Google’s major hardware mystery

Google I/O 2014 Announcements Hardware

I was pretty excited for Google I/O coming into Wednesday but after watching the company’s rambling keynote presentation that never seemed to end, I have to admit I’m confused. Or rather, it’s Google that seems confused, or at the very least going through a transition of some kind. 

Consider that last year Google announced a whopping 41 new features for Google+, its ill-fated social network whose founder Vic Gundotra left the company earlier this year. This year, Google+ barely earned any mention at all. However, sweeping Google+ under the rug was to be expected after Gundotra’s departure — what I absolutely didn’t expect was to not get any sense of what Google is planning to do with hardware going forward.

Remember two years ago when Google wowed the world with a skydiving stunt enabled by Google Glass? Well this year we heard next to nothing about Glass, which is a little surprising given that Google made it available to everyone in the U.S. just last month.

We also heard nothing at I/O this year about Nest, Google’s prize “smart home” acquisition that announced on Tuesday that it was opening up a new developer program to help companies integrate their appliances into Nest’s smart thermostats and smoke detectors. Also absent was any news about the rumored Nexus 9 tablet, even though this is typically the time of year when Google announces new versions of its Nexus-branded tablets. Nor did we hear anything about Project Tango, an experimental modular tablet that Google’s been kicking around for a while.

On the one hand, Google isn’t obligated to announce anything about hardware since I/O is primarily about software — after all, Apple hasn’t made any kinds of hardware waves at WWDC for the past two years. On the other hand, it really does seem like Google’s hardware strategy is going through a major overhaul right now.

We read earlier this week that Nest CEO Tony Fadell now “owns” Google’s consumer hardware division after Android boss Sundar Pichai reportedly “dismantled almost all of the Android team’s hardware initiatives.” This would certainly go a long way toward explaining the lack of news surrounding hardware at I/O and it means that it could be many more months before we have an understanding of what Google’s hardware strategy is going to be.

In the meantime, it looks like the best we can hope for is some Android Wear smartwatches and a piece of cardboard. Try not to get too excited.

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