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When it stops being about the hardware: Google's way forward and an all-new kind of cloud

It's been noted several times and with many words that Google didn't announce any hardware at Google I/O 2017. Never mind that we actually did talk of stand-alone Daydream devices and new Android Auto partners, the internet wants to hear about phones! All the phones!

Google started as a software services company and things have come full circle.

What we did hear tells us that to Google, phones no longer matter. Google is moving forward in ways that it only needs hardware, and not necessarily Android-based hardware, to use its services. This is exactly how it started all those years ago.

Google I/O has always been a developer conference, not a product announcement or a swap meet. Google will still offer a phone or two later this year, but the Pixel phones are built to showcase the services the company wants you to use and make sure they work properly without any third-party shenanigans. If we can believe the collective power of the internet rumor (and we should in this case), HTC is slated to build the Pixel hardware for at least one more year. But nobody presenting any sessions at Google I/O this past week is concerned about that. This was a developer conference.

Whether the best from Apple or Android Go, a phone is the window to Google's new world.

We'll still see big hardware announcements from the companies whose products make use of Google's services: Samsung and Apple. They are manufacturers of some darn nice pieces of gear, and two companies in direct competition because they both do the same thing: hardware, software and services. But, primarily, they make the hardware we love.

Google, though, like Microsoft, is not a hardware manufacturer. It has never been, despite the existence of Chromecasts, Google Homes and Microsoft's Surface tablets. It provides internet and cloud based services, and make them do things we love so we all keep using them. Much like we saw from Microsoft earlier this past month, it's now all about what can happen on any screen. And Google thinks it knows how to capture your attention and keep it: by building better services using artificial intelligence.

We've spent the past few days making and hearing the Skynet jokes about Google's new injection of AI into all the things. While the future can get very interesting when a company who knows everything about you also has machines that can problem-solve, right now AI is how Google is making the things they offer to us compelling to use. AI makes Assistant better, as well as Google Photos and Android and everything else.

Because Google understands how collaboration can make things better, it is also a big proponent of open source AI software and hardware with TensorFlow. This is working, and TensorFlow is the platform of choice for projects both large and small. This, in turn, makes Google's AI stronger and better.

Google's new circle of life: AI makes better services, We use better services and give them more data, AI uses the data to make the services even better. Everyone wins.

When machine learning can be used to improve an existing thing, we use it because it's better. That gives more data to the machine and it learns even more. This is a cyclical action where every party involved is winning. We get a better service. Google gets more users. Machines get more data.

All this needs a device to access it. Google has spent years involved in the hardware side, through reference devices like the Nexus program, or operating system software, or leading the charge with phones and tablets and TV boxes in some other way. It doesn't need to do this anymore because the device no longer matters for Google. The companies that specialize in making them will lead that charge, and in the end, they will all use Google's services anyway.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

26 Comments
  • I would think anyone that had a nexus 5x/6p that would get stuck in a bootloop, or a defective pixel that couldn't be replaced for weeks or months due to lack of stock already knew that google doesn't care too much about hardware!
  • I hear ya, my wifes 6P just went into the boot loop only two weeks out of warranty, my sons 6P lost its wireless communications and my mom's Pixel C lost backlighting a month and a half out of warranty. Needless to say, I'll never be buying a google branded product again.
  • Don't you have 2 years of warranty?
  • My Nexus 5x has done a few boot Loops but that was after going to Android 7.x? And it hasn't happened again and it's been more than 6 months. I'm not sure why so many people experience that problem but I don't and I'm glad and hopefully it doesn't start happening.
  • Surface tablets are Microsoft not google. Might want to change that to pixel in your article. 
  • I think he's pointing out that Microsoft, Like Google, is less of a hardware company and more of an operating system / services company even though they produce *some* hardware. HTC and Samsung on the other hand, would be defined as the hardware based company, even though they produce some software.
  • Yep. Lack of sleep at play there. I'll crawl out of bed and reword that :)
  • So true that the device doesn't matter. Glad they brought Google Assistant to iOS. Leave the large scale device manufacturing to the others. Concentrate on what makes and keeps Google what it is, pushing the envelope and taking is along for the ride. It's been a great one so far. Google is my copilot. Lol
  • I get your point about Google's services being primarily important, but I know one thing for sure. The day Google finally gives up on producing their own "reference devices" will be the same day I switch ecosystems.
  • You'll still use Google's services... No matter the platform.
  • So true.
  • Yeah. I'd probably move to iOS if Google gave up on hardware.
  • Google is making more and more hardware so do not think they will give up. Saw that the Google WiFi is already the best selling Mesh network product on Amazon and it has only been out 6 months. Google Home is reported to already have 24% market share of smart speakers and also only been out 6 months. Chromecast continues to be the most popular TV streaming device sold. I would expect more and more hardware coming from Google. Personally I am looking forward to the Pixel 2 and unless they do something crazy like remove the headphone jack it will be my next phone.
  • That's probably much too harsh. Consider the reasons that Google never needed to produce a "desktop reference device", and the conditions under which mobile "reference devices" might not be needed anymore either. Project Ara was obviously an effort in that direction, and it seems Lenovo's Moto Z and the Moto Mods are picking up that baton and doing well with premium device upgrades. We'll see if 3rd party/commodity mods and phones start appearing.
  • Even so I still prefer a phone from Google made to run the software they have in mind for it. I like the style of other offerings but am not interested in the extra apps that come along with it even if I can disable them. Looking forward to the next four years at least!
  • I agree and disagree about your point. Yes you alright Google gave us software and services only in I/O and all the Internet crapping about that was boring and where more about Android and eye catchy hardware. And agree with they're not getting it but the Keynote was ******* amazing. So much great things were announced and I just love it. But on the reasons it were I disagree with you. You're saying that because Google not about the hardware but I think that not about it.
    I think Google​ was thinking And reached the conclusion that they got so much great services and software to deliver so it's the time to separate the hardware From the conference and make it all about the best AI services you can get, but that not just about it... Hardware got bigger too!
    If someone notice Google never mentioned in the I/O, anything about tablets if they're going to get Google Assistant like they should do. Not a Ward about Chrome OS (almost), the one thing that I read it's about Google will give emulator for developers​ that they could optimize there apps​ for the large screens that include tablets Chromebooks and desktop mode for Smartphones. So here what I think, I could be wrong, but all the above can show us that's all the hardware will announce later this year on September and it will be particular about Google hardware. Their phones obviously, 2 of them. Tablet Android with desktop option and of course the Google Assistant finally on it. Pixel Book 2in1 with Android apps for Desktop, the OS could run Chrome, or Android for Desktop, or Andromeda, and of course with the Assistant also. Maybe Google Home with router. And that how the user and the costmers could get Vison that Google got everything you need, a whole ecosystem, from your computer to your phone TV, G home cars watches, everything! Google going to give you the complete experience that will make your life easier and fun. and that my friend could be the show hardware of Google! from business perspective that's the next level Hardware division. of course we could see a partners there for hardware, like standalone VR but that not gonna take the main point - you want your life easier, buy Google And as close as possible you'll get better experience. Want best Assistant buy Pixel 2 with Google lens you the better experience for Desktop buy Pixel Book with Assistant that way you'll will get thing done more quickly, the Assistant on your computer will get a task from you that will put reminder on your phone that could finish the work from there and take a reminder from to your wife that will couch her when she will ask Google home what's up? And she will know​ the on their grandma and he going to be late so she will know make the dinner.
  • Wow! 😳 WTF was that? Lol. 😂
  • ...what?
  • In short, I think the reason Google separate the hardware from the I/O is because they wanted to focus on great software and AI services. but also because they prepping great hardware to announce later in September, with full ecosystem and great experience that was made by Google.
  • Did you just invite all of us to "couch" your wife?
  • Took two reads but I got it. If you're correct, that could be really cool
  • Thank you. I can see the comment look a little massy, but English is not my native language, but still if was an option to editing it would be nice:)
  • I'll keep my arms skeptically crossed about any future improvements on anything from Google until I can pause GPM on one device and resume playback on another. OR have my "recent" lists be the same on any device I have GPM installed on. The lack of ubiquity with GPM is beyond stupid especially considering GPM is one of the few Google services I actually pay for. Not only does Google take in revenue from monthly subscriptions to GPM but it has for sale items (like the rest of the Play Store). People talk about monetizing GH. Why not allow me to rent/buy movies, music and apps by voice? That seems beyond fundamental. Hey, I'm glad the AI is getting so smart. That's great. Would be nice if it were also actually useful too.
  • The problem with this is - there's a grand-canyon styled gap in the hardware offered by Android - and the lower end of that spectrum hurts the brand irrevocably. How often have you heard "android is just junk while Apple is premium," when looking at the handsets - it couldn't be further from the truth. And the simple fact of the matter is, Google is probably leveraging this to get away from the Android brand - they have their new OS on the horizon, have been defeated every time they try hardware (either by Apple or it's own IHV's like LG and Samsung) - the problem with marketing this as "be together not the same," is that it's misleading - Google needs to have some low level hardware controls, and then stop focusing on the bottom as the endeavor point for any inroad into a new technology. I'm sure Android is a big hit in the 3rd world - but they're not reflective of the broader (and more lucrative markets - that currently Samsung and Apple own the lion's share...that won't change unless Google gets serious about hardware.
  • Take a look at the Pixel marketing site. https://madeby.google.com/phone/ You see something missing from the site? Not a single mention! Android is never mentioned with the Pixel. Now we all know it is Android as you are NOT on this site unless you are really into it. But the average person really does not get it. Ask someone what kind of phone they have and they say iPhone or Samsung or HTC or a Pixel. They do NOT say iOS or Android in most cases. This is why, I think, Google did the Pixel. They get this and it is a problem and the Pixel is about them dealing with it. Plus it gives Google the ability to take the device anywhere they want. As long as Google brings along the ability to run Android apps it could really run any OS Google desired. I really do not think people get how much Google really is in control of Android and where it goes. What is interesting is Android is like Windows in many ways. Yet people, I believe, would say they have a Windows machine or a Mac. Not so much a Dell or Gateway, etc. Not 100% but more so, I believe. Curious if others have similar thought.
  • Thought this was the coolest thing from Google I/O this year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2VF8tmLFHw&feature=youtu.be&t=10m43