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Google I/O: What you didn’t see

I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend Google’s annual conference, I/O, in San Francisco. I had heard about it for years, a conference aimed at developers, designers, and marketers, but the actual experience was far more dynamic than even my expectations.

The keynote kicked off on mobile broadly, and watches specifically – a direct nod to the elephant in the room, Apple Watch. Indeed, as an avid iOS user I was surprised at how many of the Android announcements seemed to be me-too features (e.g., selective app permissions, photo storage). But I was excited to see big moves with Google Now on Tap, which uses advances in deep linking, search, and contextual information to provide users with a more seamless experience across apps. Similarly, Project Brillo as well as Weave are helping make connected devices and IoT easier to develop for and manage. But for me, the bulk of the learnings were in the small sandbox talks over the next two days:

App analytics is bigger and better. I was thrilled at the big advances that Google is equipping mobile marketers with. One-third of app developers are misled in their user acquisition sources – what has been an area of confusion and a black box for major marketing dollars is now more transparent and quantifiable. Google has partnered with over 20 of the top mobile ad networks, scraping data that shows up as first-party data / a referral flow in Google Play, and which can subsequently be tracked to app opens and behavior. This means that apps need to integrate only one SDK (as opposed to one SDK for each network) – huge save in time and improvement in code management. To get started, developers can set up campaign tracking via Google Analytics today; in Q3 the postback engine will roll out as a server change / an automatic update.

I like the fact that Google’s stated target metric is lifetime value (LTV). While app opens and conversion are also important KPIs, LTV is the basis from which mobile companies hinge their revenue assumptions / business model, as well as marketing spend, upon. More broadly, by integrating user attribution with app analytics, Google helps marketing and development teams communicate better via a common language, ideally to create and communicate better apps.

Related – app marketing just got a lot easier. The newly announced Universal Ad Campaigns are aimed at smaller / growth-stage apps, and does exactly what it sounds like: provides a single platform for apps to set up promotions across all Google channels (.com, Play, AdMob, YouTube, and more). As someone who has personally spent many late nights trying to piece together information from disparate campaigns, create different ads site by site, and measure spend progress on each, the idea of a single platform to manage and measure all of this sounds too good to be true.

But it’s real. The interface within Google Play Developer Console appears simple and easy to manage – after uploading creative assets and setting budget parameters, Google actually creates permutations of the ads and manages the ad deployment. While I’m curious how effective the automated optimization works, as a single platform it certainly will save apps time and money, reducing the need for expensive creative designers and enabling low-cost proof tests (minimum budget is only $10).

Android Pay impresses. The session on Android Pay may have been more exciting than keynote itself – kicking off with killer stats (the average consumer looks at their phone 150 times per day! Seven out of 10 android devices are already supporting NFC!), and hitting its stride with the first-ever public demos of payments made, with a real Coca-Cola vending machine on stage. The technical aspects of Android Pay is well covered in media, so in this session what Google did particularly well was directly address the pain-point in the entire payments ecosystem – scale for adoption. With over 700,000 merchant locations that can accept tap and payments, partnerships with telco carriers, payment networks, retailers, and more, Google made a convincing case that both consumers and businesses were ready to take this next step in payments.

The three core principles of the product are simplicity, security, and choice. These have numerous implications for potential use cases – bundling loyalty schemes with payment types; developing APIs for software-, not hardware-, based integration, and different / greater interaction between mobile and the physical world experience. The surprise of hands-free payments was saved for last – making some of us wonder if the next era in mobile payments would even require a smartphone at all.

Calling a truce with iOS (developers). Much like when Apple decided to release iTunes on PCs, Google realizes it needs to engage with the iOS community in order to truly reach consumers at scale (especially since those consumers tend to spend more and be more profitable). To do this, Google announced a series of APIs intended to provide iOS devs with some of the tools their Android counterparts leverage. CocaPods, Google Maps, Game Manager, Tag Manager, Cardboard, Form, App Indexing, App Invites, Google Cloud Messaging, Topics, Analytics – all of these are now available for iOS and supported by documentation straight from Google. It will be interesting to see the rate of adoption among these APIs and to what extent they’ll tip the Android / Apple balance.

Android is truly global… On a personal note, while there were only a handful of us from Turkey who received the lucky lottery win, from SFO airport’s international terminal to I/O itself, the multitude of languages and backgrounds was truly impressive. I met people from Poland to Taiwan and everywhere in between – many of whom were not necessarily developers, but rather designers, marketers, investors, and more.

…But also shows what a small world it is. Indeed, not only did I run into old colleagues and members of the Turkish tech community, I saw friends from high school, former co-workers from the East coast, entrepreneurs I’d partnered with before, and more. That in itself was perhaps the highlight for me – seeing such a diverse group across ages, industries and functions, converging at I/O to learn how to “organize the world’s information” to, across a number of channels, make people’s lives better.

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─ June 5, 2015