In a dimly-lit room in San Francisco's Moscone Center two tech fans face off in a intense game of Pong, played on a screen that stretches nearly around the entire room. Although, this isn't a video game competition — it's the keynote for the 2015 Google I/O developer conference.
Following the Pong battle, an animated video of outerspace was followed by a colorful countdown video before Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of products at Google, took the stage in front of a single phrase:
"Here's to what you build next."
After explaining the growth of Google core products, with most boasting more than one billion users, Pichai went on to explain why Google is focused on its platforms, Chrome and Android
Android is, no doubt, one of the most popular mobile platforms in the world and it's growing. Pichai said that Android is now connected with 400 OEMs and 500 Carriers. It's also now on more form factors.
There are now seven models of Android Wear and Android Auto has partnered with 35 manufacturers including Ford, GM, and Volkswagen. The recently announced Android Television is growing, as is the casting service Google offers through Chromecast. (Side note for Game of Thrones fans - HBO NOW is coming to casting devices.)
Dave Burke, Android vice president, took the stage to talk about the developer preview of the newest Android platform, Android M. Burke said M is a back-to-basics effort focused on polish.
"The central theme of M is improving the core user experience of Android," Burke said.
There are six new features that are the central to the Android M release.
- App permissions
- Web experience
- App links
- Mobile Payments
- Fingerprint support
- Power and charging
App permissions are changing so that users will be prompted to accept or deny permissions when a certain feature is used and the Android web experience will be improved by Chrome custom tabs that open over top of an app. Additionally, app links will be more aware of where they should open whether in an app or a browser.
Mobile payments will change with Android Pay with the addition of native fingerprint scanning support. Smarter power management will come to Android with Doze, which uses motion detection to see if the device has been used, and turns down the background app use if the device hasn't been picked up. According to Burke, devices can last up to 2X longer in standby mode. Finally, Android will be moving toward USB Type-C chargers.
Smartwatches are leading the wearables revolution and Google's contribution is Android Wear. Google's David Singleton said that they are taking more notes from the standard watch action of checking the time to make Android Wear "glanceable, actionable, and effortless."
Updates to Android Wear will include the following:
- Always on screens
- Wrist gestures
- Emoji recognizer
Always on screens will dim after no use, but allow users to see the screen without waking the device back up. Wrist gestures let users scroll up and down through notifications with the flick of their wrist.
For emoji fans, you will now be able to hand-draw emojis and the Android Wear device will recognize the shape and offer similar emojis to use. Additionally, Android Wear will get a new launcher as well.
Singleton closed by going over some new apps and said that more than 4,000 apps have been built specifically for Android Wear so far.
Brillo is Google's new OS for IoT. It is derived from Android, but is a simpler version. Much like Android has been "scrubbed down" by a Brillo pad. Brillo will be complemented by Weave, a standard IoT protocol. Brillo will show up in Q3 2015 and Weave will arrive in Q4 2015.
Aparna Chennapragada, from the Google Now team, introduced Now on Tap, a new capability to assist you in the moment when you need it. For example, while listening to a song by the artist Skrillex, the user asked "What's his real name," and Google Now returned the name of the artist Skrillex (Sonny John Moore).
Additional upgrades to Now include the ability to tap on a word or phrase and get information without opening a new tab, a feature teased at the Chrome Live event earlier this year, and smart reminder cards made from information in messages.
Google Photos is Google's new photo app and Anil Sabharwal took the stage to explain it. He said it will be a home for your photos and videos, and an easy way to share and organize your content.
Users can pinch to zoom in and out to sort photos by days, months, or years. Another organizational tool automatically tags photos with people, places, or things that are important. So, each photo with a certain subject gets grouped with like photos. Users can also use the app to create collages and videos.
Also, you can back up and store unlimited high quality photos and videos for free.
Many Google core products are being optimized to work better in developing countries. Engineering VP Jen Fitzpatrick said search has been altered to load results faster and use less data as well. She also noted that Google is working on more offline capabilities for search, YouTube, and Google Maps. Users can save YouTube videos for a certain amount of time offline and access Maps offline, including turn by turn directions.
It wouldn't be a developer conference without some new developer tools. Android studio 1.3 was announced at this year's I/O, including support for C and C++. Polymer 1.0 was also announced to allows developers to drop in standard features.
Cloud Test Lab is one of the most interesting announcements. It allows developers to upload their app and have Google run it on the top 20 android devices. It's automated mobile app testing.
Pichai also announced the Android Nanodegree, a six month course for $200 a month that provides developers all the skills they need to develop Android apps.
Last year, Google announced cardboard at I/O. This year, they've updated the Cardboard viewers to fit any phone up to six inches. A new button works with any phone, and they updated the SDK to run on Android or iOS.
Google also announced Expeditions, a program that sends a box with cardboard viewers, phones, and a teacher tablet to a classroom for virtual reality field trips. Jump will be Google's new tool for capturing VR video and YouTube will be the player.
All in all, there were some key updates to Google hardware and software, but few major announcements and no new moonshots.
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.