From Android L to Google Fit: All the new products and features from Google I/O
This year’s Google I/O wasn’t as dramatic as the I/Os of yesteryear. Nobody jumped from a blimp with a radical new face computer strapped to his face, and Larry Page neglected to step foot on stage, much less wax poetic about the infinite sadness in the world. But despite the lack of theatrics, this year’s I/O was still pretty exciting, thanks to the glimpse Google offered us into its future. The tech giant unleashed a slew of updates, synergies, and even whole new platforms designed to weave computing into our everyday lives in—Google hopes—a seamless way.
Here’s a look back at everything announced Wednesday at Google I/O; hit those links in each respective announcements for even more information about the news that interests you the most.
Upgrades for Android
First up was Android L, the successor to Android Kit-Kat. The most blatant thing about Android L hits you square in the face right away: It looks awful pretty. Google’s introducing a new aesthetic dubbed Material Design in Android L, with a focus on object depth and animation. The beauty is more than skin deep, though: Android L’s bringing handy-looking improvements to the way the system handles notifications, along with an intriguing “personal unlock” feature that does away with the lockscreen if you’re already carrying another device that can provide authentication wirelessly.
Android L also boosts the OS’s graphical and battery performance, ditches the stodgy old Dalvik runtime powering Android for the new and improved ART (Android Run Time), and adds more than 5,000 new APIs for developers. Whew. While the launch of Android L is still months away—maybe that’s why the mobile operating system wasn’t given a proper candilicious name yet?—a developer preview is now available with the new features.
Sundar Pichai, the boss of Android, Apps, and Chrome for Google, also revealed a new initiative dubbed Android for Work, which aims to bolster Android’s security and business chops. As part of that, Pichai announced native Microsoft Office integration for Google Drive in Android. Previously, editing traditional Office files in Google Drive required a messy conversion process that was far from seamless. Android L will let you open spreadsheets, documents, and presentations files without all the muss and fuss. Proper mobile support for Google Slides is also incoming. (It’s about time.)
Pichai also announced an endeavor called Android One, designed to bring low-end phones to emerging markets such as India—and boost Android’s share of the smartphone market in the process.
Android all around
Android’s bursting beyond smartphones these days, though—a fact clearly evident during the Google I/O keynote, where specialized versions of Android for wrists, cars, and TVs all made appearances.
Google spent abundant stage time showing off Android Wear’s capabilities, especially its contextual awareness and integration with Android phones. David Singleton, Google’s director of engineering for Android, previewed the watch OS’s Google Now-style cards and the gestures and voice commands used to control them, including a much-needed Do Not Disturb mode that tells your wrist to shut up and stop spitting out notifications. (If only we could get that on Android proper!) Third-party apps from Eat 24 and Allthecooks were also preened about, but the most newsworthy part of the Android Wear announcements had to do with hardware: The Wear-powered Samsung Gear Live was announced, with both it and the LG G Watch available for preorders today. (The Moto 360 will follow later in the summer.)
The newly unveiled Android Auto, meanwhile, aims to integrate your ‘Droid with your drive in a way that’s road-responsible. Android Auto connects your phone to your car (via a cable in the on-stage demo) and brings your personal apps—such as Google Calendar, Play Music, and Maps—to your car’s central dashboard, clad in a familiar Android UI but optimized for the car with larger on-screen buttons and voice commands.
But wait, there’s more! Google’s also trying to resuscitate the corpse of Google TV with Android TV, yet another stab at establishing a beachhead in your living room. Android TV essentially treats your TV as a bigger screen for Android itself, rather than a whole new platform. While the interface certainly looks slick, the real secret sauce could be Android TV’s search features, which draw on Google’s deep knowledge repository to provide YouTube clips and information about shows. Android TV even provided accurate results to a search for “Oscar nominated movies from 2002” and a vocal query about who played Katniss in The Hunger Games. (Jennifer Lawrence, if you’re wondering.)
Razer announced a new pint-sized gaming console to match Google’s Android TV announcement, which will feature all of Android TV’s streaming and television navigation capabilities, but focus on Android gaming—kind of like a more TV-friendly Ouya.
Chomecast and Chromebooks
It wasn’t all Android, all the time at Google I/O, however. Various iterations of Chrome also stepped into the spotlight.
The nifty little Chromecast streaming media dongle is being updated with some helpful little extras. Most notably, you’ll be able to enable an option to allow nearby entertainment junkies to cast to the device even if they aren’t on the same Wi-Fi network as the Chromecast itself—a handy addition for visiting friends. Chromecast is also gaining the ability to mirror Android devices on your TV, as well as a “Backdrop” feature that lets you customize the imagery shown during downtime. Read all about the changes here.
The Chrome OS operating system is also receiving some fresh new features, thanks to deeper integration with Android. Like Android L devices, Chromebook users will soon be able to bypass passwords by using a Bluetooth-enabled Android phone for automatic authentication—merely opening the lid will log you in to both the operating system and your Google account. While paired, notifications for incoming calls and texts will appear on your Chromebook, along with low-power warnings for your phone. Google’s also working to allow top Android apps to work on Chromebooks, complete with hardware-level access.
Underneath it all
Don’t let all the fancy announcements and hardware talk fool you: Google I/O is a primarily a show for developers, and Google revealed some intriguing under-the-hood announcements sure to make devs just as happy as end users.
The Play Games service underpinning Google’s gaming endeavors is giving players richer profiles and cloud-based “bookmarks,” which save your in-game progress alongside a screenshot—though it’s not clear how it differs from the cloud saves already available to players (and underused by developers). Developers will also be able to create daily Quests, complete with potential in-game rewards.
Shifting gears, health is the buzzword of the day, and Google’s jumping on the bandwagon while playing to the potential strengths of Android Wear devices with the launch of Google Fit, a new platform designed to allow your disparate fitness apps and devices play nice together. Essentially, Google Fit lets fitness gear and software share data with each other, and Google’s already signed up a small army of partners for the platform—which you can read all about here.
Updated at 3:02 p.m. PT with a video report.
For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.