Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Thursday May 16, 2013.
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Google was smart to not show off a new Nexus. It was even smarter not to show off a new version of Android, despite the disappointment and complaints from attendees and viewers of the Google I/O Day 1 keynote. The popular point of discussion throughout the halls here at the Moscone Center in San Francisco have centered on the lack of "Android news," but what the disappointed truly mean is that there was no Android phone or major platform version news. Anyone who watches the keynote again will see that there was plenty of Android news, and those updates were important ones that show a change in pace for Google.
While many expected Google to highlight Android 4.3 or 5.0 at the developers conference, Google instead unveiled a number of new services and developer resources that will be accessible to most existing Android users. Had Google announced a new Android version, SVP Sundar Pichai would have read off a list of features that the vast majority of Android users would not have access to for several months. Instead, Pichai and Android VP Hugo Barra showcased a list of features that developers can incorporate into their apps and reach 98 percent of existing Android devices. There will be no massive wait for innovation to trickle down to users.
The switch from new platform versions is by design. At a meeting with journalists attending I/O, I asked Barra why Google broke traditional and chose not to unveil a new version of Android. He responded that it made more sense for Google to make its tools readily available to developers. Barra explained that making new API levels accessible only to a new version of Android potentially creates hesitation among developers to embrace the platform because it reaches such a small potential audience. Past versions of Android have taken so long to reach a mass audience that 40 percent of active users still haven't even made it to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Considering that Android has activated 900 million devices since its inception, there are sure to be tens of millions of users with little to no chance of accessing the new features that Google unveiled at I/O this year.
Google was right to not rush introducing the next level of Android. Instead, it slowed down and introduced new features that will have a far greater impact on Android if developers choose to take advantage of the new Google Play Services. We'll definitely see Android 4.3 introduced in a few months, and it's just a matter of time before the next Nexus is trotted out on stage somewhere, but Google I/O didn't have to be the place for that to take place.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.