Google introduced some very cool things at I/O 2013, primary among them was a renewed focus on services. In addition to talking a lot about new Google Play Services which will bring a whole new set of features and functionality to every Android handset and tablet from Froyo on up, we were also shown “Auto Awesome” and Hangouts (the replacement for Talk).
“Auto Awesome” is a set of utilities built in to the latest version of Google Plus — the website, not the app. It can automatically select the best pictures from your vacation and organize them into a scrap book for you. It can apply HDR-style filters and enhancements. It can fix your brightness, saturation, and tone. It can pull various layers out of your images and optimize them individually to make your snapshots look amazing. It can even soften your wrinkles and even out skin tones. Yes, all of that is “awesome”, and it does all of that non-destructively and automatically. How great is that?! I’m truly impressed.
Unfortunately, all of this is done online by the Google+ servers and services. The images on your phone remain bland and unimproved. If you don’t have a Google+ account, you’re out of luck. If you do have a Google+ account, but never use it, your images are tucked away in a service that you never visit. That’s concerning.
I can see why Google would do that. It wants us to use its online services and aggregate all our information in that singular place. It wants all our information, and it wants it organized into neat and tidy “circles” of our associates, friends, and family members. Honestly, it’s a more than just a little creepy.
One of the main things Google Talk has going for it is its ability to connect via the XMPP protocol to any other compatible service. You don’t have to have a Google account to chat with someone who does have a Google account. The new Google Hangouts, however (which is replacing Google Talk) doesn’t work with XMPP. People who were using XMPP clients are seeing their Google-based friends simply disappear from their “online” lists.
This can also be explained by Google wanting to unify everyone under its umbrella. Cutting out an entire protocol, along with all the businesses and individuals who have signed on to use it isn’t promising. In fact, its worrisome!
Connecting the dots between these and other recent changes at Google starts to piece together a puzzle that isn’t based around interoperability and freely accessible information. It paints a picture of a company quickly and quietly cutting off anyone who’s not using their services and entices everyone to depend on one company.
Google should have added the “auto awesome” features to the stock Android Gallery app with a user setting to perform the optimizations by default, or only if applied manually. Doing so would liberate your photos so you could do with them as you please, since the original and the “auto awesome” version would both be on your phone or tablet. But it didn’t.
Google shouldn’t have cut off XMPP chat support. If anything it should have expanded support. Google should have embraced it and used its features and functionality to the fullest extent possible, then expanded the capabilities without breaking backwards compatibility. But it didn’t.
Google must focus on solutions not services, and must reinstate XMPP support soon. It’s a disappointing trend, and possibly a dangerous one, putting all your personal information into one basket, and enticing everyone who’s not already in that basket to migrate or lose contact with their friends? If you’re not worried now, you should be.