Important mobile information from Google’s I/O conference in San Francisco.
We can’t cover everything of course and there are a huge amount of announcements that are not directly related to the mobile industry. As such we will be updating this post mostly with information relevant to the mobile & connected markets and products Clove will be selling (or would like to if they don’t become available to us!).
New Android Wear smartwatches are available to order now
Updates on the Moto 360 and LG G Watch were expected but what we received was much, much better. Whilst major updates on the Moto 360 are currently still pending, we now have a confirmed price of £159 for the LG G Watch in the UK and an unexpected announcement from Samsung (who else) of a new Gear Live watch priced at £169.
Moving away from their Tizen gamble with the Gear 2/Neo/Fit range, the Live will be running Android Wear and is currently available for order on Google Play – we are currently investigating if stock will be available to Clove. Both the G Watch and Gear Live will be shipping from July 7th.
Android Wear goes much further than current smartwatches
From Google’s announcement of the new platform earlier in the year, we knew Android Wear was going to try and change the perception of wearables. The market in its current state is clearly fragmented with a range of products including fitness trackers, notification watches and other subsidiary devices all running on a variety of proprietary platforms.
Android Wear, as an extension of the main Android OS, looks to provide an open and accessible platform for developers to work on. Wear can then be used to build any number of products that either fit into the existing wearable subcategories, add to them, or possibly combine them.
In terms of smartwatches, current criticisms are levelled at them being little more than secondary screens for notifications such as SMS, email and at the most advanced – call handling. Whilst this simple slave feature will remain the bread and butter of Wear devices, the interface will be designed on the Google Now notification system which has been massively developed on over the last few years.
The main difference is that Google Now is an active system rather than a passive one. Rather than just displaying data your phone has already received, Google Now can provide intelligent notifications about upcoming events. It can search for you by itself based on your usage & location, or at your implicit request, to display up to date relevant information far beyond simple one-to-one messages.
The familiarity of the Android framework should also make for a number of high quality apps and extensions.
Android L - all about looks?
The new dessert central name for codename L has yet to be announced, although a massive drop of visuals for the new Android revision has now been laid out. Google have chosen to focus on the design and UI this time around, with not a huge amount of information on new features.
Google have a new design initiative known as Material Design which will encompass their entire product range from Android phones through to Chrome, Gmail and other major apps and services. On the surface this includes unifying typefaces, iconography languages and style rules for Google products. The focus is clearly on simplicity, usability and familiarity across the Google range.
For Android L’s surface it means updating to a minimalist style for soft buttons, a switch from square to round icons and a tweaking to Roboto for consistent display across a huge range of displays now that the Android brand is to be synonymous with the user-device interaction with everything Google from watches to televisions.
It’s not all shapes and colours though, notifications have a big place in L too. A new update somewhat combines the lock screen and notification panes with a stack of cards reminiscent of Google Now (yet another cross-product integration). Google are also employing a ‘drop-down’ for instant notifications such as calls or messages which Google refer to as ‘heads-up’.
There’s a new multitasking capability as well which is designed to put your apps and web content on an equal footing. When you select the multitasking option, your most recent apps and Chrome windows will all be available in a carousel. Also when it comes to using Search, relevant results might funnel you directly into an app. For instance searching for a route somewhere could launch Uber, should you set up your personalisation that way. Search results will also mimic the new Material Design ethos of web results.
Security & battery life are two big bugbears for the modern mobile user. For the 1st issue, Google introduced Device Manager last year for better remote tracking of handsets. This has been improved on with a kill-switch for remotely locking down handsets even after they have been factory restored. Effectively the same as iOS7′s new security provisions, Google hope this should cut thefts significantly. ‘Project Volta’ has been introduced into Android L too, aiming to reduce overall battery consumption by optimising performance in a similar way to 3rd party introductions such as Sony’s STAMINA.
Lastly, Android L is confirmed to be running on the new Android Runtime introduced in KitKat which allows for better resource management and installation of the OS on devices with lower working memory specifications.
So at this point most of what has been announced is somewhat superficial, however pretty it all is. Google have promised there will be over 5,000 new APIs for developers to utilise when the code goes live later in the year, so there should be a host of features that have yet to be talked about. It looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer for the more meaty updates, including the name.
Developers or tech savvy users can get their hands on the preview code for Android L now, compatible with select devices, by clicking on the image below. Please note that manually compiling and installing the preview firmware on your personal device will almost certainly void your manufacturer’s warranty. Proceed with caution.
Android One – a reference for high quality, low cost smartphones
Android One is not a phone. It is rather a set of hardware references aimed at emerging and established manufacturers. The idea is to use a list of Google approved components to be able to develop high quality phones that will be Google Play certified, able to receive updates through the foreseeable future (by using Google approved hardware) and aimed at emerging markets.
The initiative is due to begin in India later this year. Whilst we don’t expect to see any Android One initiative phones outside of emerging markets, if some do travel to Europe we’ll be sure to try and get a hands on.
Android Auto for your car
This will grab some headlines but isn’t what it may first seem. Rather than a variation of Google’s OS specifically for vehicles, Android Auto runs on an Android L phone when plugged into a compatible car. The phone displays an A, naturally, and then cannot be used as normal until unplugged. You then have a subset of Android applications and screens mirrored onto the car’s display. For now this includes GPS/Maps/navigation, music & media player, phone and car status, along with an overview splash page.
Essentially Android Auto is ‘casting’ from the phone to the vehicle display. Casting seems key to Google’s newer strategies with Chromecast & Android TV both keen to work in asimilar way from a central Android device hub.
You will also have the option of installing Android Auto compatible apps onto your phone. These can then be accessed through the Android Auto interface from your car’s screen when the phone is plugged in. Initial support is from the likes of Spotify, Songza, Pandora, Pocket Casts and the MLB’s At Bat, with a new SDK available for those looking to create their own.
Details on compatible cars and manufacturer partnerships are to be provided at a later date, although Google have primarily mentioned Dodge, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Audi and Bentley. They have also stated that the first cars will be available before the year is out.
Android TV is here as Google try to get in the living room again
Google definitely seem keen on making Android their core brand name now. They are taking the focus away from the individual mobile device (phone or tablet) and trying to turn it into a platform that can create a web portal on any device.
Last time Google played the television game we got Google TV, using either a secondary cable box or integrated TV as an intermediary to overlay content on top of your cable or OTA television broadcast. Google TV worked and delivered on a number of advertised features, however consumer adoption was slow, American cable companies were hesitant to partner up and reviews were mediocre especially where the price was concerned.
Google like to experiment though and the foundations have been made for Android TV. Whilst partly a rebranding exercise, there will also be a whole host of new features including full integration for Search and pulling up rental & purchase results from the Play Store & partners such as Netflix. Compatibility for control across Android Wear devices and streaming from smartphones is also included. The Google Games network can also be accessed as well.
Time will only tell if Android TV adoption rates fare better than Google TV; perhaps its inclusion in more and more new Smart TVs will help this.
The best of the rest
First up is Google Fit (note the lack of Android branding on this one), a centralised platform for collating data from a number of fitness products. The SDK will be available to developers and expect support from the likes of Nike, Adidas, Withings, RunKeeper, and Basis.
An update to Drive is coming that will let you edit Microsoft Office files natively.
And finally, select Android apps will become available on Chrome soon. Apps such as Evernote and Vine will take the lead, with the Chromebook/PC screen displaying a bordered phone screen or having the Android app stretched out to tablet mode. This looks like baby steps towards a more unified Android & Chrome, alongside the multitasking already announced for Android L. Eventually, Chrome on a non-mobile device should begin to display notifications from paired mobile handsets.
So what do you think? Are any of the big announcements already making you check your bank accounts & wallets? Do some of the ideas for the rest of the year give you thoughts about what tech you might be investing in? Perhaps some of Google’s ideas seem a little half baked to you.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, along with anything else you saw mentioned at I/O you think we should have covered