The first day of the 2014 edition of Google I/O was jam packed with new product and feature announcements. Some had leaked in advance, many were expected, while the rest took everyone by surprise. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the conference, here’s a round-up of everything (well, almost everything) announced by Google.
Android L Release
The big news was of course new edition of Android. Google referred to the next-gen Android as simply the ‘L release’. The L release will be available to the general public in the fall of 2014; however, for the first time ever, Google will be providing a developer preview, which is expected to be released later today.
The L release will sport a massive design overhaul as a part of Google’s new cross-platform design principle called Material design. Material design, which will be used across Google properties, including Android and Chrome OS, builds on top of the flat design trend by adding a sense of depth and lighting, beautiful typography, and intelligent animations that enable seamless transition between content. Material design is vibrant, fresh and cheery without appearing to be immature. Based on the demos shown by Google, Material design feels like a brilliant evolution of a lot of concepts introduced by Microsoft’s Metro design language.
The L release’s enhancements aren’t just skin deep though. In fact, Google is throwing out the Dalvik Virtual Machine and replacing it with the Android Run Time (ART). ART is already present in KitKat devices as an optional alternative; however, in the L release, ART will be completely replacing Dalvik. ART uses various optimizations (including Ahead of Time code compilation, enhanced garbage collection, and 64 bit support) to offer significant performance benefits. Google is also working with hardware manufacturers on Android Extension Pack, which will enable game developers to provide console quality graphics on mobile devices.
The L release also shines the spotlight on one of the major weak points of modern day smartphones – battery life. The next edition of Android should be able to last longer thanks to Project Volta. Besides introducing a Battery Saver mode, which will be disabling battery intensive services and throttling the CPU, Google has worked on enhanced data collection and better resource utilization.
There are numerous other enhancements in the next edition of Android, including more useful notifications, easier ways to authenticate and unlock your phone, and better multi-tasking.
Android One is a set of reference hardware that Google will be creating for smartphone manufacturers. Google is hoping that Android One will enable its partners to quickly create high quality Android phones at a low price point. The Android One initiative will begin in India, with Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice as the OEM partners. Android One phones will ship with stock OS, but Google will allow automatic download of OEM apps (Play auto-install). To put it simply, Android One is Google’s Nexus program re-imagined for the emerging markets. These low-end devices are expected to cost less than a hundred dollars.
Earlier in the summer, Google had offered a sneak peek of Android Wear, its new operating system for wearables. At the Google IO, it released the Android Wear SDK, announced the first devices from its hardware partners, and gave a more detailed look at how Android Wear will work. For apps on your smartphone that support Android Wear, the Wear part of the app will automatically be installed and updated on your watch. This is a major improvement over other wearable operating systems as it avoids the hassle of having to install an app on the tiny watch, and then to go back and install the parent app on the phone. Android Wear will continuously stay in sync with your mobile phone, and will be leveraging voice controls and Google now to make your life simpler.
The first two Android Wear devices to launch are the LG G Watch, and the Samsung Gear Live. Both of them currently available on the play store for $229 and $199 respectively. Motorola’s gorgeous Moto360 will be available later this summer.
As the name suggests, this is Android for cars. The focus with Android auto is on simplified navigation and voice controls. As soon as you plug in your phone in the car, your Android installation is projected on the car’s infotainment system. You can control the OS with your voice as well as by using the controls provided in the car. The focus points of Android Auto are navigation, music, and communication. However, Google will be providing an Android Auto SDK, which will enable developers to extend the experience. Launch partners for Android Auto include Audi and Honda.
In a move which surprised absolutely no one, Google also announced Android TV. Television sets are quite often the biggest displays in a household, and Google quite obviously wants to be on them. Android TV features a smart homescreen that acts as your content hub. It features a recommendation screen that’s tuned to your watching habits, apps, and games. Android users will be able to cast multimedia content on their TV, just like you’d be able to do with Chromecast. Gaming is also one of the focus areas of Android TV, with support for multi-player experience between smartphone/tablet users and TV users.
Chromecast, which was the unexpected hit of last year, also got its fair share of improvements. It’s no longer necessary for everyone to be on the same network to be able to cast to your TV. You’ll also be able to cast exactly what’s on your Android tablet or smartphone screen (device mirroring) on your TV. There’s also a new Backdrop feature which will allow you to play a slideshow of pictures from your personal gallery as well as Google curated content. Using your TV to play slideshows while no one is paying attention seems to be a massive waste of energy to me, but I guess there must be takers for this. Google also announced the launch of a new website as well as a separate category in the Play Store for Chromecast apps.
Thanks to updates in the Chrome OS, your Chromebook will now be a lot more in sync with your phone. You’ll be able to unlock your Chromebook automatically if your phone is around. Incoming phone calls and text messages will show on your Chromebook. You’ll get notified when your phone’s battery is low. And finally, you can even run Android apps on your Chromebook. This feature is a work in progress, and might take some time to arrive. However, with all of Android’s powerful apps and games, Chromebooks will suddenly become a lot more useful.
This could have easily been an April fool’s day joke, but it is not. In fact, it’s possibly the weirdest and product on display at Google IO. Google gave away a Cardboard to every attendee. And this, is what I mean by Cardboard.
Once you assemble the device, all you need to do is pop in your phone, and launch the Cardboard app. You’ll have a low-tech, but apparently awesome Virtual Reality headset with head tracking (powered by your phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope). The only button on the device is in the form of a metallic ring that you can flick to select items on the screen.
Some of the other stuff that were announced yesterday include:
Google Fit: A fitness platform with a multi-OS API that aims to aggregate a user’s fitness data.
Google Play: Play Games will get Quests and a Saved Game section, while Play Store will be get carrier billing option for user purchases.
Google Cloud: Google announced several enhancements to its Cloud infrastructure which is leveraged by several popular apps and services. A new suite of tools – Cloud Save, Cloud Debugger, Cloud Trace, and Cloud Monitoring – were introduced.
Google Docs: Google’s online suite of productivity apps will now be able to open, edit, and save Office files including Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets, and PowerPoint Presentations.
Android for Work: Google will be building on the work done by Samsung on Knox to offer a secure environment for enterprise that’ll be separated from your personal data and apps. Drive for work will offer an unlimited storage option for just $10 per user per month.