Google I/O is the search behemoth’s answer to Apple’s WWDC, a place where developers gather once a year for everything Google – from Android to Chrome to Search to Cloud. Google I/O brings the best and newest features and products to developers, giving them first dibs and a head start with developing for the shiny, new and updated platforms that Google announces for the year.
This year, Google I/O brought a new version of Android, a unified experience across all Google Platforms and also multiple new versions of Android. Google I/O’s keynote happened early this morning and whole new slate of announcements and features were made. We’re going to run through most, if not all the details here.
The Meat of Google I/O: Android
Let’s start off where the Keynote started off, with Android. Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome and Google Apps, Mr. Sundar Pichai, took the stage and highlighted Android’s platform growth to the crowd but not before highlighting the increase female participations in both the Google I/O conference, which is at 20% for 2014 compared to 8% in 2013, and also in software development in general – this was also noticeable with an additional female presence from Google at the Keynote. The momentum that Android has gained in the mobile world is amazing, Google had to change their metric from cumulative activations of Android to 30-day active users of Android – the number still is staggering at 1 Billion 30-active users of Android as compared to 538 Million last year and 223 Million the year before. The change in metric changes the focus of the data from one time activations to current users of the platform.
The growth in the Android Platform continued to be seen in tandem with the growth of the tablet market. The market share of Android Tablets rose to 62% of the Global Market from 49% the previous year and 39% the year before – this impressive figure excludes other forked versions of Android such as Kindle. According to Google’s own YouTube metrics, the number of tablet users have increased from 28% to 42% since last year. This was further seen when considering application downloads and installs which has seen a 236% increase.
With the growth of Android achieving such milestones, Mr. Pichai, brought the focus back to something Google mentioned at last year’s I/O getting to the next 5 Billion people. He looked to emerging markets, such as India, to highlight the issue that only a measly 10% of the population had access to smartphones noting that Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), needed to “reinvent the wheel” every time and in a “fast paced mobile industry” this forces them to release a new smartphone every nine months.
What Google is doing with their Android One initiative is to provide a reference device – ala the Nexus devices – for these OEMs as a “turnkey solution” for them to be able to build smartphones faster and at a more affordable price point. The Android One initiative provides a device, complete with specifications and internals which are catered to the specifics country for the OEMs to mimic. The first Android One smartphone that was shown off was a 4.7-inch dual sim device, equipped with FM Radio and MicroSD expansion at a USD$ 99 (RM 320) price point – “Features that matter” to that market. The first country that will be benefiting from the Android One initiative is India. Google will be working with OEMs such as Micromax, Karbonn and Spice and carriers in India to bring Android One products to the masses. These Android One device will be running stock Android and will be maintained, software wise, by Google as it does the Nexus Devices.
Android “L Release” Preview
Google was very coy in not revealing the name of the upcoming version of Android instead calling it “L”. Well, Android “L” first and foremost, adopts a new design language – one that will be carried forward in all Google products, Chrome, Android etc. called “Material”. The biggest change that users will notice with the upcoming “L Release” of Android will be its vibrant colours. Google’s design team has opted to go with bolder colour choices and palettes. In addition to the vibrant palette, the design team has also changed the concepts of the design, drawing their inspirations from paper (according Matias Duarte). In fact, the overall design language of the upcoming “L release” of Android is very much flatter than the current versions of Android. However, the designers didn’t just set a steam roller loose on the platform, instead, the changed the design components and incorporated a third axis along which application designers can design, the Z-axis. The Z-axis, is essentially what we perceive as depth in our daily lives and using this axis, they have managed to make Android and their other platforms more fluid and a delight to look at.
The new design language will be seen first in the Google applications such as Google+, Gmail, Calendar and Google Now. In fact, the recent update of the Google+ application on Android brought the design language with it. You can expect your dialer and the rest of the Android to follow suit in the “L Release”.
The next big feature is again related to the new Material design language. With the Material Design language, the animations and transitions of actions in Android are going to be a lot smoother. Using the palette from Material and the additional Z-axis, the system will now be able to animate transitions between the actions of the user in an app. In the live demo, Dave Burke, showed off the dialer application, which has been totally redesigned. The dialer button now floats above the user interface (UI) in the corner and moves around as you interact with the application. Also, there are now animation effects when you touch a recent call or the tabs in the dialer application. In addition to the redesign, a new animation feature they call “nested scrolling” will also be integrated. What this does is it “propagates the scrolling events up the view hierarchy”. Simply put, scrolling is no longer going to result in the whole page scrolling with you, instead elements of the page scroll down, and as you scroll further, the scroll will result in other elements docking in and creating a moving scroll effect. The best example on the platform now, would be the Google Now launcher and when you scroll between the Google Now page and your home screen – the way the search bar is stagnant and other elements fade.
Now that the design elements of the upcoming “L Release” has been put aside, another major change you will see in the upcoming “L release” is the notifications. The Notifications can now be interacted with from your lock screen. Essentially, what they’ve done is merged the lock screen and the notification shade. The notifications are now actionable, in that you can interact with the notifications and open the application straight from the lock screen or dismiss them as you would in the notification shade. The new “Heads Up” notifications will also just pop up above your applications – with actionable cards – for you to interact with in real time.
Aside from notifications, Android “L Release” also brings with it better and easier security measures. The device can now be unlocked using bluetooth device proximity, voice print and also context. In the demo, they used the example of a bluetooth watch. The lock screen automatically unlocked when the secondary device was in close proximity and when it wasn’t, the pattern lock screen appeared prompting for the unlock code.
Looking forward in the mobile space, Google took the time to highlight how chrome or the mobile web will factor into the new Android “L Release” planned for fall this year. Firstly, the Google Chrome application will be adopting Material as its design language as well. In addition to this, the multitasking feature in Android will now also adopt the Material design language. The recent apps will now stack on each other. Chrome tabs will now also appear separately on the task manager and also transition seamlessly into other applications. Also part of the “L Release” is a new layer of coding which allows the Android OS to suggest or recall app searches and/or relevant data that you may want when searching.
Next up, performance. According to Dave Burke, the new “L Release” of Android will see a 2x jump in performance thanks to the implementation of Android Runtime (ART) which has been optimised to not only handle code in the Ahead-of-time (AOT) computing manner but also in the Just-in-time (JIT) and interpreted code formats. With the implementation of ART as the main engine in “L”, the apps we currently see in the Play store will be automatically updated to take advantage of the change. A few other improvements to ART will also result in memory efficiency and smoother application performance. ART also works cross platform between ARM, MIPS and x86.
With Android “L”, Google is also looking to close the gap between desktop graphics and mobile. With what they call the Android Extension Pack, they aim to bring superb DirectX 11.0 graphics to mobile devices. Also part of the new Android release is Project Volta which, as the name suggests, would help bring longer battery life to Android devices. They’ve implemented Project Volta by first looking at the battery data being collected which they said needed to be improved. They did this by allowing more granular data to be collected via Battery Historian. Using Battery Historian, they were able to make wakelocks more efficient and reduce the amount of wakes needed to get the job done. This is further bolstered by the Job Scheduler API, in which Google enables developers to schedule tasks which will, in turn, make the applications more efficient and also reduce battery consumption via reducing wake times. We’re talking major battery savings – 4 to 5 times less wake times. In addition, there will be a built-in battery saver mode which will clock down the CPU and brightness etc. to save battery for up to 90 minutes of typical usage on a Nexus 5.
Android Security and Android at Work
Android Security is also getting bolstered with the new release with Google doubling efforts on the platform by scanning apps as soon as they enter the Play Store. Sundar Pichai highlighted that the immense amount of malware on the operating system is a credit to the size of the platform which has spawned industries which try to infiltrate it. He also brought to light that only 0.5% of Android users have ever been affected by malware and that Android is as secure, if not more, than iOS. With the “L Release” of Android, the company is introducing the much touted kill switch, which they call Factory Reset Protection which allows users to remotely wipe their phone to save their data and render the phone useless. Universal Data Controls is Google’s answer to the recently simplified permissions in the Play Store – though they don’t go much further than implying that we can get granular with the data we choose to share with an application.
Of course, all this talk about the security of Android can only lead to one place, Andorid at Work. Without skipping a beat, Google focuses on the many strides which have made Android more secure than any other platform including Samsung’s Knox. Also being launched together with Android at Work, is a USD$10 (RM 32) unlimited Drive for Work programme in which a company pays USD$10/user/month for unlimited cloud storage on Google Drive which comes with features which allow companies to track their employees.
Android Goes Multi-platform
The first step Google is taking with Android when they go multi-platform is making Android contextually aware. What they want to achieve essentially is an ecosystem built around the smartphone. To achieve that, they set out to make Android contextually aware and able to deliver what you want when you want it; Voice enabled allowing you to interact with your devices via voice instead of having to tap away when you’re otherwise predisposed; Seamless allowing you to go from one platform to the other without losing where you were; Mobile First, focusing on the smartphone which is readily available to anyone.
The first step Android took to going multi-platform is by announcing the Android Wear platform and Software Development Kit (SDK) a few months back. The whole concept behind android wear is that the platform would serve as a complimentary screen to the Android smartphone which the average user checks over a 100 times a day. The Android Wear experience is one that looks to deliver contextually relevant information to a smaller screen which can be acted upon. In essence letting you glance at the information that you need, while still interacting with those around you.
Android Wear is Google’s way of addressing the need to take out your smartphone. This is achieved simply by giving you relevant information in a timely way. Things such as having an appointment pop up an hour or two beforehand with options to navigate to the location using Google Maps simply by swiping to the side or bringing up the next reminder or information by swiping up. The best part of the Android Wear platform is the variety you’ll be getting from Samsung’s Gear Live, LG’s G Watch to Motorola’s Moto 360. Speaking of, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live was announced and launched at Google I/O and every attendee of Google I/O was given either one after the event. The Motorola Moto 360, on the other hand, was only announced at the event to everyone’s disappointment and would only be available sometime later in the summer. However, that didn’t stop the conglomerate from giving all attendees a unit that would be made available once the device launches.
Android is also entering the car. Google has designed Android with the intention of taking your focus and putting it back on the road. That said, Android Auto is also all about simplicity and functions with the phone as its centre. The Android Auto experience begins with your phone. Similar to Android Wear, it works as an extension of your phone bringing features like text messaging via voice and also navigation to your car. Apps like Songza, Spotify and others are also coming along for the ride.
Google continued their conference by entering the Home living room. Google’s previous foray into the Set Top Box and living room space with Google TV and the Nexus Q wasn’t very successful, in fact, the Nexus Q was never really launched aside from Google I/O 2012. However, Google looks to enter that space once again with their new and improved Android TV.
Google has built the Android TV platform around the Smartphone as well. The Android TV platform will work with a D-pad or any other smart TV controller. The system uses an interface built on the Material design philosophy and, according to Google, scales seamlessly onto the big screen. It also uses the phone and also built-in microphones to bring up content and related items. Your tablet and phone experiences also stream seamlessly onto the TV with their controls on the main device.
The main focus of Android TV will, of course, be content consumption via the Google Play Store – more specifically, the Google Play Movies and Google Play Games platforms. The interface is simply beautiful. The interface comes with your recommended content up top, followed by your apps and then your games. The interface uses the same material design to overlay playing video on your TV. To launch Android TV, Google will be working with manufacturers such as Sony, Sharp and TP Vision for the first range of Android TV equipped devices.
Google is also making its foray into the fitness side of things. They are releasing an update to the Google Play Services that will include the new Google Fit to all devices. What this service does essentially is collect your fitness data into one place. The Google Fit service, unlike it competition, is not a standalone service. Instead Google has opted to make Google Fit and aggregator of sorts. The service works as an application programming interface (API) which can be taken advantage of by applications such as NOOM weight loss. All the data that is shared, in a very granular way, will be collected and displayed in the Google Fit application similar to how Google Play Games works.