Google embarks on a ‘Mobile First’ strategy, Schmidt says

17 Feb 2010

MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS 2010, BARCELONA – Everything that Google will create going forward will be done so through a ‘Mobile First’ lens, the company’s CEO Eric Schmidt told the largest gathering of the world’s mobile industry at the GSMA Congress in Barcelona.

Schmidt told the Mobile World Congress in his keynote yesterday that the cloud-computing revolution has resulted in a fundamental transformation in terms of how data is managed. He said that once it was about where the data was stored and where data was copied and stored in a particular place. “The right terminology is to replicate, not to copy from here to here.

“Applications are coming that are sharing intensive. The generation of app developer before cloud computing thought about making local copies on servers. Now it is all about sharing and replication. This means we are building powerful, interlinked systems. Over time each of these waves – computing, telecoms and the need for servers – intersect at a particular point. It was the mainframe, then the PC. I’m pleased to say that everything will be in the context of powerful mobile phones.

“The mobile phone is the meeting point. An app that does not leverage the power of the cloud is not going to wow anybody and will be too narrow.”

Now is the time of Mobile, Google CEO says

Schmidt told some of the most senior executives in the mobile industry that the time of mobile is upon us. “It’s like magic. All of a sudden you can do things that it never occurred to you was possible. The implication that has not been expressed here or in the industry now is Mobile First – the principal of everything being developed for mobile first.

“Our programmers are working on products from a ‘Mobile First’ perspective. That is in fact a major change. Every recent product announcement we have made – and of course we have a desktop version – is being made from the point of view of it being used on a high-performance mobile phone on all the browsers that are available. Now the programmers want to work on those apps for mobile that you can’t get on a desktop – applications that are personal and location-aware.

Schmidt said that Google is focused on new applications that include speech recognition and make use of devices’ camera power for augmented reality. “The new applications use sets of databases that sit on servers and if the networks are fast enough all of a sudden voice recognition works remarkably well. Processed by hundreds of thousands of computers in parallel it can be remarkably accurate.

“Look at voice recognition and Google Translate – why can’t I talk to someone on a phone who doesn’t speak my language – it’s not quite there yet but its coming. Mobile has resulted in the development of algorithms that were only ideas on whiteboards.

“There are applications that can tell me how well I am if I cough into my phone. Google Goggles should tell me if a museum is open if I look at the building through my camera phone. There are other implications of this that are interesting and worrisome. We have applications today that know where we are but what if they can predict where we’re going?

“The important thing to remember is that when we have all of this data, we can use modern computer science to do phenomenal things,” Schmidt said.

Google Voice search

Google Voice search

Searching using voice

During the keynote, Google demonstrated voice-based search in English and German over a Nexus One device showing how to locate a Berlin nightclub by the power of voice and how by taking a photograph of the Sacrada Familia church in Barcelona it automatically spawned a Google search based on the image alone. The company also demonstrated how Google Goggles on a mobile device can do character recognition and generate a search – not only that but the words would be automatically translated from a menu in German to English.

The company also demonstrated how Flash video can now be incorporated inside newspaper pages fully rendered on mobile devices like the Android-powered Nexus One. Another example given by Google was the high-end graphics capabilities on the latest smart-phone devices for showing movies and how up-to-date Google Earth is in terms of the latest images. Senior product engineer Eric Tseng showed images of the latest Google Earth photography of Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince in the days following the earthquake there, including the massive tent city that has grown up outside the presidential palace.

“Let me suggest right now at Mobile World Congress that we understand the new rule is ‘Mobile First’ in everything – apps, the way people use things. We have a role now to inform and educate through all these devices. The important thing is to develop the apps that people want.”

Bandwidth needs to be available

To see this vision take shape, Schmidt said that it is vital the global mobile industry has the software and the networks to come together to make optimal use of bandwidth available and not have capacity wasted in the signalling. “We need to move from the 1pc of people who use 70pc of the mobile bandwidth to make it useful for 100pc of users.

“Culturally, it is time to say yes to emerging services and ideas – literally by millions of companies and programming shops – they are all coming and they are coming now.

“We need advanced, sophisticated networks that can deal with security and lad balancing. The future of mobile is not about dumb fat data pipes. Google will not be investing in broad scale infrastructure, we will have the operators to it.

“We have been testing 1Gbps networks on an open net neutral basis. We actually believe it is important for operators to be able to deal with too much capacity because right now wireless networks have too many constraints.

“We want to make sure that operators can offer video on the same basis.”

A view from Google Earth

A view from Google Earth

Schmidt said that the future of mobile is also the future of banking and finance. “It is our strategy to encourage the banking community to embrace mobile, it will help bring banking to the millions of unbanked people in developing countries. The work is currently being done by mobile operators – the correct credit card should be your mobile phone. There is so much information and it is much more useful. If you had a mobile banking app that is authenticated and tied to the banking system, for example.

“Operators around the world have done trials. The banking system is under a lot of attacks for other reasons. I would suggest a strong lobbying campaign for this because it strikes me as a perfect example of the marriage of technology. Mobile operators have the best billing relations and are the most efficient billing systems – we would be happy to help them.”

By John Kennedy

Main photo: Google CEO Eric Schmidt

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years