The keynote for Google I/O 2014, the search giant’s annual developer conference had no shortage of announcements. While some of these, like Android L and Android Wear were expected by many, few others took many developers by surprise. The biggest news at the event, however, was that Android is all set to move beyond being a mere mobile operating system and is ready to weave computing into our everyday lives in a seamless way.
While Apple focused its efforts around PCs, mobile devices, and a few media services at the annual WWDC held earlier this month, Google enters I/O as a vigorously diversified company. It has its hands in everything from cars, and watches to smart home devices. Here are a list of updates and other announcements made at the event.
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1. Android L, Google’s new OS
Image Couretsy: dailytech.com
Design takes center stage as Android L, the latest version of Google’s OS, gets an aesthetic lift courtesy of Material Design. The new look not only incorporates clean, card-based layouts with bright color schemes but also floating elements and playful transition animations that come into play when users interact with the OS. It also sports a new software layer called Android Runtime (ART), that improves the performance of apps by up to 2x and reduces memory usage.
Further, by incorporating notifications into the lock screen, it allows users to either interact with them right there or swipe it away. It also includes a ‘heads-up notification’ that can hover over your app, making it easier for users to interact with it without moving away from the app. The true innovative aspect at the core of Android L’s master plan, however, are features that unite a user’s life across his phone, smartwatch, desktop and more. For example, ‘Personal Unlock’ allows users to open their phones without having to type in the pin code by taking cues from a location or other bluetooth devices, like a smartwatch that the user has paired it with.
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2. Android Wear, Google’s platform for wearables
Image courtesy: bbc.com
After a long wait, developers were finally able to catch a glimpse of how Android Wear works with Google Now-style cards and other features that are designed to give users access to actionable information at contextually appropriate times with a simple swipe-and-voice navigation.
Android Wear, a perfect example of Internet of Things, however, is an extension of Android L itself. For example, it takes the most important notifications from the local weather to flight status from the user’s phone and places them on the home screen of their smartwatch. Another much-needed feature is the Do-Not-Disturb mode that can be activated by swiping down, thus allowing users to ignore a call. Additionally, any app that is downloaded by a user on his phone will be automatically installed and updated on his wearable device.
3. Google takes a third shot at television with Android TV
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Android TV is a new set-top box initiative that is a part of Google’s latest push to conquer the living room. It essentially treats the user’s TV as a bigger screen for Android itself, by replacing the humble remote control using smartwatches, tablets or even smartphones.
The platform also draws on Google’s deep knowledge repository to provide users with YouTube clips and information about other shows via the Android TV’s search features. The platform also has all of Google’s services built into the core, thus allowing users to do robust voice search.
Further, having recognized the strength of Android TV as a gaming device, Google has included a dedicated menu for games alone, other than the one for apps. It also comes with a full Chromecast support, that allows users to beam content from their mobile devices straight on to the TV. Android TV will run on a wide variety of smarts TVs from companies like Sony, Sharp and on other set-top boxes, that will be launched later this fall.
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4. Google is coming to your car with Android Auto
Image Couretsy: pcworld.com
With Android Auto, Google took all the popular features used by people while driving and put them on an integrated display, thus allowing people to use connected Android apps and services in their car. Focused around navigation, communication and music, it comes along with a Google Now-style home screen that give users a basic overview of what’s going on. It also allows users to control the rest of the dials and buttons in their vehicle by casting their phone to the car’s screen.
Incoming messages will show up as heads-up notifications, that allow users to interact without moving away from the app. Users can also activate replies via a button on the steering wheel. Further it is also optimized for voice commands, which can be used to navigate with Google Maps, send messages with a speech-to-text API, and find and play music, among other things.
5. Chromecast streaming through the cloud
Image Couretsy: techradar.com
Chromecast, an inexpensive app-streaming dongle, is one of the top selling electronics devices in multiple countries. The search giant is now bringing this Google cast support to lots of other devices. Using the Google cast SDK across Android, iOS, and Chrome, developers can now take an app from any of these platforms and sling it to the TV. The most interesting one, however, is the ability for users to stream content from anywhere without being on the same Wi-Fi network as the Chromecast. This allows users to retain control over who can cast media to their TVs by streaming through the cloud.
Google also gave Chromecast a new photos experience called Backdrop. It allows users to run feeds of photos, news, weather, or art like a classy TV screen saver, when they are not using the Chromecast. It also has a ‘cast screen’ button that allows users to mirror anything from select Android devices to their TV as long as they are using a supported phone or tablet from Samsung, HTC, LG, or the Nexus program.
Other highlights from I/O 2014 are:
1. Google introduces Android One program to bring more smartphones to developing markets
2. Google Fit, Android’s answer to fitness and health tracking, includes partners like Nike, Adidas and Withings
3. Android for Work program is Google’s attempt to connect a user’s personal and work life into one device