Google’s I/O conference is the place where the company unveils its biggest bets—the things that will shape the company over the months and years to come.
The 2015 conference, saw the introduction of Android M, updates to Android Wear, an expansion of Google Cardboard, updates on Android One and Google’s balloon projects amongst other things. One of the less focused on aspects, however, could also turn into one of Google’s key areas over the coming years: the ‘Internet of Things’.
There has been much focus recently on the Internet of Things (IoT), a relatively new area of technology that has come about largely because technology has become far easier to miniaturise which, when pared with the universal nature of smartphones means there is a call for everything to be Internet connected. Whereas before a piece of technology could be defined as a computer or, more recently, a phone, with the Internet of Things anything can be a computer, from your lightbulbs to your fridge—and all of that needs to be controllable from somewhere.
What is Google Project Brillo?
The basic premise is that, as everyone has a smartphone now, it makes sense to link up all aspects of our life to the Internet so that everything is accessible from a phone. Apple made a big deal out of HomeKit at WWDC, letting a user control their home—from their garage door to the lights—right from the iPhone. Microsoft has also made moves into IoT with Windows 10, an operating system so versatile that it can work as well in a phone as it can in an oven. And now, Google’s is having a go with Project Brillo.
The name, according to Google, is a reference to Brillo pads. The company has taken Android and stripped it down to its core layers, making it suitable for smaller (and thus less powerful) devices. In doing this, Google has stripped away many of the features of Android on a phone and what is left is essentially Brillo, enabling the unification of a home without the need to run high-end hardware.
After I/O, Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, the smart thermostat maker, makes far more sense as the company unveils its play for your home. Google made a big deal out of the “next 1 billion” users which could now feasibly include both those currently without a smartphone and those who incorporate Android into their homes.
Nest has experience of designing a connected device for the home and this expertise has evidently made its way into Project Brillo as Google now has a foot in the door of hardware, via Nest, and the software that is going to power the (potential) IoT revolution. Much of the conversation surrounding I/O was looking at how Google wishes to position themselves as the ‘software behind everything,’ always running in the background, and Brillo is yet another example of this.
Taking the principles of “full” Android—openness, connectivity and so on—and applying them to a stripped down version that can then be used in any device is classic Google: use what you know in everything.
Benedict Evans, a partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, noted in his weekly newsletter that “[there is] certainly a need for a [universal IoT] platform here, though there are a lot of options floating around already.” This is where Google’s market reach and status as a company can really come into play in terms of Brillo as developers that are already working on Android apps can expand and use Brillo as a starting place for IoT.
With HomeKit, Apple is relying on third parties to produce hardware that is compatible with the iPhone but here Google is literally supplying the operating system that can then be used with current Android devices seamlessly. Competition may not even be a problem, as Evans notes: “There [were] a lot of phone operating systems floating around when Android emerged” and now there is only two.
What is Google Weave?
And Google hasn’t just stopped at Brillo: the company also announced Weave, a universal language that all devices that Project Brillo use. The implications of Weave are as yet largely unknown but it works in a similar way to Chromecast, creating a constant connection between your phone and the device but without putting stress on your smartphone. It also means that if you lose connection with your Brillo-enabled devices, they won’t be left stranded.
There is also the interesting addition of ‘Works with Nest,’ a programme launched with last for devices that want to work with Nest products. Google didn’t explicitly say that Brillo/Weave and ‘Works with Nest’ were one and the same but the two things cross over massively. Looking at where Brillo and Weave are going is best done by looking at the things that ‘Works with Nest’ works with, including smart locks, Mercedes Benz cars, washing machines and fans.
Project Brillo and Weave: when will it be released?
Announcing Project Brillo and Weave at I/O 2015 means that we likely won’t see the roll out of any compatible devices for a while. Google stated that a developer preview version of Brillo would become available later in the year (Weave is available at the end of 2015) which means that 2016 will ultimately be the first time we start to see consumer devices which are compatible.
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