tim Cook had gone hiking in Yosemite; and somebody had already mocked up a T-shirt that captured the mood at the end of the ponderous presentation. “I sat through a 3 hour Google IO Keynote and all I got was a crappy watch.”

That and an unfiltered peek at Google’s unfocused, unoriginal and slightly soiled soul.

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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