In years past, Google I/O was a forum focused primarily on how Android was innovating the vast landscape of smartphones and tablets. This year, Android announced its invasion of everything else. Google’s world-leading operating system unveiled its intention to stretch into our cars, our homes, and our wrists, not to mention a plethora of new services to improve our health, our entertainment options and our work/life balance. If you didn’t have a chance to catch Google I/O 2014 this week, here’s a recap of the most important updates the tech giant announced.
The show kicked off, as it does every year, with Google showing off Android’s year over year growth and Sr VP Sundar Pichai announced the platform now has over 1 billion monthly-active users, up almost 100% since last year’s conference. But that’s no reason to take their foot off the gas pedal. Android One will be Google’s chief platform to reach the next 5 billion smartphone users. This sets the new standard for minimum manufacturing requirements to spread the latest Android versions into developing markets.
One of the surprises of the event was Google’s ambitious breakthrough into a new dimension of cross-platform design called Material Design. The new L release will provide developers with a toolbox to create customized typography, grid and color changes as UI now has to carry over seamlessly as we switch activities between computer, mobile and wearable devices. This update will also make your devices contextually aware of each other and its surroundings, meaning your phone will know whether you’re at home, work or on the road and can unlock devices automatically based on proximity.
We’ve actually already tested the new version in a Nexus 5 and, despite the new keyboard and lock screen notifications, aesthetically there are very few changes.
Android Wear SDK was first announced back in March, but this week we got to see its wearable functionality in action. The touchscreen allows users to swipe between Google Now cards and utilize “OK Google” voice commands to send text messages, make phone calls, set alarms and other tasks. The new material design is leveraged in the Android Wear platform new app installs will sync automatically across devices when downloaded from the Google Play store.
The first 3 Android Wear devices launched yesterday were the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and the Moto360 (launching late-Summer 2014).
Each good turn deserves another, and Google’s answer to Apple’s CarPlay is no exception. Android Auto will allow drivers to stay safe on the road by going 100% voice-activated. Compatible cars will automatically connect to your smartphone and the Android Auto UI will appear on the car’s dashboard screen so drivers can access navigation, text messages, location-based services and phone calls while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
Google will integrate Android Auto with participating auto manufacturers, such as Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai, through the Open Automotive Alliance. The Android Auto SDK is expected to be available to third-party developers and manufacturers later this year.
Not about to give the living room experience away, Android TV will connect all of your favorite entertainment options into one seamless experience allowing users to stream live TV, YouTube clips, and Google Play video games onto your home television. Not only will your devices talk to your home theater, but now you can control the whole production from your new Android-powered smartwatch.
Keeping with the integration trend and not to be outdone by Apple’s HealthKit, Google previewed their new GoogleFit platform, an open, multi-OS API to the delight of fitness apps, trackers and smart devices creators everywhere. Much like HealthKit, Google positions their main role in the health tech world as the aggregator collecting info from the multitude of players in the health hardware space. Early partners include Adidas, Nike and Withings.
Google Glass and Google+
No skydiving videos this year. Google Glass and Google+ were mysteriously absent during the 2014 I/O agenda. It was especially surprising given that last year there were 15 sessions devoted to Google+ alone. When asked why, a Google spokesperson said only that Google+ didn’t fall into the main themes of the 2014 conference: Design, Develop and Distribute. As for Glass, perhaps it’s trying to stem the tide of some recent negative press and privacy concerns, however hilarious they might be.
Google VR Kit
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the two-day event was the Cardboard, Google’s ghetto version of the Oculus Rift VR kit. Don’t laugh, the crude cardboard cutout ($20+ shipping) will actually give developers a quick and dirty vehicle to connect their smartphones to and mess around with new VR applications.
Despite the sporadic protestor interruptions calling for the head of Jack Halprin or claiming the tech giant is becoming a real-life Skynet, the 2014 Google I/O conference was an incredibly ambitious and monumental event. For the first time, Google put the ultimate focus on connectivity, integration and seamless interaction across devices. The Android of tomorrow will live just below the surface, instantly and automatically adjusting itself to whichever device and activity we need. There are a lot of moving parts to this year’s I/O conference and, if the WWDC wasn’t enough, now we have plenty more innovation to digest this summer.