- Google’s annual developer conference was a sober affair, in sharp contrast to past events.
- Google CEO Sundar Pichai avoided the customary product metric bragging.
- It’s a sign of the tech backlash, and the new regulatory scrutiny facing companies like Google and Facebook. But don’t believe everything you see on stage.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Remember when developer conferences were for tech companies to brag about how big they were?
It’s kind of the point of a developer conference. The reason that companies spend so much time and money putting on a show is to make the case that they have got the biggest, baddest platform on the block; the one that software developers had better swear fealty to if they want to succeed in the business.
That was before the Big Tech backlash. Before Donald Trump’s drive-by tweet attacks. And before Facebook was setting aside $US3 billion to pay government fines for violating user privacy.
Just how dramatically the times have changed was on full display Tuesday at Google’s I/O developers conference – a splashy event that the company once kicked off by having a Google founder jump out of a plane.
There was no skydiving kicking off Google’s 2019 conference.
But there also wasn’t something else: no bragging about size.
Compare this to a couple of years ago. Here’s a photo of Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s keynote during the 2017 I/O event, singing the virtues of the company’s deep catalogue of billion-user products:
“Every single day users watch over 1 billion hours of video on YouTube,” Pichai boasted back in 2017. “Every single day users navigate over 1 billion kilometers on Google maps.”
Google’s unstoppable growth was not just a key talking point, it was the underlying theme of the event just two years ago. New products, like Google Drive, were booming, he showed:
For the past two years, however, Pichai has kept the bar charts and eye-popping numbers out of his opening presentation. On Tuesday, when Pichai delivered his keynote, he didn’t mention user numbers for any Google products.
The closest thing to cross Pichai’s lips that even hinted at Google’s size was this altruism:
“We feel so privileged to be developing products for billions of users. And with that scale comes a deep sense of responsibility to create things that improve people’s lives.”
The latest update about the number of people using Google’s Android software (there are now 2.5 billion of them) was announced one hour into the event, when a Google product director was giving an overview of the new Android features.
It was, in other words, a very different kind of I/O. The chest-thumping and braggadocio were on the backburner, and the skydiving Sergeys of yore were nowhere to be seen.
This isn’t to defend the circus-like spectacle of some of the past events, or to say that Google didn’t have show off any cool technology at this year’s event (the update to Google Lens and the live text capture features were very cool).
But does anybody really think Google has fundamentally changed, or that it doesn’t care about how big and dominant its products are?
Google is still a profit-driven, advertising-supported business that feeds its bottom line with users and their data. And it’s a fierce competitor that’s never shied away from using its heft to conquer new markets and crush its rivals.
Sure, Google’s proclamations that it intends to be more responsible about privacy, AI ethics and “digital well being” are to be commended. But its attempt to play down its power is nothing more than showmanship, and it’s a much less interesting show to watch.
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