Google kicked off its annual developers conference, Google I/O, on Wednesday, with a keynotelasting nearly four hours. It’s always expected that Google will make a bunch of announcements at these events, and they certainly did. This year’s hasn’t been the sexiest Google I/O full of new gadgets and big new services, but it has focused a great deal on developers, and isn’t that supposed to be the point anyway?
We’re not going to get into all the announcements here. You can follow this page to see all of that. I do, however, want to draw attention to some of the things Google has announced that have implications specifically for businesses. It’s worth noting that a lot of Google’s announcements came in blog posts, rather than in the keynote.
One of the biggest announcements to come out the event was a complete overhaul of Google Maps. This was expected thanks to a leak last week, and then another one earlier this week, but it is still a huge deal, as Google Maps is one of the company’s most popular products. It also plays a major role in how people find businesses using Google from the desktop, tablets, and from mobile devices. Google actually announced revamps for each of these devices as well.
The new Google Maps for Android smartphones and iPhones is coming this summer, and will include a new Zagat experience, with Zagat badges appearing in the interface, as well as Google Offers integration. If you find Starbucks, for example, you can see an offer from them, and save it for later or use it.
There is also a new five point rating scale across Google Maps for mobile and desktop.
With the new tablet interface, Google will point users to businesses and destinations by categories with a new discovery feature called “Explore”.
With the new desktop Maps experience, Google highlights things it thinks matter to users. “And the more you interact with the map, the better it gets,” says Google. “When you set your Home and Work locations, star favorite places, write reviews and share with friends, Google Maps will build even more useful maps with recommendations for places you might enjoy.”
“In addition to a customized map, we’ve also made it easier to uncover the best local gems,” the company says. “Search results are labeled directly on the map with brief place descriptions and icons that highlight business categories and other useful information – like restaurants that are recommended by your Google+ friends. Info cards provide helpful information such as business hours, and ratings and reviews so you can quickly decide where to eat, drink and play.”
The interface also allows people to zoom in right into indoor imagery, where available.
Changes to how Google does search are always of interest to businesses, because it’s the top way people find them. There’s not necessarily a lot in the way of SEO news coming out of Google I/O (though there was certainly plenty from Matt Cutts earlier this week), but you should still be aware of the search announcements that were made.
The biggest thing is that Google is bringing the conversational search that Android and iOS users have been enjoying to the desktop via Chrome. Soon, users will simply be able to talk to Google when they want to know something, and Google will talk back. Google SVP Amit Singhal discusses this on the Inside Search Blog:
People communicate with each other by conversation, not by typing keywords — and we’ve been hard at work to make Google understand and answer your questions more like people do. Already, you can tap a mic, talk to Google in a more natural way and get responses spoken back to you on Android, iPhone, and iPad devices.
Today, we previewed what this conversational experience will look like in Chrome on your desktops and laptops. Soon, you’ll be able to just say, hands-free, “OK Google, will it be sunny in Santa Cruz this weekend?” and get a spoken answer. Then, you’ll be able to continue the conversation and just follow up with “how far is it from here?” if you care about the drive or “how about Monterey?” if you want to check weather somewhere else, and get Google to tell you the answer.
He also announced improvements to Google’s Knowledge Graph, including newly supported languages, and the ability to provide answers to what it thinks will be your next questions.
Singhal explains, “You’ll also get smarter answers to questions like ‘what’s the population of Canada?’ Not only will Google answer that question, but you also get an answer to the next few follow-up questions people often ask. In a single card, you’ll see how Canada’s population changed over time — and a comparison with California and Australia.”
Finally, Google Now got some new cards, and the ability for users to set reminders. More on all of this here.
While not part of the Google I/O announcements, Matt Cutts also made another announcementvia Twitter. He said, “It’s safe to assume webspam will continue to tackle link networks that violate” Google’s quality guidelines, and that they just took action on thousands of linkselers in a “paid-link-that-passes-PageRank” network.
YouTube Gets New Ecommerce Feature
Also not part of the keynote announcements, Google announced a feature for YouTube, which could prove to be a pretty big deal in ecommerce. They’re now letting businesses include “Buy Now” buttons on their YouTube channels, so users can purchase products through various retailers.
“Every day, millions of people turn to YouTube for advice, from learning how to do the perfect smokey eye to trying out a new recipe for mashed potatoes,” says Danielle Tomassini from the Google Shopper team. “People are using YouTube not just for entertainment, but to learn a new skill, find more information, and shop for products. This presents a unique opportunity for consumer goods brands to reach shoppers in the moment and provide them with an easy way to go from watching a video to purchasing the product.”
The new offering comes in the form of a new channel gadget, and lets users shop for products from various retailers from the comfort of the YouTube channel they’re already browsing.
“This new channel gadget will enable shoppers to seamlessly move from browsing how-to videos and featured products to finding which retailers carry them, check availability, compare prices and make a purchase, all with fewer clicks than today,” says Tomassini.
Google has launched the gadget with Unilever to highlight hair products from TRESemmé.
Curiously, the offering is not part of the Google Shopping ecosystem Google has created, but rather utilizes GloTo.
There are a lot of interesting things happening with Google Wallet.
For one, there’s a new API that could have a huge impact on converting mobile sales. According to Google, 97% of mobile shoppers abandon their shopping carts. This is mostly due to all of the hoops they have to go through to complete the process (like filling out big forms). The Instant Buy API makes the process much faster and easier.
“The Instant Buy API is designed for merchants and developers selling physical goods and services, who already have a payment processor and are looking to simplify the checkout experience for their customers,” says Prakash Hariramani, Senior Product Manager for Google Wallet. “Developers selling digital goods within their apps will continue to use Google Play In-app Billing, which offers full payment processing capability, including support for carrier billing and gift cards.”
And speaking of Gmail, Google is adding quick actions to let people RSVP, check-in and leave reviews right from their inboxes. Buttons will appear next to certain types of messages, and people can take actions without even having to open the email. Businesses can add custom actions to their emails.
Google announced the Google Wallet Objects API to let businesses connect loyalty programs, offers, etc. to Google Wallet.
“Consumers want access to all of their loyalty cards, offers, and more on their smartphone,” says Group Product Manager Pali Bhat. “An average household has 18 loyalty cards but use less than half of these cards regularly because of the inconvenience. And the same goes for tickets, membership cards and other items.”
Users will be able to save loyalty programs, offers, etc. directly to their Google Wallet, and businesses will be able to showcase their brands, acquire users and engage them through instant loyalty sign-up, real time updates and offers.
“With Google’s location services, your users get timely notifications about their saved Wallet objects,” notes Bhat. “Additionally, with a simple upgrade path to Google Offers, you can distribute your offers across Google properties — including Adwords, the Google Display Network and Google Maps for Mobile — and benefit from Google’s targeting capabilities.”
They also announced that more phones – Samsung Galaxy S4 (Sprint), HTC One (Sprint) & Samsung Galaxy Note II (Sprint & US Cellular) – get the Google Wallet app.
Google+ has received a total of 41 new features, and a general redesign, and it could present some new opportunities and challenges in getting your content seen in Google’s growing social network. Included is a multi-column layout, bigger media, new animations, and a “related hashtags” feature:
“Suppose, for example, that you’re reading about your favorite sports team,” says Google SVP Vic Gundotra. “We’ll look at the post, determine what it’s about, and tag it accordingly. Behind the scenes, we’ll also identify and rank relevant conversations across the network. When you click on the related hashtag, we’ll flip the card, and let you browse related content inline.”
It looks like Google+ optimization could get more complex (as it certainly has with rival Facebook, not to mention Google’s crown jewel – search). More on the rest of the features here.
Google Cloud Platform
Google made some announcements about its Cloud Platform, including making Google Compute Engine available to all businesses and developers. It comes with sub-hour billing charges for instances in one-minute increments with a ten-minute minimum, so you don’t pay for minutes you don’t use.
“Shared-core instances provide smaller instance shapes for low-intensity workloads,” saysGoogle’s Urs Hölzle. “Shared-core instances provide smaller instance shapes for low-intensity workloads. Advanced Routing features help you create gateways and VPN servers, and enable you to build applications that span your local network and Google’s cloud. Large persistent disks support up to 10 terabytes per volume, which translates to 10X the industry standard.”
This is really all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new stuff Google has in store, but these are some of the things businesses should be paying attention to. Of course, it really depends on what type of business you run. Android developers have a ton of new stuff to dig into that we didn’t even mention here, for example.