At Google I/O this week, a lot was brought to developers across the world (consumers are getting quite a bit of useful stuff, too). While we won’t see much of this immediately, Google’s annual Developers conference still yielded a lot of great stuff. Here’s a quick recap!
The next version of Android is coming later this year, and promises to be a solid, incremental update. There are no overarching features to mention, but the overall fit and finish is getting a healthy upgrade. Aesthetically, “L” will be bolder, brighter, and a touch more modern. The experience will also feel a touch smoother, and some gentle animations promise to add a little fun.
The “L” release also brings an update to notifications, where we’ll get a bit more interactive. Swipe them away individually or as a group from the lock screen, or view them in an app. If you’re playing a game and someone calls, your app is no longer interrupted. A banner across the top lets you know who’s calling, and allows you to dismiss the notification or act on it.
Android Auto, TV
Android Auto builds on Google’s previously announced Open Automotive Alliance, but takes it with you. Rather than build Android into a car, auto manufacturers will simply incorporate some APIs and such into their on-board system. When you plug your device in, Android takes over, and you get a heads-up Android in the car. The interface is a touch different, which is meant to give you more eye-time with the road ahead, but you’ll get much of the same functionality you currently enjoy.
Android TV is neat, but not what many of us expected. Rather than a standalone set-top box, Android TV will be built into future boxes and TVs — just like Android Auto. Games are also the order of the day, where Play Games figures prominently into the mix, even allowing you to play on a tablet and have your game slapped on the big screen. Of course, Google Play movies and TV are your go-to for media consumption.
Chrome has some neat updates as well, and moves itself a bit closer to Android in the process. Chrome on your Android device will now be listed among the recently used apps, no longer making you migrate to two locations to find what you were just looking at. It also renders at 60fps, so your laggy days are hopefully over.
We’re also getting native Office document editing in Drive, so those Chromebook users who have Office docs sent to them won’t have to re-format, and fail at simple editing. Chromebooks will also link to your Android device, showing notifications as to who may be calling or texting in addition to Google Now pop-ups. Your Chromebook will also tell you when your Android battery is low — neat for those who aren’t glued to a phone all day, but do need to work — and even recognize your Android device and bypass the password screen when it knows you’re at the computer.
There wasn’t much new with Android Wear, though there is plenty to talk about outside of a roundup. The main takeaway from I/O regarding wearables is that Android Wear is like Google Now for your wrist. You can speak commands to it, but most of the heavy lifting reverts back to your phone.
A few neat implementations of APIs were shown off, which is cool. Ordering a pizza was done via voice, as was hailing a ride form Lyft. The Lyft app will even let you pay for your ride and rate the driver from your watch. Of course, Android Wear is still best served as a notification center on your wrist — and it does that pretty well. Though Android Wear has its limitations, Google has done a pretty snappy job of making it useful.
Odds and Ends
A new battery feature in Android lets you see what’s eating up your battery, and even kill it as necessary. It’s really a revamped battery monitor, but it’s nice. Chromecast will now let you stream your photos to your dongle as a backdrop when nothing is playing, effectively killing off the offbeat Photowall app. Chromecast will also let you mirror your Android device onto a TV, so you can show an app to a group, or just cast anything you want.
Google is also introducing Android One, a platform for those in emerging markets. The hardware needs are low, and Androd One uses what amounts to Nexus software, or stock Android. It’s an iteration of what KitKat started, depending less on hardware and more on software. Google will also qualify vendors for the program, effectively giving those who technology hasn’t reached a brand name to identify with at a price they can afford.
Google left a few things out, and they’re head scratchers. Google+ was missing, which can either be seen as a sign it had nothing to offer, or is just not getting the attention it wanted from us at these kinds of events.
Google Glass was also strangely absent. The company recently opened up Glass to the world, yet they had nothing to say at the keynote — at all. Not even a mention of it. A few sessions deal with Glass, but nowhere near the 2013 schedule, and Google definitely didn’t give it the attention many felt it deserved this year.
Google has one purpose: your screens. They want them all. The wrist, your computer, your TV, your phone — Google wants to be everywhere you look. They’re moving into a realm where the redundancy is useful rather than annoying, too. So long as they can sync your notifications and such properly, there’s no reason to consider any of their efforts anything less than wonderful.