Google presses algorithm, cloud advantage vs. Apple, rivals

Whether it's photo editing enhancements, voice search or new mapping tools, the efforts boil down to machine learning and cloud infrastructure --- Google's primary core competency. Can rivals keep up?

SAN FRANCISCO---Google's Vic Gundotra introduced new photo enhancement features to Google+ that are consumery, entertaining and pretty useful. The photo enhancements to Google+ may be enough to sway a few converts to the search giant's social networking effort.

But don't take your eye off the ball here. Gundotra's announcements at Google I/O weren't about social networking, search or even product features. The enhancements to Google+ as well as Google Maps, voice recognition, sensors and search enhancements boil down to two words: Cloud and machine learning.

"Google's data center is your darkroom," said Gundotra.



The new Google features by themselves are interesting, but the big picture is that Google can go places that rival Apple can't. Could Apple really do these features? Apple is working on its cloud efforts, but machine learning and algorithms are places it can't go.

Google CEO Larry Page knocked the Google vs. rivals storyline, but it's hard to ignore the advantage the search giant has pushing boundaries. "The opportunities ahead are tremendous," said Google CEO Larry Page. "We're only at one percent of what's possible. Despite the faster change in the industry we're still moving slow relative to the opportunities we have. We should be building great things that don't exist."

Page added that creating the future isn't a zero sum game. But as hardware becomes increasingly irrelevant and cloud services take over from software in many respects, Google can have its paws everywhere. This reality is why analysts are antsy over Apple's cloud prowess. 

More from Google I/O:  I/O 2013: Google's location APIs likely to fuel Google Glass apps  |  Samsung Galaxy S4 gets Android Nexus treatment for $649  | I/O 2013: Google Plus getting 41 updates  |  Google aims to deliver tablets to all schools with new education initiative  |  Google gives digital music another look with Play Music All-Access  |  Google developer tool releases include new Maps, Games, Google+ APIs  |  Google I/O by the numbers: 900 million Android activations  |  Google to use open-source sensors to monitor I/O conference  | Techmeme roundup | CNET roundup


Gundotra highlighted machine learning algorithms that can pick the best pictures. These algorithms make enhancements and picks "with human taste."



Elsewhere, Google outlined enhancements to search, voice recognition and Google Now. These things were interesting, useful and creepy to some degree. The secret sauce: Algorithms and machine learning with a dose of the cloud to offload mobile computing tasks.

Google's voice tools can now more or less guess what you want using location and context. These features will be in Chrome, Chrome OS and Android. Apple's Siri is about to get lapped.



The big picture: Google is aiming to blow up the search interface overtime and retool it with voice activation. You'll basically talk to Google and its search experience.

Google Map enhancements and increased coverage around the world---50 countries with Street View and 200 country maps (including North Korea) covered---also boil down to cloud, data centers and algorithms tying it all together.  Google Maps' new frontier---the map is the user interface. 



Under the hood of all these enhancements is a cloud infrastructure and algorithms where the real battleground with Google and rivals will take place. It's unclear if Google will really woo users with these features---it's a bit of a shame that the photo features are lumped into Google+---but the battle ground is clear. It's all about the algorithms and cloud capabilities.

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