Google I/O 2014 Recap: Android, Knowledge Graph and more

Back in April, I was lucky enough to get a partner invite for Google I/O. Coupled with a stay at the Startup House, a co-working / housing space (ideal when you’re jet-lagged at 4AM and want a proper desk to code a few meters away from your bed) located only one black away from Moscone, I’m very glad I’ve made the trip to my first I/O!

Google I/O after hours party in Yerba Buena Gardens
Google I/O after hours party in Yerba Buena Gardens

Here are a few highlights, in a conference which clearly confirmed the role of (1) Android as a global OS, and (2) the Knowledge Graph as a hub for everything AI-related, at Google and beyond.

Most of the videos of the sessions are online on Google Developers’ YouTube channel, and I’ve tried as much as possible to link to the relevant ones below.

Android – One OS to rule them all

While I’m not (yet) a full-time Android user (let alone a developer), it’s now clear that it goes far beyond a phone-only OS. With the introduction of AndroidWear, AndroidCar, and AndroidTV during the keynote, the OS is now the core of all hardware-related initiatives at Google.

With common SDKs and API to interact with, wherever the OS is used, this makes the life of developers much easier when building cross-devices products. Relying on a single ecosystem is also of importance when building an engineering team, and I guess it may also be an decision factor for small start-ups when deciding which market to tackle.

Last but not least, the improvements in the OS itself, including a new runtime – see “What’s new in Android“, makes it even faster then before, a plus for embedded systems of all sorts.

Google’s Knowledge Graph – From search to voice controls and app indexing

So far, Google’s Knowledge Graph has been used mostly in search-related projects, including the snippets you can see when searching for entities such as places, people, music and movies on Google. Several sessions-cases showed how it is now used as a central hub for AI-related projects and products.

Search results getting richer with Google's Knowledge Graph
Search results getting richer with Google’s Knowledge Graph

Using Android TV, you can ask your TV (literally, by talking to your Android watch) to suggest an Oscar-awarded movie from 2000, or who’s casting in X or Y – all answers coming from the Knowledge Graph.  In the first case, results can be bought from Google play, another nice piece of integration between the different offerings from the company.

Another interesting case is the use if the Knowledge Graph to connect the dots between previously isolated silos, namely mobile apps. One of the common issue with those apps is their lack of links and outside-world connections, in spite of recent efforts such as Facebook-supported App Links. In the session “The Future of Apps and Search“, a combination of app indexing, JSON-LD and Knowledge Graph was presented to directly link into an app from, e.g., Google’s search results or autocompletion-search in Android, as well as launching actions from search results – e.g. playing a track in Spotify, a use-case announced a few days before I/O – using the new schema.org actions I’ve recently blogged about.

As an early JSON-LD enthusiast, and working on related technologies for almost a decade, you can’t imagine how excited I was when I saw this in something used by million of users! Let’s bet that’s only the beginning, and that new verticals will follow.

Spotify, with real bits of JSON-LD inside
Spotify, with real bits of JSON-LD inside

Google Cloud and DataFlow – Smarter, faster, easier

I’ve been recently using Google Cloud infrastructure in several projects (from GAE to Google Prediction – watch “Predicting the future with the Google Cloud Platform” for more about their ML infrastructure), and a few announcements made my day here:

  • Cloud Debugger – making DevOps and back-engineers more efficient when debugging code. You can now add breakpoints, including conditional ones (e.g. user=X) in your live app, without jeopardising its speed, and most important, without having to stop/restart/deploy anything. This means that code can be debugged on production servers with live data, and  without patching / tracing multiple boxes,  all in the comfort of your browser. A kind of New Relic on steroids, so big thumbs-up here!
  • Dataflow –  aiming to replace MapReduce, with a special focus on stream processing and scalability. A convincing use-case during the keynote was Twitter sentiment analysis, showing not only the simplicity of the interface, but also the orchestration of the services through the API. The service is not open yet, but you can check “Big data, the Cloud Way: Accelerated and simplified” to know more. I’m looking forward to try it on a few stream processing for content discovery!
Dataflow - Coming soon to a theater near you
Dataflow – Coming soon to a theater near you

The Web platform – Polymer, WebRTC and HTML5

Whether you’re accessing if from your desktop, phone, or now, your watch or Glass, there’s only one Web. And far from just websites, it can be used as a platform to build powerful apps, as many session focused on:

  • Polymer / Web components – or how to build your own HTML tags for quick prototyping and distribution. As an AngularJS user, I was immediately convinced by its two-way data bindings. Polymer (“Polymer and the Web Components revolution“) adds another elegant layer to the Web, allowing to define tags that are then rendered as full components. Imagine a <my-recent-tracks> tag that will automatically render the top-tracks you’ve played on all your favorite music platforms. Well, that’s exactly what Polymer can do;
  • HTML5 – the Web as a platform, from different perspectives. In particular, “HTML5 everywhere: How and why YouTube uses the Web platform” was a great intro talk to understand the benefits of HTML5 from different points of view: UX, scalability, cross-platform. Recommended to anyone who still have doubts about it.
  • WebRTC – building real-time systems in your browser. “Making music mobile with the Web” not only showed how to transform your Macbook into a Marshall JCM2000 with Soundtrap, but also how WebRTC was used for real-time collaborative music creation, with very low latency.

Wearables – It’s all about the UX

Then, a big part of the conference: Glass and smart watches. I often thought that most of the effort to build those was put in the hardware and OS side of things (reducing footprint, optimising battery life, gathering sensor data, etc.).

While some talks clearly focused on this (with some nice hacks such as back-camera for biking in “Innovate with the Glass Platform“, and football-related ones), I was impressed by “Designing for wearables“, which focused on the role of UX to make sure wearables are devices that let you connect, and not interfere with the world as a phone does.

Paris Saint-Germain represents at I/O 2014!
Paris Saint-Germain represents at I/O 2014!

Showing some early prototypes and discussing how and why Glass / wear notifications are so minimalistic, this was an inspiring session for anyone interested in UX and products. A must-watch for developers and entrepreneurs aiming to  build appealing user-facing products, whether it’s for wearables or more standard devices.

Google+ – Or how Google missed the spot

I may have missed it from other sessions, but none of the ones I’ve been to mentioned Google+. I was not expecting much about it at I/O since the departure of Vic Gundotra, and Sergey Brin’s statements, as well as a plus-free agenda. Still, that was a big surprise, as it would have been a no-brainer use-case in many talks.

Using dataflow to process streams from your social circles? Not a word about it. Using Glass to see what your friends are posting? Nope. Alerts on your Google TV to binge watch some TV-show together with your friends home 5000km away? Neither.

G+ could have been an awesome social network – or should I say a social platform. Combined with Freebase / Knowledge Graph, linking people to things they like, possibilities would be endless in terms of profiling, discovery and more. Yet, with a poor API, a lack of portability that could have differentiate it from its main competitors from Day 1 (imagine PubSubHubbub / WebSocket as an easy way to integrate G+ into other platforms), I’m sad they’ve missed the spot.

Up to 2015?

Overall, a great conference, in spite of the queue mismatch that forced me to miss about 30min of the keynote, queueing twice around the Moscone, a real shame when you travel 8000km for such an event.

I particularly enjoyed the focus around the 3D topics (Design, Develop, Distribute), the diversity of talks (watch the awesome “Robotics in a new world – Presented by Women Techmakers“), and the accessibility of the DevRel team between sessions at the Developer sandboxes.

Looking forward to the next one!

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