Looked at one way, Google is an online advertising company with a lot of peripheral—and mostly not-very-profitable—side businesses in mobile devices and Internet service. Looked at another, it’s an ambitious-bordering-on-crackpot technological innovator that just happens to make its money from ads.
Google, of course, prefers the latter characterization. So it wasn’t any big surprise when Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of product, took the stage at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Monday to offer some insight into Google’s mindset and clues as to what lies ahead for the Android platform.
Pichai started with a quick outline of Google’s various techno-initiatives, including the Project Loon effort to spread the Internet to developing regions with balloons and lightweight airplanes, on-the-fly language translation and tools for things like mobile development, virtual reality and mobile payments. Android is merely one puzzle piece in Google’s master plan—assuming, of course, you believe that there really is a master plan.
To help you understand the way Google wants you to think about it, Pichai explained that the company is really made up of three things: an information platform, a computing platform and a “platform for connectivity.” That’s the rubric by which Google explains its varied and disparate initiatives.
Ultimately, of course, Google’s plan is to keep people using its services and to grow that user base in a variety of ways. Because, well, advertising.
Android, clearly, is the computing component. “We’ve built an open platform, which makes all this possible,” Pichai said, referring to the numerous incarnations of the software that operates a growing array of gadgets. Currently, Google’s software runs smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and fitness bands, televisions, car infotainment systems, and that’s just for starters.
When interviewer Brad Stone, from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, asked Pichai what people might be buzzing about at next year’s conference, the Google executive cited everything from wearables to virtual reality devices.
“I’m excited about newer categories like VR, [but] for me, the power of what you see is not just in devices,” he said. “These are computing devices connected to the cloud. When you look at things like machine learning [or] ‘AI’—in terms of the type of computing work that you’re doing, they make these experiences much more powerful.”
He sees Google focusing on that over the next few years, to make competing experiences much more “seamless” and “intelligent for users.” Pichai didn’t talk specifics, but the oblique references suggest Android will become much smarter about learning what its users want and predicting what they’ll need, and making decisions for users across the gadgets it governs.
“[Our] computing has been working on automating what people can do with their devices,” Pichai added. The company may already seem to be doing a little bit of everything, but Pichai suggests Google thinks its task is just beginning. Having already dabbled in experiments like Google Fiber networks and its airborne Project Loon, the tech giant will work with wireless carriers to offer connectivity. More details will be available in the coming months, Pichai said, though he made Google’s ambition rather clear: “We’re at this exciting stage where we can do more.”
Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite
Edited and updated for clarity.