After Apple’s WWDC at the beginning of June, it was Google’s turn to announce all of their new roadmap features at the Google I/O conference at the end of the month. Unlike Apple’s event, where there was a heavy focus on iOS 8, Google focused more broadly on the ecosystem being developed around Android. Here’s an overview of what they presented.
Up next: Android L
On the Android front, Google announced the new version of Android, Android L. Eventually, as with all other Android versions, it will get a dessert name. My best guesses for names are Lollipop or Licorice, unless Google goes all commercial again – in which case it could be Lifesaver. Naming aside, there weren’t a ton of new features on display.
The biggest update coming is a focus on design improvements. Google wants to help developers deliver a consistent user experience across devices, which means phones, tablets, watches, in-car displays, televisions, glass and more. It’s being termed “Material Design”. It’s a move away from the blacks, grays, charcoals and flat design of the existing interface to one of more colorful, card-based layouts with more texture and animations. Below is a short video Google created to highlight the features of the new design, and Gizmodo put together a good summary here.
Outside of design, Android L contains a number of other new features including notification improvements, Chrome browser updates, and methods to improve battery life, where every little bit helps. Here’s a summary Engadget put together that goes into more detail.
Building the Android ecosystem
The bigger announcements coming out of Google I/O were all the devices and places where Android is being ported. There was a heavy emphasis on wearables, particularly smartwatches. Google is making it obvious that the interaction between phones and watches is a big deal. I’m not completely sold on the idea, yet, but maybe the next generation of watches will change my mind.
In addition to watches, there were announcements for Android TV and Android Auto, which looks very similar to Apple’s CarPlay initiative. Clearly, Google is intent in making sure that Android is omnipresent and woven throughout every screen that we interact with. So long as Google makes the experience seamless and non-obtrusive, then I’m on board. Given our phones are something that we always have with us, we should be able to easily connect to and control all of the other screens we interact with through our phone. As an Android user, I’m both curious and excited to see how Google is able to pull this off.
Google Fit and Android One
Similar to Apple’s HealthKit fitness initiative, Google launched their own version called Google Fit. It’s their way of allowing fitness devices and apps to share data with one another. It should allow users to build a better picture of their fitness activity and overall health, once all of the kinks get worked out.
Google also announced the Android One initiative, which is their program aimed at developing sub-$100 Android devices for emerging markets. The idea is that Google will design the hardware to insure that minimum feature standards are set for lower cost devices, and then third-party companies will produce them. Google already has some manufacturing partners in the program and was able to show some of their initial efforts at the conference. I suspect that eventually, these devices could make their way back to the US as entry-level phones for new users or children.
The merging of Android and Chrome OS
I’m still waiting for the merging of Android and Chrome OS, which I’m convinced is just a matter of time. While Google didn’t announce plans to merge the two operating systems during the conference, they did take a step in that direction. Soon, you will be able to run Android apps within the Chrome OS. It means that owners of Chromebooks will be able to run native Android apps on their machines. While there were demonstrations of Android apps running on Chrome, there weren’t a lot of details on when the new feature will be available or how developers will implement it. In any case, I’m even more convinced that the days of separate Android and Chrome operating systems are numbered.
I found the announcements at Google I/O to be a touch disappointing this year. There weren’t any ground-breaking features announced for Android. Most of the focus was on all of the new devices where Android will be available. Maybe that’s the ground-breaking feature, or maybe I’ve come to expect too much out of Google. It’s also possible, and I can always hope, that Google has held some features back for an announcement later this year around some new Nexus devices. One can always hope.
If you’d like to get more detail on all of the announcements from Google I/O, I’d recommend checking out this article at Lifehacker, or if you have 2+ hours to kill, you can watch the entire keynote embedded below.