Google I/O and the Design of Experience


I only caught the last half of the Google I/O event in San Francisco, but I was impressed with what I saw.

Without getting into nifty new toys like Google Photos and Inbox (both of which I have been playing with extensively), it’s clear to me that Google is no longer trying to catch up on the design of its products and services. They are pushing for a massive user experience leap over the competition. 

Google I/O Event

Contextual Experience

The hot new trend in nearly every vertical of digital user experience is contextual content. The adage of “right message, right time” is coming to life with some of the technology Google unveiled, particularly Google Now. 

One demo highlighted Google Now interpreting a mispronunciation of a foreign dish while the user was browsing OpenTable on their phone. Given the context of what the user was looking at, Google was able to better guess what they meant, and serve content the user wanted.

Google Now Interface

Not only that, but Google was able to demonstrate the contextual experience across separate apps. The idea of connecting experiences across different, non-Google applications with their “meta app” is an interesting (and slightly scary) idea.

As Google Now catches on and expands, tin-foil hat wearers and privacy advocates may have even more to worry about. Regardless, there’s no doubt that Google is becoming the master of predicting what you might need, based on what they know about you and your context. 

International Reach and Offline Uses

There was a large part of the presentation dedicated to the “next billion web users” coming online with mobile devices in places such as Africa and Southeast Asia. As designs and developers, we all think responsively when it comes to devices. However, it’s different when you’re in Africa and looking for information about why your crops are dying and there’s only a semi-reliable internet connection available on a secondhand smartphone. The emphasis of performance will no doubt have an impact on Google’s design direction for the coming years.

Google Offline Maps

Speaking of performance, another critical feature tease promised the offline use of products such as Google Maps and YouTube. Driving through the mountains here in Colorado, I can see the value of offline turn-by-turn navigation, but it’s much bigger than that. Google is bypassing weak infrastructure in developing nations so that users can access the internet more efficiently with the connections they have.

It’s a brilliant move by Google. Offline access helps me trying to find a campsite away from AT&T towers, but more importantly, helps millions of people have better access to information. Which, of course, helps Google in the long run.

Future Thoughts

Google’s presentation has me thinking the future is going to be a lot less hardware focused and more about the emphasis on delightful and efficient use of the things we all carry in our pockets now. The days of the big "Apple reveal” are going to become less important as quality devices become par for the course. It’s how we use them that will become the new battleground. Isolated app-store silos will crumble, replaced by services that work across apps, pulling and pushing data as needed based on user context. It’ll be a brave new (and connected) world.