MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. Google previewed new technologies and services here at company headquarters during its day-long cloud computing event dubbed 'Atmosphere' that the company said attracted 400 CIOs and IT executives.
Bradley Horowitz, Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) vice president of product management for Google Apps, said the cloud is rapidly becoming the primary platform for most computing innovation if it isn't already. "Think of a Web app that's been introduced in the past five years that's compelling," he told the audience. "Now think of a client app that's been introduced in the past five years that's compelling."
Horowitz let those two requests hang in the air for a few seconds, leaving the impression there were no recent client apps to get excited about compared to Twitter, Google's own Apps and other cloud-based applications that have seen rapid adoption.
"Client apps are in many cases becoming extinct," he said. "The best thing about the Web is that it's open, so instead of 100,000 people working on an application that takes years to update, you have a hundred million people making Web applications better every moment."
Google plans to bring out several new advanced capabilities to Gmail that Horowitz briefly previewed. First he highlighted a few of the e-mail product's lesser-known features, such as translation. In a demo he received an e-mail in Japanese. Since he signed on and used the service in English, Gmail automatically offered the option of translating the message to English, which it did at the click of the mouse.
While he said most U.S. users won't notice the translation feature, he said it's "huge" in other countries and a boon for anyone that regularly has to correspond with people who e-mail in a different language.
As for future capabilities, Horowitz briefly showed a prototype of a "multi-way, multiplex meeting" from within Gmail that looked similar to a video conference call, with four speakers available to join in on the video feed (they all waved when requested to show it was real). Horowitz said the technology is "coming soon. We're just figuring out how to deliver it."
He said Google is also working on a way to bring "smart scheduling" to its online calendar and offload some of the more tedious scheduling tasks executive assistants typically have to engage in. In the demo, he entered the criteria that 22 guests in five locations needed to meet. At the click of a mouse, Google's program searched all the user's calendars and work schedules and shot back the best potential times while also highlighting any conflicts.
"In its current form, this won't put your executive assistant out of a job, but will make [scheduling] more enjoyable eliminating some of the more tedious aspects," said Horowitz.
In search of dark information
In a separate panel session, Google's chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf said there are plenty of areas related to search where Google has more work to do.
"Just as there is dark matter in the universe, there is a huge amount of 'dark information' on the Web that we have to make more discoverable," said Cerf.
Google already offers what it calls 'universal search' that can find videos, images and other types of information. Like its competitors, the company also recognizes certain "microformats" and data structures to help find different kinds of documents that a standard text search wouldn't. But there are countless research, educational and corporate documents on the Web that conventional search still won't find or at least produce in an easily accessible way.
Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products & user experience, said "search is just getting started. I only do about 20 percent of the searches that pop into my head," and that the modes of search will evolve with the advent of mobile devices.