Google’s annual I/O developer conference is one of the most interesting and important dates on the tech calendar. The two days of the conference feature huge amounts of information about Google’s thinking and future direction that covers search, maps Android, Chrome and a thousand other things. The keynote is also historically been a very surprising presentation – Google Glass wearing skydivers being the most obvious example and it (and many of the other talks) are streamed online.
This years keynote did not disappoint. Keynotes often start with figures about the platform involved; the figures are often not actually that interesting but one figure stood out – over 1 billion active users of Android per 30 day period.
A new idea called Android One was announced. This is almost a cheaper version of the Nexus program where Google defines the software and hardware and lets manufacturers build to that design. The basic design is a mid range smart phone with a 4.5 inch screen, dual sim and mid range spec and will be available for less than $100.
It was expected that we would get a new version of Android and we did. It is being released in the fall but will be available for developers immediately for the Nexus 5 and 7. The onscreen demonstration showed Android moving to a more card and 3d interface which is reminiscent of Google Now’s style. The stylist changes also run through the Google apps – an updated design of Gmail was used as the demonstration. This style is also be spread among Google web products. The style also has more on screen feedback – touch something and it will react or deform to show you that it is being touched.
Notifications have been enhanced and made more card like and a new type of notification called a heads up notification was shown off. This floats on top of every other app and can interrupt you under specific circumstances like a phone call. Android’s unlock has been looked at again – it can now react differently depending on its location, wifi networks, bluetooth or time. This means if you are at home your phone will be unlocked or if you are wearing a smart watch your phone can be unlocked automatically. A large number of other changes and tweaks were also shown off most notably performance tweaks which will allow the new version to be installed on less powerful devices and get better performance out of more powerful devices and Project Volta which optimizes battery use and thereby extends life.
The rumors of Android being extended to wearables as Android Wear turnout out to be completely true. Wear is designed to be an adjunct to a smartphone or tablet rather than operating independently. It is a second screen for your notification shade. It is touch sensitive and can be swiped through or individual items can be interacted with. There is also an always listening mode – say “OK Google” to control or touch to trigger manually. Next it can be used to control other items – music was demonstrated and the Nest was hinted at.
The LG G watch will be available today on the Play Store in the US and Samsung are putting out an watch called the Gear Live also to be sold via the Play store. The Motorola 360 is to be available later this summer. Prices and UK release dates are still to be confirmed.
The next topic was cars. A new service called AndroidAuto was shown. This service is designed to cut down on distraction and give you a very, very simple UI to Android which switches on when driving. It is entirely voice controlled and casts the phones screen onto any screens built into the car. The strength of this approach is the car’s electronics would not need to be upgraded to get other facilities – you replace you phone far more often than your car! This will be built into cars from this year and there was a list of over 30 car makers who will be using it, including Bentley, Audi, Mercedes, Renault, Volvo, Subru and Fiat.
After this they moved on to TVs announcing AndriodTV. This is a rebranded and improved version of Google TV brining it back into the main Android family. It consists of an AndroidTV app on the phone which can be entirely voice controlled. It appears to be a combination of Amazons FireTV and the Chromecast running up scaled versions of Android tablet apps. They also demonstrated multiplayer gaming with one player using a tablet as a controller and another using a Xbox controller. It also supports Casting in a manner just like the Chromecast.
The AndroidTV will be built into new versions of TVs from Sharp, Sony and Samsung and there will be stand alone boxes at some point this year.
The Chromecast was also featured. It has been a massive success since its launch and there are more Chromecasts sold than every other streaming device combined sold. There were a couple of features added, most notably the ability to connect to a Chromecast even if you are not on the same wifi network – it even works via a mobile connection. In addition the backdrop the Chromecast displays when it is not being cast to can now be customised to show your photos, satellite photos, art, news, weather and Google Now information. Finally it will allow you to mirror your phone or tablet to the TV.
Chromebooks were next on the list of topics. Automatic log in similar to Androids has been added – if your smartwatch is nearby or you are connected to a specific wifi network it can automatically log in. Android applications were also demonstrated running on the Chromebook, although it was not clear if this was streamed from your phone or running independently.
Google Drive offered a new payment plan – unlimited storage for $10 per user per month. This is aimed at business but may also be available on a personal level. If it is available to all it is a very enticing offer and may be a market changer.
A new platform called Google Fit was announced which is designed to blend fitness and health data from multiple other apps and devices. They used the example of a wifi set of scales and fitness bands, mentioning Runkeeper, Nike and Fitbit along with over 30 others as examples of partners already onboard.
Google Play Games has had gamer profiles and the ability to cloud save games added – features it is almost surprising were not there before but which are very welcome.
Google wants to be everywhere. In your pocket, on your wrist, your computer, in your car and storing your data. Its a vision that is getting more and more compelling as time goes on – if we choose to embrace it it it could be very powerful and an enticing future.