Over the past year Google has really started to show some new colors. For a long time I viewed Google software as cluttered and feature heavy to a fault but recent iOS application redesigns like Gmail, Google Search, and YouTube have really intrigued me. But even after Google showed me that they could appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities, I still drew a clear divide in my mind; Apple rules my hardware, software, and media while Google rules my web experience. During I/O 2013, Google has shown off a focus on merging some of these things. The gap I've drawn is becoming smaller and smaller. I do not actively use my Android devices. Google's announcements don't apply to me directly. However, I am very excited by them because if capitalism has taught me anything, Apple will have to be competitive.
One of the first features shown off at I/O13 was single sign on. Downloading an app on a device using your Google ID installs it on all other devices including Chrome for PC and Mac. Sound familiar? It should. iTunes rolled out automatic downloads with iOS 5 that essentially does the same thing. The main difference is that Google's alternative functions on Chrome rather than the desktop OS. The Mac App Store does a great job accomplishing the same thing but Mac and iOS versions are sold separately so downloading one will not trigger the download of the other. And lets not forget Windows users. At this point, there is no way to use most iOS apps cross platform with their Windows software counterparts (if they even exist). Android working cross platform with Windows via Chrome's web applications will be a big thing for Google (especially if Apple continues to kneecap their Windows software).
As a strong complement to single sign on, Google also announced some major changes to Google Cloud Messages. Most notably, GCM can now send upstream data. This means that applications will be able to upload and download data across devices rather than simply having data pushed to them. One of the major reasons I'm so deeply invested in the Apple ecosystem is just how well Apple hardware works together. Although it isn't at full capacity yet (and I wish I could say iCloud was), GCM is on the way to bringing that kind of device to device fluidity to Android.
So, if Android apps can use cloud data and sync installations with the cloud, what about cloud based media? I've had a lot of problems with finding balance in my music listening habits. On one hand, streaming just makes more sense. I can hardly make room for my collection on my 64GB devices and a small monthly fee is much more practical than buying every album I fall in love with. On the other hand, streaming services like Spotify don't give you the library feel. I like browsing my music. I like seeing cover art. I like forgetting about an album and rediscovering it while browsing. At the moment, my silly solution is to use Spotify as a way to "try out" an album and then to purchase all the albums I enjoy through iTunes, synced and streamed through Match. Enter Google's new music service All Access. The way All Access works is it simply adds the ability to search for and stream music to your normal music library. This is the simplest and simultaneously most amazing solution. I'm not deeply invested in any of the Android ecosystems but this is exactly what I want out of a streaming service from Apple. I would easily pay a $30 monthly fee for this system if it ran through Apple ecosystems but Google is only charging $10. Step it up iTunes Match.
The last major feature I want to talk about is Google Play game services. Not because game services is doing anything particularly innovative. It has achievements, leader boards, multiplayer, and cloud saves. It looks a hell of a lot better than Game Center but otherwise it isn't anything shocking. The reason I think game services is especially interesting is because this is Google directly stepping into the development of Android apps and saying "use this". Android is fragmented and its a problem. This is a step by Google to establish the kind of well implemented standards that make iOS so great. In fact, you may have noticed a lot of Google's announcements almost feel like they're playing catch-up to iOS. If you feel that way, its because it is true. Android is catching up to iOS. All of the announcements made today don't make me want to switch to Android, they make me want to see Apple take notice and show me that they can still do what they do best. Make iCloud work. Polish out iTunes Match. Start finding common ground between Mac and iOS. It feels like Apple has been slowly stretching out its feelers into new territories for a few years now but their competition is catching up. I want to see Apple stop testing features and make their features shine.
After watching four hours of I/O13, what I came away with is this: Google is becoming the Apple of the web. But I don't want Google to sell me my music or my apps. I love the Apple ecosystem. But the reason Google can announce more interesting features in one day than Apple has in any recent keynote is because Apple has these technologies but has yet to develop deep functionality. Despite their occasional stumble and poor attempts at humor, this doesn't feel like another Android conference, it feels like the roots of an ecosystem. Although I cant see myself switching to Android in any near future, iOS7 is on the horizon and with Android coming close to being on what I'd call a level playing field, Apple can't pretend they don't have anything to prove anymore. If you ask me, Apple has no competition in terms of quality. But they may soon. I want to see Apple compete for my attention and show me that they have a grip on web services. The internet is important now, crazy enough.
Written by Samuel Strickland