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At I/O, Google Tilts Toward Android Services Over Android OS

There will be plenty of talk about Android at this week’s Google I/O developer conference.

SundarPichaiD10

But expect to hear more talk about what the company has been doing to improve its suite of Android services than about big changes to the operating system itself.

“It’s not a time when we have much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system,” Google’s Sundar Pichai said in an interview with Wired. “Both on Android and Chrome, we’re going to focus this I/O on all of the kinds of things we’re doing for developers, so that they can write better things. We will show how Google services are doing amazing things on top of these two platforms.”

It makes sense that Google is investing a lot in its services that ride on top of Android — and for three main reasons.

First of all, it is these services, rather than Android itself, where Google makes its money.

Second, when Google invests in Android, those are investments that benefit anyone using Android, from loyal partners such as Samsung and HTC to those that heavily modify the operating system such as Amazon and many Chinese phone makers.

Pichai was charitable toward all of the Android efforts, even those such as Amazon that take Google’s work and go in a different direction.

“Under the rules of the license, Amazon can do that,” said Pichai, who now runs Android in addition to his previous duties overseeing Chrome OS. “In general, we at Google would love everyone to work on one version of Android, because I think it benefits everyone better. But this is not the kind of stuff we’re trying to prevent. Our focus is not on Facebook Home or Kindle Fire.”

The third reason why Google can benefit more from updating its services is that such improvements don’t need the same kind of blessing from hardware makers and carriers. With operating system updates needing support from both the device maker and operator, it can take months for devices to get the latest Android OS update, if they are updated at all. Services, by contrast can be updated much more quickly.

Pichai noted that updates remains an area that needs improvement.

“We are thinking about how to make Android handle updates better,” Pichai said in the Wired interview. “We see ways we can do this. It’s early days. We’re talking with our partners and working our way through it. We need time to figure out the mechanics, but it’s definitely an area of focus for me and for the team.”

And just because Google isn’t treating developers to a big new version of Android at I/O doesn’t mean that 2013 won’t see the tasty follow-up to Jelly Bean.

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