Google's top product of I/O 2013: You

Instead of gadgets, the message is clear: Google's personalized services are aiming to get into your head and be a part of you...and your social life.

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

As I sat through the last half hour of a nearly 4-hour keynote, sweat pouring through my shirt, my attention waned. Most people's did. Where were the gadgets? Last year, Google seemed like the hottest (or, most conversation-starting) hardware company around. This year, the only hardware mentioned was the 3-month-old Chromebook Pixel . I wanted new, weird products : watches, new evolutions of Glass, crazy convertible tablets. I wanted to see what Google's next products are.

Yet, you can see the message. In the people wearing Glass -- of which I was one, sheepish, awkward. In the customized, personalized Maps. In the focus on Hangouts and game-matchmaking , social music subscriptions , and the continuous, unending emphasis on the never-die Google+ .

For Google, in 2013, the product is you.

Google: From separate apps and resources to a personalized all-in-one experience
The you-oriented approach is the underpinning of the predictive Google Now , and that folds into the interface for Google Glass . Yes, Glass has been overdiscussed, overexposed, but consider what it represents as an interface: that ping-to-you card-based system, the timeline that's personalized and decays, yet keeps a record back in the cloud, the nearly app-free way that services just appear and integrate, exemplify the present-moment person-centric style of a lot of the Google services at the show. Glass is a metaphor for Google's new outlook.

The new Google Maps doesn't seem as instantly mind-blowing as you'd think, but the very fact that it can emphasize places and streets specifically relevant to you suggests that Maps will eventually be totally tied to your Google account, too.

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Google Now wants you to be always-on and connected to your Google account, your search history active and your transactions flowing through Google. The Glass-like reinvention of Google Now voice search , with its Siri-like feel, is a post-app service: it's everything, really. I used to just use Google for search, e-mail, and documents, but the deeper layer of connective tissue between services means you don't want to stop being logged in...ever. And it continues, across platforms. Hangouts, as a chatlike app, takes on Facebook. And so on. I kept coming up against the Inevitable Everywhereness of Google.

Chrome, the big-push OS of the show at an event that had no new version of Android, might be the ultimate vision of Google You. The account-tied cloud log-in, the ways in which apps give way to a seamless bleed of services -- a year ago I found myself wondering why Chrome existed, and suddenly I have a feeling Chrome will outlast Android.

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Where are we going?
But, going back to Glass. Seeing everyone wandering around with their Explorer Edition Glass units on, at Moscone and around San Francisco, was a statement. Right now, Glass doesn't do that much. But it's the idea of a pervasive, you-focused Google that Glass is being a vehicle for. Google Now is its engine, and if it's processing what we're saying in an ever-more predictive way, then all our gadgets that funnel into Google will engage with it, in new and connected ways. Glass and its personalized worldview, however limited at the moment, seem like the dream doorway for that.

I'm not sure I even want that world -- I like some separation. I don't want to be Google. I don't want to be Facebook, either. I like being me. The new landscape in software involves folding social-networking services into the batter inextricably, making for a skin that slips over you and envelops you. Facebook's doing it. Google's doing it, too. Apple's personality-driven products and software have been doing this for years, but they're not social like Google's are.

You and I are Google's living hardware, and I have a feeling Glass is just our first accessory.

 

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