Google accomplished something on Wednesday rarely achieved at technology events: The company managed to make a product introduction genuinely exciting at its developer conference, Google I/O.
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, arrived on stage in the middle of Vic Gundotra's presentation about Google+ Events, a new social event planning service, because he couldn't wait: A plane with skydivers wearing Google's augmented reality glasses had reached the drop zone high over San Francisco.
Brin warned that things might not go a planned. The skydivers jumped out of the plane, bringing the audience along for the ride as video streamed from the jumpers' glasses to the conference projection screen.
When the parachutists arrived in the auditorium, minutes after landing on the roof of the Moscone West convention center, where Google I/O was being held, the developers in attendance offered something more than polite applause. It would be fair to call the stunt awesome because people were in awe.
Google's demonstration of Project Glass reflects a willingness to take risks that we have not seen in its more established competitors.
Apple turns technology into something sacred; Google sells adrenaline, openness, and geek cred.
Selling an actual product might be better: Google promises to deliver its glasses in prototype form to developers next year, with no commitment about general release. At least its Nexus 7 and Nexus Q devices will ship next month.
Google has to take risks. It has to catch up in the tablet market, and despite the popularity of Android, it still has to combat fragmentation, carrier foot-dragging, and other problems that Apple doesn't face with iOS.
The Nexus 7 is a good start. Introduced at Google I/O, Google's 7-inch Asus-made tablet arrives ahead of Apple's rumored 7-inch iPad and Amazon's Kindle 2. It's a graphics powerhouse and eminently portable. It runs on the latest version of Android, known as Jelly Bean. At $199, it should sell well.
The Nexus Q, also introduced at Google I/O, is more of a gamble. It's a streaming media player that works only with Android devices and Google Play. Apple's iTunes has far more customers than Google Play, but Google's decision to position its hardware as a social tool--friends armed with Android devices can connect to a nearby Nexus Q to stream their own movies and music--could help Android and Google Play gain ground.
For a closer look at the best Google I/O highlights so far, keep reading.