Google’s annual developer’s conference is finally upon us, which means the introduction of a whole new slew of features, the next version of Android and much love for developers. Prior to the keynote, there were rumors of a yet unnamed Android version, and Google’s foray into wearables and the internet of things. They were true for the most part, but in true blue Google fashion, we were treated to even more than what was rumored. A complete new look for Android and Chrome, new APIs, new Android variants, the coming of age of Chromecast, this I/O had it all! The Google I/O 2014 will last until the 26th of June, and rest of the time will be used to delve deeper into some of the new features as well as give developers some more hands on. As consumers though, the keynote is the most important part, so here’s everything you need to know about the Google I/O 2014 keynote!
Google I/O 2014 Keynote – The Highlights
Google has always faced a little bit of a problem with fragmentation, and even though a lot of it has disappeared in the recent years, there’s still a vast difference between the sort of Android experiences you see on flagships and budget phones. Being open source and all, you couldn’t really expect much from Android budget phones, but now that’s all set to change. Google introduced the Android One program, where instead of OEMs designing and manufacturing phones to meet costs, Google will design budget handsets and all OEMs have to do is actually make them. In other words, Google sets a couple of minimum guidelines for quality devices and experiences, while not compromising on the affordability factor. The best part is that like the Nexus line and Google Play Edition range, the Android One range will also get stock Android and priority updates, which is a fantastic thing, considering how many budget phone buyers are left in the lurch. Aimed squarely at developing markets, Sundar Pichai named Indian OEMs like Micromax, Karbonn and Spice, which will be making some of these devices. It may not be the rumored Android Silver line to replace the Nexus line, but it’s quite similar, only aimed at the opposite end of the market.
Perhaps the biggest change to Google’s services as we know them, at least visually, came this year with what they call ‘Material Design’. Quite in line with Microsoft’s push for a consistent UI across platforms and the recent shift into flat, minimalistic, skeumorphic and solid color based design, ‘Material Design’ is a new visual language all set to come to Android, Chrome and online services. With improved typography, animations and transitions, Google’s new visual language aims to cut down the clutter and present an easy to use and attractive interface that looks great without being intrusive. There’s also a measure of elevation and real time shadows to give it that extra oomph, and we really dig it, since Microsoft’s Modern UI, arguably a trendsetter, has proven that clean and simple is the way to go. Apart from that though, there’s nice little touches of visual flair everywhere, like ripple effects on touch, dynamic shadows and more.
The next version of Android will of course come with Material Design, and needless to say, it’s going to be a pretty major update. Android 5.0, or Android L as of now, will release sometime in Fall 2014 with a whole bunch of new features. Google’s convention of naming Android versions after desserts will probably be followed this time around as well, so feel free to speculate on what tasty treat Android 5.0 will be named after. Android L is still a developer preview, and even though it wasn’t extensively detailed in today’s keynote, there was quite a lot revealed about it. It wouldn’t be much of a major release if there was only a visual change, and this is where all the new features come in.
First up are the changes to notifications. They’re not completely interactive from the lockscreen, you can either double tap to open the relevant app, or simply swipe them away. Also, notifications are now sorted by importance and relevance, and aren’t in chronological order, so you know you’re getting the important stuff first. There’s also new dynamic notifications, which pop up while you’re doing something else, and are interactive as well. For example, you’ll get a call notification while browsing the internet without the whole screen filling up with it. Second is the new secure lockscreen feature. If you’re wearing an Android smartwatch like the new LG G Watch or Moto 360, as long as both the devices are close to each other, the phone remains unlocked. This will help with using your phone uninterrupted while still keeping the snoopy folk at bay. But then again, if both your smartwatch and smartphone get stolen, it’s easy pickings.
Then we have the deeper integration of Chrome and Android. As mentioned above, even Chrome is getting a makeover, and will now feature a more card based design compared to earlier. Apart from some pretty cool visual flairs, Chrome can now pull data from your desktop and other Google services as well to offer customized cards, and now developers can place links on webpages that directly open apps, such as a movie ticket booking app. A newly introduced runtime called ART will be implemented in Android L, which has been written from the ground up to support multiple architectures, is 64-bit and more memory efficient. This means that apps will now launch and run much faster, while still consuming less power than earlier. Speaking of which, there’s also a new battery saver mode that uses resources more efficiently to extend battery life by upto 1 and a half hour. Finally, there were new graphics APIs introduced which apparently brings console and desktop level of graphics to mobile devices. There was an Unreal Engine 4 demo shown off which admittedly looked fantastic, and apparently ran on Nvidia’s new mobile chip, coming this fall. While the demo looked great, tech demos always do, and actually implementing it in games will be a tad more difficult. Nevertheless, it’s promising to see the sort of power we can expect from our future mobile devices.
Business users will be happy to know that there’s a new feature called Android for Work that will let them use one device for work and personal use, while keeping data, files and apps secure and separate from each other. Workplaces can easily deploy and remove apps from phones while maintaining a secure environment, courtesy of Samsung Knox, which is now a part of the Android OS.
According to Google, we spend way too much time checking our smartphones instead of being with the people around us, hence, Android Wear. This new line of smartwatches from manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Motorola will seamlessly integrate with Android smartphones, carrying over the same visual design, while letting you interact with and glance at important notifications from your wrist. It actively syncs with your phone, so swiping away a notification there will get rid of it on the phone, and vice versa as well. With a couple of visual designs on the watches, an always on display and interactive notifications, Android Wear is a promising new development that might appeal to many. The Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch are available to order now, while the Moto 360 will be available this fall. Google also showed off voice integration, cards and apps for the smartwatches, which looked pretty nifty. If you’re planning to jump on the Android Wear developers bandwagon, the SDK is available to download now!
We all know that people using their smartphones behind the wheel cause thousands of accidents every year, and Google’s apparently come up with a way to combat this. They say that we spend a lot of time traveling in cars, and even though they’re such a big part of our lives, they’re essentially disconnected from the digital world. Not anymore though! Android Auto, a new platform to be used in, you guessed it, automobiles was introduced. It will be a new connected experience that expands your Android smartphone’s services into the car’s navigation/entertainment system. A select number of manufacturers are on board with this project, which will allow this seamless connection. So by connecting your Android smartphone to your car, the native UI is replaced by Android Auto, a Material Design and card based UI that allows you to perform essential functions like calling, texting, music and navigation. It will run from your phone, is voice activated and can run third party apps. Of course, Google services like Maps and Music are integrated, and so is voice based search. Android Auto supporting vehicles will be out by the end of the year, and the SDK will be available soon.
With all those devices getting the Android treatment, it wasn’t going to be long before Google turned their eye to TVs! The Android TV platform is a new offering, different from the ill fated Google TV introduced 4 years ago. Similar to it’s now popular Chromecast dongle, Android TV will add a UI over your TV and let you access the Play Store to get apps and content. Again using a simple card based UI, Android TV will bring voice based search, context aware content delivery and even gaming to TVs. It will give users the ability to play Android games on their TVs while using an Android device or joystick as controllers, and even allows multiplayer gaming! The promising looking Android TV is all set to debut by the end of this year and will come built in on Sony’s and Sharp’s 2015 UHD TV range. Other manufacturers like Razer and ASUS will create set-top boxes/game consoles that will run Android TV as well, if you’re not planning to buy a new TV anytime soon but want in on this. Developers, the SDK is available now!
Chromecast’s Coming of Age
When first released, Google’s little dongle was praised for all its features, but now it’s going to get even better. Google Cast, now available on Chrome, Android and iOS, is getting a lot more easy to use, with Chromecast not even required to be on the same WiFi network as your device to use it! There’s also the much anticipated screen mirroring, which will be available on a select number of devices as of now. There was a demo of Google Maps being used on a big screen, it looked very impressive indeed. Finally, Google introduced a new feature called Backdrops. They’re basically something like dynamic screensavers that scrolled pictures from multiple curated sources, including your own albums if selected, onto your TVs. With real time syncing, you can even find out more about a picture while its scrolling from your phone or tablet, a nice little feature!
Chromebooks and Android Integration
Google’s online OS might be far from popular, but is definitely gaining traction around the world, mostly in educational institutions. This I/O, we were treated to efforts of bringing Android and Chrome OS closer together, making both easier to use. Similar to the above feature where an Android Wear device in the vicinity would keep your phone unlocked, a Chromebook will do it as well. Apart from this, Chromebooks now have the ability to run Android apps from a paired phone, natively, and even use Chromebook hardware. For example, you can open the Instragram app on your phone and use the Chromebook’s camera to snap a picture, upload it, tag it, and whatever else your phone would let you do. Also, Chromebooks will now display notifications for calls, texts, mails, and even battery alerts from your phone, for one unified Google experience.
Google Drive and Office Suite
Google Drive users will be happy to know that for an amazing 10$ per month, they will be able to avail ‘Drive for Work’, and get unlimited storage as well as online encryption. For establishments depending on Google Drive, this is a definite stand out from this years I/O keynote. But for consumers, what will probably be more interesting is the introduction of Google Slides, their answer to Microsoft PowerPoint. With the acquisition of OpenOffice, Google seems to have stepped up to offer a more complete online productivity experience. Finally, Google Docs now supports native Office editing, which means that there’s no more internal conversions of filetypes, all editing and saving will be done natively.
Google Fit and Google Play Games
With the recent craze for wearables, it’s only logical that health based wearables get some love too. Google Fit is a new set of APIs, similar to iOS 8’s HealthKit, that allows health and fitness tracking devices to natively communicate with Android and third party apps for expanded experiences. This means that data from these devices will be used much more efficiently and you’ll probably see some awesome health and fitness information courtesy of number crunching going on in the background. Bigwigs like Adidas and Nike are already on board, and Google Fit should be more widely used by the end of the year. What’s interesting to see is that unlike Apple, there’s no baked in app to track all this information, everything will go to third party apps.
Finally, we have Google Play Games, which, according to Google, is the fastest growing game network of all time. Users will now have an all new profile with achievement tracking as well as ‘quests’, time based tasks to complete for extra rewards.
So that was our round up of everything that happened at the Google I/O 2014 keynote. What are your views on Android expanding into multiple devices? What about Android L and the new look? Do let us know what you think via the comments below, feedback is always welcome!