Today is a big day for Google for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the company’s 18th birthday, so it can now legally vote and smoke. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, it just held a massive event in India where it unveiled a bunch of new products relevant to the country including YouTube Go, new versions of Chrome and the Play store, the Google Station public Wi-Fi initiative, Google Assistant in Hindi, and more.
India is obviously a major opportunity for Google. There are over a billion people in the country, and more than 800,000 of them live in rural areas with limited access to the internet — less than a third of the population is online at all. But you don’t have to be Indian, or even especially interested in Google’s business fortunes, to care about the company’s announcements today. As CEO Sundar Pichai — who is himself Indian — lays out in an op-ed piece in The Economic Times, India is important to Google as a bellwether for the future of the internet itself, and what happens there is likely to spread elsewhere.
“India gives us early insights into the future of the Internet.”
“Over the last year, we have noticed something important about improving our products in India,” Pichai writes. “It makes them better for everyone around the world. In an increasingly mobile-first world, India gives us early insights into the future of the Internet.”
“Moreover, we learned the issues Indians may have with connectivity, and data constraints can be universal. We dreamed up Maps Offline for India, but people in the United States and Europe are finding it just as useful. Simply put, solving for India is inspiring new Google innovations.”
In countries like India, the smartphone is the dominant method of accessing the internet. In that sense, countries like the US are actually behind; mobile engagement is increasing, of course, but certain usage patterns are beholden to the desktop paradigm. Products like the offline version of Google Maps, as well as many of today’s announcements, come out of a development environment where the phone comes first because there isn’t another option — products where you can’t rely on a constant high-speed internet connection, for example.
That’s why you can expect to see more apps and features from Google and other companies developed outside the US, even if they ultimately prove to be just as useful inside. As Pichai notes, “often the best innovations come from the most surprising places.”