Android to be as successful on tablet devices – Eric Schmidt

28 Jun 2011

Google’s Android operating system, which is now on 300 smartphone devices and is achieving 400,000 activations per day around the world, is going to be just as successful on tablet devices, the executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt said yesterday.

“We are already at a couple of hundred thousand Android apps and our engineers are working hard. We believe the space for Android is larger than the space that is for Apple and its iPhone and it would be a reasonable assumption that Android and iOS will battle it out. Competition is good, it keeps everyone honest.

“These are global scale platforms and we’ve really only just started. We’re two years into this journey and a year ago I kept saying Android would happen and it did, and with tablets we will see something similar,” said Schmidt, who was in Dublin yesterday.

“We benefit from the competition between various Android devices. It drives prices down and the reach up. Tablets in the Android space have really only just happened in the last six months, there are big enough markets and there won’t be just one winner. The space is large enough and people are moving to this digital model. Competition is beneficial,” said Schmidt, who had lunch with local entrepreneurs who were developing for iOS as well as Android and he said he was fine with that.

NFC – could mobile payments be bigger for Google than advertising one day?

I put it to Schmidt that about two years ago, Android was at a nascent stage with few phones and relatively few activations. In recent weeks, he had opined that mobile payments could one day be a trillion-dollar industry. I asked him did he think NFC-enabled devices could see a similar uptake trajectory as that of Android?

“That is a good question and we have no idea,” Schmidt said, tinkering with the GPS function on his Android phone. I noticed that as well as an Android device he also carried a trusty BlackBerry.

“The thing about Android was there were not a lot of capital costs. But with NFC you need to put a special chip in the phones and, of course, point-of-sale terminals have to get upgraded. The sooner we can convince retailers that the loss rates are lower and then it’s just a matter of how long.

“How fast will it occur? In a year, I think, you’ll begin to notice it, when you start seeing people using it in different places then you know it’s going to take off.

“But then again, we as an industry have been talking about cloud computing for 20 years and only now the infrastructure stuff is possible.

“So it’s speculative. If the payment thing works, that side of the retail business is a trillion dollars. How much of that will Google get? Well, we’re not going to take three-quarters.

“I like payments because it’s related to advertising. They are not that far afield and there are lots of benefits.”

Google, newspapers and social media

An inevitable question crops up around the future of media, in particular, newspapers, which are struggling in the face of declining sales and advertising. Schmidt pointed to an iPad and said: “That form factor is good enough to read a high-quality newspaper and if you see a newspaper you like you can go deeper in terms of connecting to other stories and viewing videos. Once you’ve gotten used to the form factor as an alternative to newspapers, that’s a good choice.

“Independent of how you price it, costs of reading this way versus buying a paper … Do you think when people move to tablets from newspapers they will pay the same way? That will be a decision newspapers themselves will have to make – should they charge the same price?

“Earlier this year, we revealed our One Pass software that allows publishers to have a billing relationship with individuals.

“Ultimately, traditional newspapers will decline because a vast number of people will begin reading them on tablet devices. That’s not bad unless you love newsprint. I like to ready physical newspapers myself. But all the kids I know read their news on smartphones and tablet devices.”

Schmidt said he had nothing new to say regarding social media except that Google is busy adding social features to capture social graphs and make products better, citing YouTube Leanback, which suggests videos based on what users’ friends are watching.

Eric Schmidt on the killer apps of the future

As time came to a close, I decided to ask Schmidt what things personally excited him about technology, what sparks his imagination in terms of what he’s seeing and reading about today.

“AI (artificial intelligence) stuff is scarily smart. There are new generations of AI that can look at databases and find exceptions, those needles in the haystacks, notice trends and things that are hard to do as a person and roughly map what people are spending their time doing than say they are doing.

“If we can find out how people are spending time doing things they care about we can generate products that are relevant to where we are.”

Schmidt described how he likes to spend time when he’s in Dublin, wandering around places like Trinity College.

“I really want my mobile device to have the pictures, the feelings, the emotions and the memories so I can experience them. I like history so when I’m walking around Trinity College I want it to remind me of history and that time two years ago when I gave a seminar there, too.

“So it’s this ability to have a deeply personal memory which is for me alone, the ability to suggest things to me based on what others are doing. For example, if you like it here there’s a room at University College Cork that has the same feeling. To me, that is what is so exceptional. That’s a very tactical example. The human memory, activity and what do I want to do next. Make a suggestion. To me, that is the wow moment.”

I venture that many of these capabilities exist in a rudimentary way when you think of analytics, GPS and the multimedia power of smartphones today.

“If you think about it, the next killer apps are going to be a combination of mobile (phone or tablet), local in terms of context (local businesses, people living nearby) and social in the sense of what are my friends doing, and making use of my geo-position, where I am now. It’s that generation of apps that we’ll be talking about in a few years,” Schmidt said.

Photo: Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google

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