Few companies have the potential to dramatically alter the electronic content landscape like Google, which continues to regularly roll out new apps, tools and technologies that make digital publishers sit up and take notice. It's a big reason why Google's annual I/O conference is so closely watched by players in the industry.
I/O 2014, held in late June, didn't fail to excite those eager to read the tech tea leaves and develop forward-thinking strategies for success. Here are five of the top takeaways from the conference of importance to content providers:
1. App Developer-friendly Gmail Debuts
Google has opened its Gmail platform to app developers, which enables web and mobile apps to integrate directly with one of the three largest mailbox providers in the world-a move that will further establish email as the standard form of common messaging transportation, according to Alec Peterson, CTO at Message Systems.
"There is enormous opportunity for developers when an app is connected to a customer's inbox, which is a repository for all transactional information," Peterson says. "By scanning email for order status messages from companies like Amazon, eBay, Apple or Zulily, a user could track all online purchases in a single app, and use that information for more tailored marketing campaigns in the future."
2. Improved App Indexing is Here
App content can now appear in Google search results; this means that, for example, if you search for a restaurant on your mobile device, OpenTable will appear, allowing you to book a table at a favorite eatery from inside the OpenTable app, and Google Earth can indicate the location.
"This update is critical for helping users discover and engage with content inside apps, similar to the web," says Mike Fyall, head of marketing for URX. "Google is trying to help users find the right information at the right time, regardless of whether it's on the web or in an app."
Fyall notes that content discovery on mobile today is challenging and primarily limited to browsing app stores and word of mouth. "We're in a pre-PageRank phase of discovery. If Google can help us explore the world inside apps, we'll be able to find and engage with relevant content that we didn't know existed before," he says.
3. Introducing Android on Steroids
Google revealed the latest version of Android for smartphones and tablets, called Android L, which includes a new design, enhanced graphics, fresh animation capabilities, over 5,000 new APIs, and more. Additionally, Android devices will now be "contextually aware," meaning it's cognizant of when users are at home or away and crave specific content accordingly.
"The changes to the Android user interface affect consumers' habits on these devices, including browsing, purchasing and taking in content," says Bruce Ernst, vice president of product management for Monetate. "The new design is meant to be more interactive, meaning publishers should consider how to optimize their content on Android devices to better engage with the consumer."
Android L is also designed to provide a seamless user experience across smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices.
4. Geo-location Notification from Pinterest Has Arrived
Google's new Android update for Pinterest notifies users when they are close to a location they've previously pinned-even providing the user with directions on how to get there. And that's a big deal, says Ernst.
According to Monetate's Ecommerce Quarterly Report for Q1 2014, visual social media like Pinterest and Instagram are driving a higher percentage of consumers to make online purchases than text-heavy platforms like Twitter. "Now, with Android's new location-triggered notification, Pinterest will be influencing online behavior, too. Publishers and content providers who do not have brand representation on Pinterest should consider what this means for their audiences, given that these updates will only deepen Pinterest's reach in consumers' lives," Ernst says.
5. Make Way for Android Wear, Auto, and TV
Google is paving the way forward with new possibilities in the wearable tech, car dashboard app, and smart TV markets with its latest respective announcements on Android Wear (a new operating system for smart watches), Android Auto (which will port many Android phone apps to vehicles by Honda, GM, Volvo and others), and Android TV (set-top boxes and interfaces built into smart TVs that creates an interactive television experience and allows users to download Android apps to play on their TV screens).
"Through Android Wear, Auto and TV, Google has taken a significant step toward standardizing the rules of engagement across emerging platforms," Alex Vlasto, senior vice president of marketing for Lotame, says. Many publishers are still reeling from the technical and financial challenges brought about by the rapid migration of web consumption from desktop to mobile devices, which has made them understandably nervous about emerging platforms like wearables and connected TV.
"But having a standardized operating system across these platforms will go some way to helping content providers plan integrated distribution strategies rather than executing in silos," says Vlasto. "This should ultimately limit the financial outlay that publishers need to make while also delivering a more cohesive consumer experience."