Android, Jelly Bean, the Cloud, and Google's Long Game

I've ranted before about Google's long game; see Google's Endgame.  I 2011, I predicted that Google was aiming at a unified user interface.  I was partially right.  Google is still aiming at a unified UI, but their goals are going so much deeper than that.  I just wiped my cell phone, and the experience gave me a taste of the future, Google style.

My phone is the Motorola Droid Bionic.  It's a pretty fancy phone and Verizon put it on billboards for a while.  It's the first phone I had where I could literally make it do everything at once.  (My previous phone, the original Droid, was the first phone I had that could do everything, but it overloaded pretty quickly.  Try navigation, internet radio, and a phone call simultaneously, and it would curl up in a little ball and ask for Mommy.)

So the Bionic is pretty nice.  But even so, I'm so fed up that not only am I counting the days until I can replace it (6 weeks), but I have pledged to never buy another Motorola phone.

That's pretty harsh, especially since Motorola is widely considered to have pulled off something of a renaissance with its mobile phones, thanks to its embrace of Android.  The original Droid was phenomenal; Yelena & I kept ours as collector's items.  But the Bionic's problem isn't the Bionic itself; it's Motorola's support.

Shortly after the phone came out, it was replaced by the Droid Razr, which was better.  Not only did the ad department ignore the Bionic, but the support department did too.  The Razr got updated to Ice Cream Sandwich and then Jelly Bean.  Other phones followed, including the EVO, Galaxy S III, and HTC One X, but the Bionic was left in the dust.  It got so bad that the new VP of Motorola admitted that Bionic owners have "gotten a raw deal."

Also, the volume buttons fell off.  The whole phone felt cheap and plasticky from Day 1.  I don't think it's too much for me to expect a phone to last two years.  Poor software, poor hardware.  Screw Motorola.

In the mean time, Motorola finally upgraded the phone to Ice Cream Sandwich.  But I got impatient and hacked it first.  I was happy with the new features, although the phone did get a little slow and buggy.  More recently, Motorola upgraded the Bionic to Jelly Bean.  But, of course, the upgrade wouldn't work on my phone because I had hacked it.  So I had to wipe the entire phone and install Jelly Bean from scratch.

That's where things get cool.

After I wiped the phone, it asked me to log in again, as all new Android phones do.  I did.  It immediately downloaded my email, address book, and calendar, but at this point I expect that.  What was really cool was it also downloaded all the apps I previously had, and some of my phone settings.  It even reconnected me to my home's secure wifi.  That is pretty cool.

I'm sure some people will be put off by the fact that Google knows my home's wifi password.  But what I experienced was a level of disaster recovery that I hadn't even dreamed of.  And that's when I realized that this has been Google's plan the entire time.

For Google, the Cloud is more than a buzz word.  It's part of their strategy to make everything seamless across devices.  It's not just about user interface; it's about user experience.  They want search to be the same whether you're sitting at your desktop, standing on the train, or riding your bike.  Your device doesn't matter; you will always have instant access to all your information and all your apps.  You don't have to syncronize things because they're all in the cloud to begin with.

On the heels of this realization, Google dropped a series of bombshells in the opening day of Google I/O.  The theme is pretty obvious.  There was a lot of talk of making things work the same whether you're on desktop or mobile.  This goes well beyond the layout of buttons for your email.  This is about a seamless user experience that is consistent whether you're using a keyboard and mouse or a pair of glasses.

It occurs to me that maybe this is what we've all really wanted the whole time.  For me, the hardware matters, but that's because I'm a computer nerd.  Most people want a simple, easy experience.  They want their computer to just hand them the information they need without having to jump through hoops or run updates or virus scans.  They don't care about screen size or whether the device is touch-enabled or voice-enabled.  Most people don't care whether it's wifi or 4g.  They just want to be able to ask a question and get an answer - a real answer, not a list of search results.  They want their information to be readily accessible.  They want their apps to always be there.

Guess what: we're there.  We've got it now.  Of course, Google keeps moving the goal posts farther down the road.  Google is giving me things I didn't even realize I wanted.  It's not enough for your electronic device to fit in your pocket; now it has to fit on your face.  Cars need to drive themselves.  "That's not possible" doesn't seem to be part of their vocabulary.  

I like where this is heading.