Google’s I/O conference is the place where the company shows off what it's been working on over the past year and, in its own words, “How we’re tackling the future”.
In years past, the I/O keynote speech has seen the unveiling of multiple versions of Android, various phones and many initiatives that stand to drive the company forward, from innovations in search to advertising technology to actually exciting stuff.
Last night, attendees saw the unveiling of the next version of Android, entitled “M,” updates to Android Wear that combat Apple’s newly announced Watch, an expansion of Android One, the unveiling for a universal operating system for ‘Internet of Things’ devices and more.
But we know what you're asking: what are the 9 hottest things that Google unveiled? Luckily for you, we have the answers…
The consensus across the technology community is that the “Internet of Things” (IoT) is going to be The Next Big Thing and Google wants to lead that revolution. Its strategy for doing so is the ridiculously named Project Brillo, a stripped down version of Android that will work across web-connected devices from your smart fridge to your smart thermostat, making it easier to develop for these devices.
Google has created a new language, called Weave, for Brillo and has made it cross-platform. Will Brillo vs HomeKit be the next Android vs Apple? Probably not, unless they both come up with sexier names.
The next version of Android, which starts off from where Lollipop left off, looks an awful lot like its predecessor. Google has chosen to keep the “material” design aesthetic and has focused on growing the functionality of M. There's optimisation for "all" devices, battery improvements including a new “doze” mode and a new app permissions screen when installing from Google Play.
There was also a preview of Android Pay, a direct combatant with Apple Pay, which offers yet another way to pay for goods and services from your Android phone.
There was no word on when Android M would roll out, but later this year seems like a safe bet.
Expeditions with Cardboard
Expeditions is an initiative that runs in parallel with Cardboard and allows a classroom of kids to go virtually exploring via the magic of VR.
Cardboard, an initiative Google unveiled at I/O 2014, is a downloadable template that you transfer to a piece of, yes, cardboard and fold into a headset. Plop in your phone to act as the screen and you have VR without the need for a load of expensive hardware. According to the company, 1 million units are out in the wild and there's increasing interest in finding business and education applications for it.
Android Wear Updates
Android Wear is a little over a year old at this point and the company is continuing its focus on bringing in new features. As wearables are a relatively new market, what works and what doesn’t isn't exactly crystal clear yet, but Google is more than willing to find out, helped by user feedback.
The new features bring a larger focus on apps, of which there are now a little over 4,000, according to Google. Graphically rich apps such as Maps should now be easier to see with a new black-and-white mode. Google also wants to remind you that there are already plenty of Apple Watch-style, high-quality watches available for its platform.
Google Now now even better
Google Now has long been an impressive feature of Android and Android Wear. Well, with Android M, it's going to get better.
The keynote included an on-stage demo of ‘Now on Tap,’ an extension of Now’s current capabilities. It runs in the background so it's always ready to pop up and answer your random queries. The demo included a Skrillex song with the user asking “What is Skrillex’s real name?” as the song played. Google Now popped up, answered the question (his name's Sonny, for the record) and then disappeared.
It's another signpost on the road to the “seamless computing” that Google is aiming for with Now.
Unlimited Photo Storage
Google Photos is an impressive service that can not only store photos but sort them via algorithm. At I/O Google announced that photo storage is now unlimited so, if you have an awful lot of photos, your day in the sun has now come.
The app can sort your photos chronologically, via face or place - with terms as broad as “beach” permissible - and make video montages of events without any user input. Google made a big deal of its computer learning input into this, using information from a myriad of sources to bring this together. Like a lot of what was shown at I/O it looks good, and unlike certain announcements, it looks immediately and highly useful.
Android One is Google’s bid to bring low-cost handsets to developing regions and at I/O they announced they are working with 10 OEMs across seven countries. Android M will work well with One because of its focus on optimisation of devices, especially at the low end. Whereas traditionally, cheaper devices would have been slower and harder to use, Google’s aim is to put them on a more level playing field with flagship phones, opening up the operating system to “the next billion”.
This kind of thinking aligns with Google’s Balloon project, which brings the internet to areas that previously did not have it. Google has a conscience, y'all. And it wants to sell to poor people as well as the wealthy.
Anyone who has used a Chromebook knows the experience is pretty lacking when you're offline, with the laptop essentially reduced to a glorified file manager. Google, not surprisingly, wants to change this.
At I/O, it revealed that selected apps and services are now available offline, up to a point. So YouTube videos can be saved for 48 hours, for example, and the Maps app is going to become better when there's no web connection. Chrome will also save pages for offline use as well as adapt to various connection strengths, loading specially made pages in areas with poor connectivity.
Google Play Optimisation
The war between the App Store and Google Play for volume of apps is over and they are now honing the experiences. There has been speculation that WWDC will bring various improvements to the App Store in terms of searching and discovery. So Google preempted this by unveiling some new and interesting changes to one of the core functions of Android.
The experience can now be customised to each individual user - in testing, Google saw an uptake in app downloads when this was the case - while search and discovery have also been improved. These kind of improvements are essential to creating a cohesive experience and Google’s focus on them can only aid Android M.