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Google I/O: Android L Doesn't Matter. The Mix Does


Google wants to be the software backbone of the world, and it's a smart strategy.


Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) wants all your data, and it's gonna get it.

At its opening keynote for its I/O developers conference yesterday, Google laid out a comprehensive vision that has its Android software hooked into everything on planet Earth.

Like Apple (NASDQ:AAPL), Google is smartly focused on how devices, software, and services work together. The individual components don't matter nearly as much as their ability to interconnect. Apple sees that interplay as a way to keep people spending big bucks on its high-priced hardware.

Google's playing a different game. It wants Android everywhere so it can collect data to deliver better targeted advertisements to all the people in the world. Here's what you need to know.

1. Forget Android L

For investors, the single least important part of the I/O keynote was the introduction of the latest version of Android, which as of now is dubbed Android L. The feature set matters to developers and phone-shoppers, but investors should mostly tune all that stuff out.

At this point, given the big slowdown in smartphone demand, the only thing that's going to re-accelerate Android smartphone sales is a stinky iPhone 6.

2. The Android One Platform Could Be Vital

Android One is far more important than Android L.

The Android One program provides OEM partners in emerging markets with hardware and software reference platforms so new models can be released faster and cheaper. These models will ship with the standard Android operating system, which improves the biggest problem with Android: a fragmented customer experience.

Android smartphone manufacturers like Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) and HTC  (OTCMKTS:HTCXF) typically customize the Android interface to differentiate their phones, but actual phone users rarely appreciate the changes. The various interfaces are reminiscent of the bloatware that helped ruin the reputation of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows.

While Android is technically an open platform, Google should commoditize it to ensure that customers become loyal users of a standard interface that exists across multiple devices.

3. Android TV and Android Auto Are Winners

Google made big pushes for its Android television, car, and wearables initiatives yesterday.   

Android TV and Android Auto both look great.

Android TV can run on streaming boxes or straight on TVs, and any device that can provide directional and voice controls can serve as a remote. Android TV integrates the functionality of the Chromecast streaming device, allows gaming, and of course, it has full Google search capabilities. It will be built into TVs from Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Sharp later this year.

Android Auto syncs your smartphone to your car's entertainment system for a Google-powered driving experience. That means full support for Android apps like Google Maps, and very sophisticated search capabilities.

4. Wearables May Not Be Ready for Prime Time

Google showed off smartwatches from LG and Samsung, and they had some pretty nifty features, particularly for messaging notifications. For example, if you're going to the airport, your flight information will be automatically displayed.   
However, a number of obstacles remain.

Smartwatches still have a pretty high dork factor, though the Motorola 360 (seen in photo) may be an exception to the rule.

Battery life is also an issue. The Samsung Galaxy Gear Watch can run for just a day, and unless the newer models have some monumental improvement, they'll be one more thing that needs to be charged every day. 

For now, smartwatches will only sell to the most techie of the techies. I don't think the mass market will care.

5. Google's Evolution in Data Collection Is Staggering

Google started on desktop and laptop computers, but it's on the verge of crossing over to everything on Earth.

I don't mean gadgets. I mean the whole environment.

Google's going to know where you're walking and what music you're listening to, and whether or not that makes you more likely to drink a Cherry Coke. It's a bit creepy, but it's the future.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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