Following Google’s marathon news conference yesterday, the convention center in San Francisco was buzzing over the new streaming-music service and the Galaxy S4 phone without the modified Android software from Samsung Electronics, which is unpopular among some geeks.
Neither of these really matter outside the U.S. Google didn’t say when Google Play Music All Access (catchy name) and the $649 smartphone would be available in other countries. Everyone else will have to make do with Spotify and a slightly different high-end Samsung phone.
Buried within the three and a half hours of tech talk, there were at least five things that could have a big impact globally. These may not resonate with many of the Google Glass-wearing cyborgs wandering around Moscone Center, but the following developments should be worth watching.
Mapping the Rest of the World Using Data Already Out There
Facing pressure from Apple, Nokia and perhaps Facebook, Google demonstrated that it’s still serious about mapping. While Google Maps can help users find a hipster coffee shop on every block in New York, there are still places of the world that are fairly opaque.
Crowdsourcing has helped Google to map North Korea and other hard-to-access places, but the company is searching for new ways to improve its location data. One technique Google discussed during the news conference is called “bundle adjusting.” It allows Google to combine existing data to attain fresh information. For example, wireless signals, photographs and other data collected by its Street View vans were used to precisely map where 40 million businesses are located. “This idea of generating data from other data is core to what Google does,” said Brian McClendon, the map division’s vice president.
Google Maps currently covers 200 countries, along with some unusual locations such as the Great Barrier Reef and the outer space around Earth. Methods like bundle adjusting could help the company compile comprehensive maps of the parts of the world that are still offline.
Laptops and Tablets in Schools
Google has been working on at least two separate education initiatives. Google Play for Education aims to get Android tablets into schools. It involves a dedicated section of the Android app store, which includes software from NASA and PBS. School administrators can select apps, e-books and educational videos from YouTube to be remotely downloaded on tablets for each student in class. Google has been conducting trials in U.S. schools, and will open the service more widely in the fall.
Separately, Malaysia’s nationalized education system is working with Google on giving Chromebook laptops to students. They include 4G wireless Internet connectivity and Google Apps service so that students can work from just about anywhere. “My dog ate my homework” probably won’t fly in this school system.
“We’re going to invest a lot,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Chrome and Apps. “This is what the journey of computing is about. What we are doing in education on top of platforms like Android and Chrome, we can do it for users everywhere, including the other 5 billion people on the planet.”
Larry Page Wants to Fix Computer Science’s ‘Marketing Problem’
The theme of Larry Page’s prepared remarks, which concluded the presentation, centered around encouraging more young people to study technology. The Google chief executive officer told an anecdote about how his father studied computers when many people thought they were a fad. Today, the technology field still isn’t seen as cool, and so Google is working on ways to help it become more mainstream, Page said. For example, Google collaborated on a Hollywood comedy about interns, Page said.
“It’s why Google got involved with the movie ‘The Internship,’” Page said. “Computer science has a marketing problem. We’re the nerdy curmudgeons.”
Google Search Can Answer in More Languages
Amit Singhal, a Google vice president, said the future of search involves retrieving answers, not just links. Google users are finding more answers to queries popping up on the side of search results -- “population of India,” “Crown Prince of Norway,” etc. But these have only been available in nine languages.
Google rolled out four more languages today: Polish, Turkish, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. The last one is perhaps the most interesting. Google has had a contentious relationship with the Chinese government and little success breaking into the mainland. This could help raise the search engine’s profile there.
Page Wants to Have a Lawless Society Where Google Can Experiment
At the end of the news conference, Page fielded questions from the audience. One bizarre idea that the Google CEO threw out was to create a place where tech lovers can go to develop and experiment with new tools without rules. There are “exciting and important things” that can’t exist today because they’re illegal, Page said. He compared this imaginary place to the Burning Man festival, which is technically governed by Nevada and U.S. law, but weird stuff happens there anyway.
“People are naturally concerned about change,” Page said. “As technologists, we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what’s the effect on people, without having to deploy it into the normal world. And people who like those kinds of things can go there and experience it.”
Book your tickets to Googleland today.