Nilay and David discuss the week in tech news with the reporters and editors covering the biggest stories on The Vergecast every Friday.
On Wednesday, we saw a lot of products and features from their keynote live stream, from updates to the Nest Hub Max to previewing a 2023 Pixel tablet. We're focusing a portion of the show on the announcements and initiatives that will be made by the company over the next year or so.
There is no better way to start the conversation than with an interview with the CEO of the company. Here is the full transcript of that conversation.
After the interview, Dan Seifert joins the show to dive deeper into the hardware announcements and the theme of bringing back the hits of the past.
Wait, there is more. Liz stopped by the show to talk to David about this week's crashes and the struggle for stability. This segment may or may not be recurring.
Alex Cranz brings the gadget rumors to the show. We saw a preview of what the next headset from Meta may look like, and Apple may be thinking about bringing theusb-c to the iPhone in 2023. What a year for gadgets.
This show has a lot to offer, so if you want to listen to the full discussion, you can do it here or in your preferred player.
The transcript was lightly edited for clarity.
Nilay Patel: You are the CEO of the company. You are the leader of the company. The Vergecast is for you.
It is a pleasure to be here. Nilay and David, good to see you.
It's great to see you again. It has been awhile since we talked. You're on The Vergecast, I appreciate that. The real ones are on the show. It gets serious about products here. We came off the keynote. The keynote was two hours long and had lots of products. I want to dive into some of the products, but first I need to ask you a big picture question.
A lot of things are done by Google. There are a lot of research projects, a lot of far-out ideas, and a lot of things on the ground. You run a website. Then you have the operating system. A lot of things. The theme of I/O this year was bringing it all together, and it will become a very focused set of products and experiences for people across the whole ecosystem. How real is that from the baseline? How much of a focus are you putting on the search engine compared to just lining up the pieces and making sense together?
There are a few things I've tried to do with the company, one of which is at an underlying, more foundational layer that focuses on artificial intelligence. When you say research, it's a real focus on artificial intelligence. The big bet is that artificial intelligence is transformational across all the products and services we do. That has been a big focus bet.
A focus on knowledge and computing is what it is. Both of us see the core aspects of our mission. It is the same artificial intelligence which makes that change in search because we are able to do things in a more multimodal way. We are doing it across our key products and services because it is an underlying theme.
Our users use a set of products multiple times a day. There is a lot of focus on the active user bases of these products and making sure they are evolving in a way that makes sense. I think both are important.
One of the things I noticed in the keynote was that there were different things that came up in different ways. It has been difficult for us to figure out what that means when we say we are focused on artificial intelligence. A lot of things can be said about this huge thing called artificial intelligence. It feels like maybe the internet giant is picking its spots a little more, instead of trying to do a lot of things. You have a few big bets. Is that fair?
Yeah. It is a great question. You can think about it that way. All of us are making progress in machine learning and artificial intelligence. The latest version of either speech models, vision models, or multimodal models are what we deploy in production. Right? The future of artificial intelligence is not in production yet. Large language models are what that is. I think we are talking about that, and that's where LaMDA and PaLM come in. Some of that will flow back into cutting-edge production, and that is what keeps innovation going.
Okay. The idea of living deep in the future and two years from now seems impossible, so my sense is that your job as CEO is to make sure that all of those things are moving at the correct speed.
There are two sides to the coin. The end-to-end product was unveiled in one day when we built Chrome. The comic book leaked two days early, but at least it's a product in which you unveil it. We publish research when it comes to artificial intelligence. You can do that. I think that transparency is important in a technology like that. We are talking about it ahead of time, which gives us a sense of whether or not it is too futuristic. I think it's a fair question, but I'm trying to explain why we are doing it the way we are doing it. I think that makes it a bit different.
The classic story of I/O has been a demo of an impressive tool. I can't help but think of the one that took the fence out of the picture in the image editor, and it turns out that's a really hard problem. It will take a long time to shift that to consumers. At the same time, you're demoing things in actual products that are real for people or could be today. It's hard to calibrate, what are we looking at right now or a vision of what Artificial Intelligence could do? Every time you have an event, you can still get a demo of the amazing software that Google has to offer. There is a very hardcore engineering component to what you showed at.
Let's give a couple examples if you go back. At I/O, we showed many years of Google Lens. The promise of something. It is a real product, right? You can access it if people query it. As Lens matures, we are bringing those capabilities into search, and that helps you from a multisearch standpoint. I think Magic Eraser gets at some of its promise in the context of a product, even if you can't see it in the movie. The goal is to build it into a product. We are trying to do that. I don't want to be an R&D lab.
We believe we have been doing cutting-edge R&D. Over the past five years, we have invested over $100 billion in R&D. We are definitely doing R&D, but the goal is to apply it in a way that works with our mission. I think both are true.
There may be times when we fail and there may be one or two elements in it. There is a risk of talking ahead. The failures are obvious to the outside world. If you have looked at the capabilities we are bringing in, we are going to translate them into products and features.
I think we have been making progress with translation, be it monolingual translation or what we showed in the context of the prototypes. Right?
Wait, we will just skip ahead. You brought it up. Is the glasses real? Is it a real pair of glasses?
Yeah. The prototypes are not fake. The people testing it out are real, and they are real use cases. Absolutely. We are still trying to figure out what the right product is.
We were trying to communicate. There is a lot of innovation for what we are building in augmented reality, we are building in the context of a phone. These are all augmented reality experiences.
We are using a phone today. The magic isn't obvious until you can live in that future. We are looking at that future in terms of hardware form factors. We have a few more decisions to make there, and that will take time.
If people haven't seen the video, you should watch it. It's cool. It is a pair of glasses. It listens. You can see real-time translations. Someone is speaking in a different language and you get a real-time translation on the screen of the glasses.
I look at that, and I say, "Oh, that's really smart." Right now, all the augmented reality experiences are on a phone. It has a 5G network connection. A fast processor is what it has. It has a big battery. It's very difficult to put that stuff in glasses. I looked at the translation glasses you demoed, and I said, "Oh, you're cutting the problem way down." Is that how you are thinking about it? You're not going to do real-time graphic overlays and stuff that seems far out right now, and you're going to cut it all the way down to that?
I don't think we want to overshoot it, so it's part of how we are thinking about it. The longer it is away, the more you overshoot. We are trying to find a spot where people can wear what you can do. You can wear it. Also, doesn't have the other issues around... If you have a camera, you have to solve some issues. It is a harder system integration problem.
I have always felt constraints help. Constraints help you deliver a product. I'm a fan of that. I think that's part of what's going on there.
The hardware has to be developed. That seems very difficult. It seems like the world's biggest content moderation challenge is going to be augmenting reality. You run a website. Content moderation is a challenge on YouTube. Have you thought about the future of augmented reality? Someone is looking at a building. Some information will be put over the Capitol building to say what happened. People are going to be upset regardless of what we put on that screen. Are you still focused on the task at hand?
I think we are in the early stages. There are use cases where you want to listen to music when you run, or you want to use Maps. You have to think through all that when you show that information. I agree with you. If I were to be honest, I don't think we are there yet.
Do you think this is a five-year problem? Is it a problem for 25 years? Is it 18 months?
We have a problem today, right? I think the internet is working at scale. I think we have crossed the inflection points. Content moderation is a hard problem to solve today. I wonder if areas where I worry about more are synthetic content, and how do we deal with that? I think there are harder dimensions, which I think we are thinking about a bit more.
How you think about the company as a whole is also a question. I think we've seen a few companies make a lot of noise about augmented reality being a bet-the-company thing. This thing that is coming next is going to require everything we have, and we have to put everything behind it, and it's going to require changing how we work. My sense is that you are not shifting Google very aggressively.
The real world is pretty good, which is about as hard of a shot as I have ever heard you take.
The real world is important and we are focused more and more on the augmented reality side. We are building it. There is an important use case for virtual reality. There will be mixed reality. There are different timelines and access for those things.
If AR is going to be as big as a lot of people think it is, it will require every team at Google to build new things for it. Where are you thinking about how much energy you want to put into the company?
The desktop era is where the invention of the internet came from. The shift to mobile has been driven by us. We are driving a big shift in technology. I think it cuts across. It is a natural evolution of the company and I don't see it as betting the company. It is a big part of getting it right if you are thinking deeply and building for the future.
It is important that search works in the context of augmented reality. Maps is thinking about it. YouTube is thinking about it. It is being thought through by Google Photos. If you get it right, you're bringing the company along through these transitions. It may be a way about how we think about it.
Let's come back out of the clouds for a second. That's Arkansas. It's interesting. The glasses are fascinating because they can make a more useful product if you reduce the problem you are trying to solve. They are still a long way out. You have another problem in front of you, which is trying to sell Pixel phones and create a Pixel ecosystem. For a while, we saw the Pixel Buds Pro. You might be referring to a tablet. There is a lot of energy in that space.
On a piece of the Vergecast, Rick Osterloh said that the Android team and the Pixel team are closer together now. They are operating in harmony. I believe that the arrangement has made your original equipment manufacturers very angry. You're doing it again. Tell me about it. Is it possible that you can bring them together because they don't see the threat of Pixel? Is it you that are going to make some innovations from the Pixel into the proper version of the OS? How are you thinking about that?
Let me answer the first question about our focus there. Over the past five years, it's the same if you've taken an area like YouTube. We put a lot of focus on it. The same thing is called cloud. Both are important areas to build businesses in. Hardware and computing are equally important to me. All of us see value in working together to make sure we make progress, particularly beyond phones, right?
So Wear OS is an example. When you build these new categories, it will include hardware, software, and app developers. You all know this. There is value in what we did with the Wear OS. Developers address it, too, and the fact that Wear OS has a lot more traction, as well as the coming of the Pixel Watch, matters. A rising tide lifts all boats, kind of scenario is what plays out. We work very hard with SAMSUNG on phones and foldables.
I think there is some added value in our approach because we sometimes have a strong view on what to do on top of Android. Our original equipment manufacturer may have a different viewpoint. I think one of the benefits of the operating system is that it allows both viewpoints to be expressed. We can do it in the same way as we see it. It's possible that there's a vision on top of the hardware. I think there is some value in that.
I don't think this is that complicated. The industry has evolved to this level. I think it's natural to ask the same question if you look at someone like Microsoft with Surface and Windows. We work with other companies. Our division is a major customer of the company. We don't sit there and ask, "Hey, are you supplying your own phones?" The industry has worked that way for a while. I think it's a natural evolution.
What did you think about the ecosystems side of things? There was a lot of resurrecting of old products and old ideas that Nilay and I noticed from I/O. It doesn't seem like the internet giant cares about watches or tablets. After not being back, the wallet is back. The thinking of the system seems to have gotten bigger. What started that inside?
There are two aspects to it. One of the things you said was that the ecosystems is important, and that it is open source, which means there are many different manufacturers making things. The team is thinking about how Better Together can work better. Additional categories becoming more important is one part of it.
Why not sooner? Hardware is an economies of scale. There are a lot of things to do to get it right. We have been working on the capabilities. Five years is a long time to make a project. We knew we needed that to work well to be able to do a tablet that shares the same platform with phones. You had to crawl, walk, and run on phones before you could do the other things. There is a difference between being able to do it all in the additional things and being able to get scale. The practical side of it is what I think.
NP: I would like to ask you about phones and tablets. You compared it to Microsoft. Microsoft did Surface because Windows didn't produce thousand-dollar laptops. The man has been on the show. He said that to us very loudly. They need to revive this segment of the market. We need to compete with Apple because they are winning at this segment of the market. You're getting switchers, where you're just moving people around. I don't know if you're going to get iPad switchers if you launch a tablet, or if you'll just get chrome OS switchers.
What do you think about that competition? I guess the real question is: how do you think about opening the gate to get people to switch from Apple products, however many conversations we want to have about lock-in, and I promise you, we will soon ask what RCS, but they seem to be
I think we will end up with each of us individually better off if we do Tablets and work better with SAMSUNG on them. That is how the math works out for a while. I think we need to be competitive on the phone. We don't have a good tablet offering as well, so we could lose users from the Android platform.
You've made this point before on The Vergecast about the impact of Nexus 7. We think we can give a clear view on how you can do these things and how they can work together. I believe it will impact the whole system to do better. All of that is playing out. We end up being a very successful company because others sell components to us. We purchase displays and memory. I think it is more complex than that.
Now I have to ask the question. Shout out to our friend, who you took from us. Over the past five years, the noise that was made about RCS has gotten louder. It started with the new standard. The carriers should adopt it. We're running our own server and everyone should look in the direction of Cupertino. You are starting to advocate for it very loudly. There are good reasons for it. Interoperability and ease of switch are also things that can be achieved with the use of iMessage. How are you balancing all of that? Are you more focused on the next generation of standards when you have to get there?
You have been focused on our messaging efforts. I remember being in Mobile World Congress six to seven years ago, when the carriers suddenly looked at us and said, "We need you to do this." It was a big shift for the carriers because they didn't want anyone else to come into messaging. It's a great example of being so focused on an area over a long period of time. I think that the path to both being a standard and supporting end-to-end encryption is clear, because we are where we are. I'm excited about the progress there.
Interoperability is great here. We all take email for granted. It would be great if it worked. We crossed that part because we couldn't make the case until we had a viable alternative. I realize teams are excited and making calls, but to me, what is in our control is to build a compelling standard and make a compelling case to the benefit of everyone involved. The rest is not in our hands. Time will tell. I am glad we reached the stage where we are making progress.
First of all, you guys focus a lot on products, which is great, and I think unique, but the more you focus on product, you have almost like, product manager-type of people, and I am not sure if you know this. I think it will happen.
NP: Yeah. Someone who thinks about people is what you need. I want to ask about a more distributed future. When you think about the big companies, they have signature products. There are a lot of signature products. Are you thinking about changing how the company operates or how it organizes, as you think about the future of the company and how all those products might work together and how you might layer the technologies underneath them together? A lot of things have been done at the same time. The ultimate example of this is messaging, where a lot of teams have built messaging products, but the strategy for messaging has only recently begun to coalesce. Do you think about that more across the company?
Yes. I wanted the company to think a lot about its core mission because I felt it was important to focus on knowledge. The core of knowledge for us is on the internet. It is our core consumer services. There was a big bet on hardware as well as computing. We need to make sure we are a world-class enterprise platform. We have done a lot of work to focus the company on those dimensions.
We have five big product areas, how we are structured and how we run them. There is a common view of all the crosscutting R&D and technology. The big picture is how I think about it. We will continue to be very focused. It takes a lot in tech. Tech is very competitive. TikTok emerge is something that happens in very fast cycles. Staying on top of any significant tech product requires a lot of focus and innovation.
We need to be very focused on it. We brought focus. Some of what looks outside is focused on these products. Billion-user products are doing important things. People rely on them. Making it better and continually evolving it is the most important thing. If you are doing hardware or something, you get these once-in-a-year moments to talk about it. It is even more important to be focused on making sure you are actually moving the needle when you are shipping stuff every two weeks. It is definitely a big part of what I think about.
One of the things that I have been thinking about a lot is thedecentralization of computing. Whenever they give me examples, they always give me the same one. It's always a search on the internet. It's always on YouTube. These are the Web2 platforms that are going to be disrupted. Are you making big bets? I'm assuming you're not making huge bets today, but are you thinking about the future of the company?
Web2 was a big part of why I joined. There is a transition from the web to apps and the excitement around the new technologies, and realizing that Maps and Gmail all represent a fundamental shift in how the web works. The web is a big thing, and no one person can change it, so I think it's exciting to me. That is the beauty of the web. I try to understand what good things come out of innovation. It is early days. I'm always trying to think ahead about what the key trends are, be it on computing, or how the web server is evolving, or where Google can contribute. It is a big part of how we should think about it.
NP: Let's call it Web3 There is a lot of innovation. There isn't necessarily technological capability for innovation. I don't have to trust your database. You can query and get results from the database at the heart of the search engine. Do you ever think that this will replace the search index?
I think the P2P-based model worked for Skype at some point. Right? A computer science challenge is distributed databases. We get equally excited about that. I think it's important to think through user problems, what you're trying to solve, and the underlying technology. End-to-end is important. Will you get disrupted if anything changes to make sure you are leading in all these services? If you are not trying hard enough, yes. The answer is yes. When we show up to work on Mondays, I worry about all of this. Maybe I will leave it at that.
Tell me what your killer app is for. We debate what watches are for. I have spent a lot of time building one, so I am curious what the reason is for it at the moment.
I want to make sure the team has something to say when they talk about the watch. The thing I am excited about is that it is an end-to-end hardware portfolio, and you will see a lot of the Pixel brand identity. A lot of the design language and how easy it is to change bands is great if you are a Pixel user. In terms of killer apps, look, I mean, you look at something likeGPS being on phones and what happens later, or the fact that XML/HTTP created a whole set of apps, as I talked about earlier. It's not that the killer app will be developed by the company. Someone will do something cool with it.
I think one of the most exciting aspects of the Pixel watch is the fact that it has a tracker on it. The app we are putting on that watch is a killer one. That is something I'm very excited about.
NP: Thank you so much, Sundar. It's great to talk to you, and I appreciate that you want to come on the hardcore nerd show. That is very good. It is good to talk to you.
I enjoyed it. Thanks for all the attention to I/O.