Has Google lost its mojo at I/O 2011?

At Google I/O today I have to admit it was comical when the presenter doing the WebGL track had to stop in the middle of his presentation because his laptop forcibly rebooted when Windows decided to apply a security update. He even joked that maybe Microsoft did it on purpose. But, who really believes Microsoft is still the biggest threat facing Google?

Google I/O 2010 was such an amazing event last year because of their focus, again, on developers. I have always loved Google products because I believe that Google engineers believe in open standards first and the success of their company second, and I personally think this is a formula for success in the Internet world. I feel safe developing on Google platforms because I don’t think Google cares about locking developers into proprietary platforms and technologies, unlike the Microsoft-ish strategies of the yesteryear. And, I still believe that. I remember saying to friends last year that the Google I/O keynote was so amazing because it was the best developer conference I attended, and the keynotes catered to developers. We saw live demonstrations proving via statistics that Android was growing fast and then proving via Javascript benchmarks that the technologies behind it were ahead of the competition (meaning Apple). It was thrilling to watch and I came out feeling so energized about developing on Google platforms.

Not so this year. The keynote presenters almost all read directly from the teleprompter, rarely attempting eye contact with the people in the audience. This is forgivable, especially at a tech conference. What is intolerable is we were subject to platitudes about how developers are “so important” and thanking us for “giving us your most important resource, your time.” This felt insincere when they took that time to shove product launches for Google Music and Google Movies on us. Are we really supposed to be excited about the “opportunity” to rent movies from Google in a way that looks no better than anything Amazon or iTunes has offered for years? Google Music was slightly more interesting as a cloud sync solution, but they missed the most important point: this is a developer’s conference. There were no APIs to any of these services, and at the Android Roundtable there was at least one frustrated questioner (a developer of a music app on Android) who expressed strong concerns that there were no answers about how these services would be presented to application developers. It was a huge miss for Google to come here and not have clarity on at least a API roadmap for these new features.

While the WebGL presenter’s laptop was rebooting, I decided to check out another track. I walked up to Marissa Meyers talk on the Geo track and was told that out of respect for the speakers, no one would be permitted to enter after a track had started. Has no one at Google ever heard of the “Principle of Two Feet?” As I wandered aimlessly I saw Tim O’Reilly refused admission, and this has unfortunately been the most exciting thing I have seen (picture above). I spent the rest of the afternoon in sessions, frustrated at times when the presenter was talking beneath us as developers, but feeling trapped that I could not leave. Feeling trapped: if Google does no longer care about us, are they going to resort to the same type of lock-in as Microsoft did, rather than what worked in the past, keeping us excited by new technologies? Is this the state of things to come? Has Google lost its connection with developers? Is Google’s worst enemy now only itself? The first day at I/O 2011 was not encouraging.