Google Unveils Ambitious Android Expansion at Conference

7 years, 4 months ago - June 26, 2014
Google wants to be everywhere: in your home, your car and even on your wrist.

That vision became increasingly clear at the search giant’s annual conference for software developers here on Wednesday. The company unveiled plans to expand Android, its mobile operating system, for new categories like wearable computers and automobiles.

The announcements came on the heels of the company’s recent acquisition of Nest Labs, the thermostat maker, for $3.2 billion, which gave Google a speedy entry into the nascent market of Internet-connected home appliances.

 “This is one of the most comprehensive releases we have done,” said Sundar Pichai, chief of Google’s Android division, in front of a convention center crowded with 6,000 software developers.

Google’s annual software developers’ conference, called Google I/O, has become an important place for the company to woo app makers to build software for its Android software system, which powers more than one billion devices.

Rallying app developers is increasingly vital for Google as competition grows with rivals like Apple and Samsung Electronics, which are also expanding their device and software portfolios.

 “What’s striking is the way each of these three major companies — Google, Microsoft and Apple — are seeking to participate across four key domains: the home, the car, the body and the mobile world at large,” said Jan Dawson, an independent telecom analyst for Jackdaw Research. Google said a coming version of Android for smartphones and tablets, tentatively named Android L, would include new features, like smarter authentication and anti-theft software.

If a user is wearing a smartwatch paired with the device, he can unlock the phone without entering a passcode. When the watch is removed, the phone will require a passcode again. Google also said that Android L, which will be available in the fall, would include a so-called kill switch for rendering a device unusable if it were stolen.

In Android L, Google overhauled the design of its software system powering smartphones and tablets. Similar to Apple and Microsoft, Google adopted a “flat” design with more vibrant colors and added effects like shadows and animations. For example, when a user taps the screen, a small water ripple appears on the tapped area.

Google also shared its ambition to push Android deeper into areas beyond mobile devices, revealing details on Android Wear, a special version of Android tailored for smartwatches, which it introduced this year.

Google said Android Wear was customized to show immediately useful information, like message notifications, the status of a package shipment or the status of traffic for a commuter. The smartwatch system is controlled by speaking or by swiping the touch screen.

When a user is traveling, the watch system will continue to bring up relevant contextual information based on his location, like the local bus schedule or the weather, according to Google.

Google said two smartwatches including Android Wear — Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G watch — would be available to order in its online retail store, Play, on Wednesday.

For television, Google announced Android TV. Users can speak voice commands into a smartwatch to search for programs and Google will find the programs if they are available for purchase in its online Play store.

Searching “Breaking Bad,” for example, will bring up the show and information about it. Users can also stream music and games from their tablets and smartphones to Android TV. Google said it had become partners with Sony, Sharp and Asus. Products including Android TV should arrive in the fall, Google said.

Television has been a tough market for Google, and Android TV is its fourth attempt to push Android into television. One of its earlier attempts included Google TV, which came with a clunky remote and many limitations to what people could watch.

Google has found some success with Chromecast, a stick that plugs into TVs and allows users to stream content from their smartphones or computers to the television. Released last year, Chromecast has been a top seller on Amazon. Google on Wednesday said it had improved Chromecast, allowing any phone to connect to the device without having to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

Brian Blau, an analyst for Gartner, said Google’s new TV strategy fit much better with its apps and web ecosystem. But he noted that with the example of using a smartwatch as a remote for the TV, he felt the company was being unrealistic.

 “They appeared to be implying that your watch should now be the center of your smart device attention, and that just won’t be the case,” he said. “It makes apps look dumb and less functional.”

Google also announced a version of Android customized for cars, called Android Auto. Google said it streamlined the design of the system to keep people’s eyes off the screen and on the road. It emphasizes access to maps, phone contacts and playlists, allowing users to use those features with the tap of a button or voice control. The car system will pair with a smartphone.

In addition, the company is also trying to aggressively expand in business computing. Google showed several changes to its businesses offerings, which include things like corporate email and spreadsheets delivered online, along with storage and videoconferencing.

Google unveiled additions to Drive, its online storage service, tailored for businesses. Google said companies would be able to audit which employees were reading what documents, more easily encrypt documents and gain access and work with documents stored in older formats, like Microsoft Office.

All of that is tied with an effort to improve battery life for Android devices, with a tool called Project Volta. A presentation of the feature was interrupted by a protester who stood in front of the stage holding a banner that read “Develop a conscience.” The protester said she was being evicted by a property owner who was a Google employee, before she was escorted out by security guards.

Soon after, she was replaced by another shouting protester who called Google “a company that builds machines that kill people.”


Text by The New York Times

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