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Google’s Schmidt Insists Android Is “A Real Operating System”

We’ve been avoiding keynotes like day-old ham here in Barcelona. But Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt often says something provocative. So we braved the crowds for this one.

The keynote is due to start any minute. We’ll be back once there is something to say.

5:58 pm: Music — or Muzak, perhaps — playing. The hall is filling up. Thankfully, they have a better queueing system than last year, when I nearly got trampled waiting to get in to hear Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer.

6:00 pm: Okay. Here we go. Here’s the link to last year’s speech, by the way. We’ll see if he has more or less to say this time around.

6:02 pm: Schmidt starts by bringing out Hugo Barra to talk about Chrome and Android. Google brought out Chrome for Android in beta a few weeks back.

6:03 pm: “I hope everyone here is using Chrome,” Schmidt said. If you care about security or speed, you should use Chrome, Schmidt said. If you don’t, it’s free, he notes.

Not sure if he was talking desktop or mobile. But if you don’t have the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android, you can’t run Chrome for Android. And very, very few Android devices can yet run Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0).

6:05 pm: Schmidt on Android’s performance. It’s better than other mobile phones because, he says, “It’s a real operating system.”

6:09 pm: Still demoing Chrome for Android. I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but here’s our write-up on that from earlier this month.

6:10 pm: Barra notes that it’s the first time the Chrome and Android teams have worked together. (Isn’t that the problem?)

6:12 pm: Schmidt notes that there are billions of people who haven’t even gotten to have the iPhone versus Android debate.

“The World Wide Web has yet to live up to its name,” he said, noting that for every person online, there are still two who have yet to experience the joy of Angry Birds and Google searches.

6:15 pm: Much of what was imagined in “Star Trek” or “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” has come true, Schmidt said.

“These were the stuff of science fiction until very recently,” he said. Holograms and self-driving cars are coming.

You’ll be able to send a robot in your place to see your favorite rock concert. Hmm …

6:17 pm: “Driverless cars are a lot closer than you think,” Schmidt said, noting that 93 percent of car accidents are the result of human error.

6:18 pm: Schmidt pays tribute to Steve Jobs in describing this vision of the future: “People will spend less time getting technology to work,” he said.

“The future is indeed a very bright place,” Schmidt said, referring specifically to the rich and uber-connected.

New technology will still open doors for the middle class, he said.

6:22 pm: Meanwhile, Apple has just sent out invites for a March 7 event in San Francisco — Apple’s way of saying hi to Google.

6:24 pm: Back in Barcelona, Schmidt has made his way to the barely connected. “For many people, the Web is still a scarce resource …”

6:26 pm: If you want to know more about the Apple event, here’s John Paczkowski’s piece with the details.

6:27 pm: Having a smartphone isn’t enough — you need a data connection. But Schmidt says they don’t need to connect to a central network; can get value by connecting to one another in mesh networks.

6:30 pm: Schmidt talking a lot about tech’s broader impact.

“In times of war, it will be impossible to ignore the voices that cry out for help,” Schmidt said. “There will be far fewer places for dictators.”

There will still be elites, he said, and the gap between the top and bottom may well grow. Online censorship, he notes, is on the rise. Google products are blocked in 25 of 125 countries it operates in.

“We will see more of these efforts, but I think they are going to fail.”

Even in the U.S., some legislation exists that would limit things.

6:35 pm: On to Q&A.

6:35 pm: Will Google go after Chinese companies for going after Motorola IP?

“Google has been willing to take on China pretty well,” Schmidt notes, but adds that the deal hasn’t closed. “I’m well aware of the issues, and we’re certainly considering your question.”

6:37 pm: Pitched by some guy with a peer-to-peer money technology. There are some issues with peer-to-peer money. It’s illegal, Schmidt said. Otherwise, it’s great.

Issues with money laundering, etc.

6:42 pm: Asked about Facebook’s announcements yesterday, Schmidt said anything that gets more people on the Internet is a good thing. Also praises Facebook for Facebook Zero program which allows people in emerging markets to get Facebook even without a data plan.

6:43 pm: Asked when we will see Android on feature phones, Schmidt replies: “Why don’t you just buy a smartphone?” A better question, he says, is when will smartphones cost the same as a feature phone. The answer to that, he said, is “next year.”

6:44 pm: Asked about regulations he doesn’t like, he says there are a lot of them. He notes that is what regulators do. “They are not de-regulators.”

His suggestion is, if you are going to regulate issues, regulate an outcome, not a specific technology.

Asked about tech and overconnectedness.

“By the way, these devices have an ‘off’ button,” he said, noting people have choice. For himself, he said, “I think you should always have your Android phone on.”

6:59 pm: Asked where advertising fits into the future he was talking about, Schmidt said he was trying to avoid a commercial for Google, but — since he was given a chance …

As part of his answer to the question, Schmidt notes that on search, Google is moving beyond 10 blue links to give you an answer when it can. (Bing much?)

We are improving our advertising targeting, he said. Noting in mobile; mobile can be even more targeted ad. “We believe in ROI-based targeting,” he said, meaning return on investment.

7:02 pm: Schmidt on Android: 850,000 Android activations per day, with 300 million devices so far.

You do the compounding, and it will eventually be a trillion, he said. We need more people, he jokes.

Vis-a-vis forking, it is completely allowed. Schmidt said Google hopes device makers see the benefit in the Android market, but says they’re under no obligation to use it.

“It is their choice,” he said “We don’t sue them. Another activity we don’t do, if you get my drift.” A not at all subtle dig at Apple.

7:07 pm: Asked about whether they are riding on the backs of mobile operators, Schmidt notes their software uses mobile data, the only growing area in the cellular business.

And it’s a wrap.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus