For two-and-a-half hours at its annual developer event, Google employees trotted on- and off-stage to share the company’s improvements for Android. It felt to me as if Google crammed four hours of information in that time, given the sheer amount of new functions and changes shown off. Here’s a summary of what Google did — and didn’t — announce.
Android One is a new “brand”, for lack of a better word, but what is it? Android One is a program similar to the Google’s Nexus effort; however, it’s aimed at a different type of market. Where Nexus devices are meant to show off the pure Android experience in relatively high-end hardware, Android One is for low-cost devices. Google is setting hardware specifications for Android One devices, which will run stock Android. Handset partners will produce the phones for markets where feature phones are still in the majority: These are for first-time smartphone buyers.
That means the cost has to stay down. Google showed off an Android One phone from Micromax that costs under $100. It still has a 4.5-inch IPS display though, supports two SIM cards and includes an FM radio. Since Android 4.4 was rewritten to run better on lesser hardware, the overall experience should still be good for the price.
Android 4.4 isn’t the latest version of Android though. Say hello to Android L, which Google made available in a developer preview this week. If you have a Nexus 5 or Nexus 7, you can install Android L; if not, you can use the Android emulator on a computer to get an idea of what’s new. And there’s a lot that’s new.
One of the biggest changes is in the front-facing interface. Android L has fluid animations, playful touchpoint interactions, a flatter design and updated Roboto font. All of this is due to what Google calls “material design” elements. There’s more of a 3D effect with shadows and perspective. Developers will have more tools to make interfaces consistent across devices as well.
Behind the scenes, Google is finally moving its Android runtime from Dalvik to ART, which will boost performance by a factor of two, according to the company. Notifications are enhanced, appearing directly on the lock screen if users want that, and devices can stay in an unlocked mode when nearby trusted Bluetooth devices.
One of those devices could be a new Android Wear watch. Google formally introduced a trio of them: the LG G Watch, Samsung’s Gear Live and the Moto 360. The first two are already available for pre-order at prices of $229 and $199, respectively. I took home a Gear Live from I/O and have a Moto 360 arriving in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more details on these.
We already knew that Google Now would be an integral part of Android Wear. Google did demonstrate that but also showed how third-party apps work with the new smart watches. These are essentially extensions of existing Android apps so there won’t be a separate Android Wear app store. That’s good because it’s simple for consumers and developers alike. And the apps will automatically get updated on the phone with new features then pushed directly to the Android Wear watch. The downside? Since Android Wear works specifically with Android apps, iOS support for Android Wear isn’t likely.
Android TV was a very expected announcement but it didn’t disappoint. I’d say Android TV looks like what Google TV should have been: A great 10-foot user interface with voice search and Android phones or tablets as remote controls. I was very impressed by the search feature: A request to see all of the 2001 Oscar-Nominated films quickly returned the right results, making it easy to watch any of the films or see more information about them. Sony and Sharp have already committed to including Android TV functionality in their upcoming 4k television lines. And every Android TV doubles as a Chromecast.
Android is also hitting the road with Android Auto. This plug-and-play solution brings an optimized view of Android to screens in cars. You can use this for navigation, music playback or communications by voice. Google already has a number of app partners committed to rework their software for Android Auto and more than two dozen automakers are on-board as well.
Near the end of the keynote, Google also announced Android apps on Chrome OS. However, the devil’s in the details. This is more of an experiment at this point, with only a handful of Android apps ported over to Chrome OS. So these aren’t quite the same apps as you’d find in the Play Store for Android; they’re rewritten to work on a Chromebook, which is very different from native Android apps running in a virtual machine. Either way, it’s progress towards bringing more software titles to Chrome OS devices by way of Android.