For a dedicated Google, Android and Googleverse user like myself who spends the majority of his day using Google products I/O has gradually evolved from a developer conference to an annual wonderland of new announcements, streams and insights of new Google products and the way the tech titan may be thinking for the next year. And occasionally livestreamed skydivers landing on the building!
This year did not quite reach the heights of Sergey Brin’s Google Glass skydivers but there were a number of announcements in the keynote that you probably should know about.
Numbers – 600 million new smartphone users in the last year. Each individual Google product – Search, Maps, Gmail, Android and Chrome have more than a billion daily users. Eight out of ten phones made in the last year were based on Android. Android is run on over four thousand different currently manufactured devices. Seventeen million Chromecasts have been sold in the last year.
A new version of Android – M – has been announced that is aimed to fix thousands of bugs and add a fit and finish to Android. A concious decision to focus on product excellence. and smooth things out. Specific changes include :
App permissions have been made more granular. Users will have the option to agree to some permissions but not all and to agree when the app needs it not when the app is installed. Permissions will also be revocable whenever the user wants to.
Android Pay will allow mobile payments via NFC. It is designed to be as simple as possible – unlock the phone and put it in front of the terminal and its done. It is more secure because it uses a virtual third party card – the shop never gets your card details. Its launching with the major three credit cards in the US at around 700,000 stores and in-app if the developer builds it in. It will work on phones from KitKat (4.4) onwards.
Fingerprint support built into Android. Different manufacturers have been going their own way with fingerprint manufacturers. Google is providing a central API to try and cut down on this fragmentation. The API can be used by any app maker and ties into Android Pay.
Power and battery life. Battery life is always something that can get better and M has a new mode built in called Doze which puts devices to sleep when it thinks you will not want to use it based on past usage patterns. If you never use your tablet in the work day it will automatically Doze itself to save power. Google is also supporting the new USB type C connectors which run at a higher wattage and should allow charging between 3 and 5 times better.
A preview of M will be available for the Nexus 5, 6 and the Nexus player with a full launch in the autumn.
Android Wear has a new mantra glanceable, actionable and effortless. There will be a new version of Wear in the next few weeks. This will bring out pinnable always on apps, wrist gestures to scroll or launch notifications and a number of bug fixes.
The Internet of Things got a look in – Google’s Nest announced Brillo. This is a simplified version of Android designed to run on very simple systems like door locks. Brillo devices are designed to talk to each other via a system called Weave. This is a communications protocol that is designed to let all IOT devices talk to each other very simply. Both are available in preview now and will be available commercially in Q3 or Q4 this year.
Google Now is to receive a boost. It works by looking at your context, surfacing useful and likely information and then letting you carry out actions. Now recently added the ability for some Apps to tie into it and they showed off a new capacity called “Now on Tap”. This is a M only facility that lets Now answer questions from within other apps. The example they used was an email being shown in Gmail; tap and hold on the home button and information about the context of the email was shown.
As widely rumoured Google has broken Photos out from Google Plus and made it its own separate product. A new Photo’s app has been launched which looks superficially very similar to the old Google plus app but has much better facilities for looking at older photos. It has a number of ways to auto-organise including facial recognition, search by location or time and a number of other options. The big surprise was at the end of the section – unlimited storage at up to 16 megapixels or video of 1080p starting today.
Google Translate made it onto stage – the most translated words every day are “Hello, Thankyou and I love you”.
Maps was shown quickly and was shown working offline with cached maps and data. Even better Navigation will work offline with pre-downloaded maps later this year.
Families will like the updates to the Google Play store. First a new rating system highlighting family friendly apps and second a way to browse by character. The example they used was Dora the Explorer. Browse and show all the Dora apps in a controlled environment.
Google VR Cardboard received an update with a couple of changes in physical design to accommodate larger phones and non-NFC phones. The software has been updated to work on Apple’s iOS and an educational version called Expeditions has been launched. A new way to capture VR footage called JUMP was launched with a simple open source design (they even built one out of Cardboard) and several companies including GoPro signed up to build versions. YouTube will start streaming VR cardboard content in the next few days with more stereoscopic footage coming in the summer.
The keynote finished with a look to the future at driverless cars being tested on roads around Google’s HQ and Project Loon bringing Internet access to New Zealand via balloons.