It's technology conference season. We had Apple's WWDC, then we had the Samsung Tab S release, next Amazon wowed us with a new phone, and now, Google is here to blow them all away. Or at least try. Going into the annual I/O Conference on Wednesday, we were expecting serious Android updates and some advances in wearable technology. And that's what we got.
Here's a roundup of everything Google covered in their three-hour-plus keynote presentation.
Available later this year, Google's Android Auto is working with four partners to build this feature — basically an operating system specifically for cars — directly into vehicles. It'll be completely voice enabled. By plugging in your phone, Android Auto can connect to the navigational system in the car. The interface used will be the same as Android's phones and watches, for a seamless experience. Google Maps, of course, is a main feature in Android Auto. Music apps are also important, like Spotify and the Play Music app.
One of the cooler features in Android Auto is voice enabled messaging, which seems well done (though I haven't tried for myself yet) and could be a killer for other voice systems that just always seem to fail in sending a proper message. With Android Auto, you can reply to a message, speak it aloud, and send it. Developers will have access to a kit allowing them to built Auto specific apps.
Google has been working on Android Wear, an operating system just for wearables. There are three new smart watches which are using Android Wear. LG G and Samsung Gear Live are now available, and Motorola's Moto 360 is coming later this summer. (While I am all for smart watches, the trend is already exhausting me, and we haven't even seen iWatch yet.) The Gear will be available for $199. It includes a heart rate monitor, comes in black and red, and syncs to any device running Android 4.3 or higher. As for the specs: AMOLED screen, 1.2 GHz Processor, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of memory.
Google Now cards will be prominently displayed in Android Wear:
Google Fit puts Google directly up against Apple's Healthbook product. Fit is an open tracking platform that will paint a complete fitness picture, and suggest applicable apps for users to optimize their fitness. Then, you can share your fitness activity through the apps. But only if you want (which I don't, but this does remind me to go to the gym.) In an interesting twist, Fit will work with Adidas and Nike.
Android 5.0 (L)
In the next iteration of the Android OS, developers will be able to create new animations and 3D views with shadows. Contacts will have larger images in brighter colors. In what Google calls "material design," pixels will have shape and depth.
The updates are all about fine screen changes, adding deliberate motion to all small changes, like flipping through contacts and notifications. On the lock screen, there will be an interactive access for notifications. This reminds me a bit of the iOS 8 changes to iMessage and Calendar notifications. Based on which notifications are most important to you and most used, those will appear on top. Others will be filed together.
There are security updates, and a more innovative platform with improved malware protection. Google Play has also been patched for security issues. There's also better battery life coming, and a new Battery Saver feature.
Google Play gamers will soon have profiles. These customized profiles will recognize what kind of games you like, and recommend other games accordingly. It's like a high powered version of Apple's Genius App Store feature. Google has invested $5 billion in Google Play developers since last year.
Google's Android store is also getting improved app testing for developers by partnering with Appurify.
This is similar to the changes to Spotlight that Apple made at WWDC. Apps will now appear in the search results, so if you search for a restaurant, OpenTable will pop up so you can reserve a table, and Google Earth can show the location.
Google Cloud Platform was given a once-over by developers during the keynote. The Platform will help developers scale their apps to larger groups.
Mobile apps are coming to Chromebooks, including Evernote, Vine, and Flipnote. This will create a more seamless experience between Android devices and the notebook computers. Much like in Tab S and in iOS 8, there will be a transitional experience with calls and texts. They will be able to pop up on the Chromebook, just as they do on the phone.
Developers will have access to some nifty unlocking features, which can use voice prints, location, and more to unlock devices. In the keynote example, the phone was unlocked when it recognized the smartwatch on the phone's owner. The combination of devices unlocks the phone with a swipe.
AndroidOne was designed to bring the rest of the world — the five billion who do not yet have smart phones — online. It is a set of "hardware reference platforms for high quality, low-cost smartphones." The software will be the same as stock Android models, with the same local applications. One of the phones shown, a MicroMax, is under $100.