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Google trying to move consumers beyond the smartphone

Google trying to move consumers beyond the smartphone

We’re addicted to our smartphones. But if Google’s vision, unveiled during its I/O conference keynote on Wednesday, is even partially realized, the light at the end of the smartphone-addiction tunnel could be near.

According to Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Android, each one of us checks our phone 150 times per day. That amounts to 100 billion daily phone-checks worldwide. In the process, we’re also sending 20 billion text messages, snapping 93 million selfies and tracking 1.5 trillion steps, Pichai says.

And it’s all incredibly intrusive.

“That’s 150 times that I’m unengaged from the world around me, 150 times that I’m sitting at a dinner table and hunched over my phone,” Google Technologist Roya Soleimani told Yahoo Canada Finance in an interview. “Everybody hates that social faux pas, but I’m guilty of it, too.”

The growing interest in wearable devices like smartwatches and glasses promises to free us from the tyranny of fishing through our bags for our phones – or interrupting that gaming session – every time someone calls us.

“The idea is to have it there when you need it, on demand,” says Soleimani, “Your wrist can vibrate a little. You can take a look. You can ignore it, or you can engage with it, without having to hunt around for your phone. It’s much more on-demand, and much handier, literally, so I can jump into it when I need to.”

Well beyond search

Google has raised eyebrows in recent years with its forays into businesses that, at first glance, seem far removed from the search engine and web services that are at the core of its ecosystem.

The company’s Self-Driving Car Project already has a number of retrofitted prototypes out on the road, and recently unveiled a fully autonomous design that will form the basis of a test fleet of 100 cars by next year. Its Cardboard initiative delivers a virtual reality-like experience on a standard Android-powered smartphone. Project Loon promises to use high-altitude balloons to deliver wireless access to remote and underserved regions. Google Fiber is already bringing ultra-high-speed broadband access to selected U.S. cities, including Kansas City, MO and Provo, UT.

As divergent as these initiatives may seem, Soleimani says they align nicely with Google’s core vision of using fundamental technologies like search to improve consumers’ lives.

“The thirst for information and connectivity is there,” she said. “We’re living in the 21st century, and people deserve to have access to this information. Our projects have shown that this is working, that getting access to that information at high speed makes sense whether it’s in the U.S. with Fiber or abroad with Loon.”

The Canadian connection

While Canada, which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its 2013 Communications Outlook ranked among the ten most expensive countries in the world for wireless service, hasn’t yet been confirmed as a destination for any of these projects, Soleimani says Canada is very much on Google’s radar as it considers expanding its footprint.

“Infrastructure is definitely a big challenge there,” she said. “Local laws are also important to understand. So the team I’m sure is thinking about where to move next and definitely our neighbours up north are on everyone’s minds. I would expect to learn more from the team about what their plans for extension are.”

Northern apps

Canadians stand to benefit, as well, from Google’s expanded focus on creating an application ecosystem that ties together its fast-evolving mobile, wearable, in-home, and automotive brands. An Information and Communications Technology Council report, released in March, estimates Canada’s app economy now employs 64,000 people, with app-focused businesses generating C$1.7 billion in annual revenue. By 2019, revenues are expected to hit $5.2 billion.

As the application economy pushes into emerging platforms like wearables and automotive, Canadian developers and consumers alike stand to benefit from already-underway radical changes in the way we access and interact with information and services.


Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own.