Google I/O 2015 kicked off today, with a keynote address from VP Sundar Pichai, setting the tone for the remainder of the conference and, in fact, the rest of the year. A few of the expected topics made an appearance; Android M and Google Photos, but there also a few surprise announcements. Nothing ground-beaking, but still very important nonetheless. So let’s dive in.
Firstly, Android M has been confirmed, but no names have been dropped yet. No Marshmallow, Marzipan, nada. But we do have a decent idea of the new features coming in. App permissions have been changed; they’re now grouped into eight basic sections. You also have a lot more fine tuning possible now. You can allow some, but not all, of the permissions an app requests and still be able to use it, and you can even change that in retrospect. For example, you can let an app use your location, but not your camera.
There’s also custom webpages for apps in Chrome. Apps like Pinterest, that sometimes open up a web page in their own browser, now instead open the page in a Chrome tab, without leaving the app. However, that page can be customised with a shortcut button and special options.as well.
Then there’s Android Pay, Google’s answer to Apple Pay. It’s a form of digital payment that uses NFC. Just unlock your phone and tap it to the receive and BAM – payment done. Once you store a credit card’s details, Android Pay generates a virtual account number to activate the transaction. A new addition is fingerprint authentication. With so many smartphones coming equipped with fingerprint scanners these days, you now have the ability to just use your thumb to authorise those payments. Literally, in every sense of the word, a one-touch payment.
But most interesting of all is probably “device dozing” that Android M will introduce. The OS will use the phone’s in-built sensors to detect when it hasn’t been moved for a long period of time, suggesting that it’s not in use. The device then goes into a sort of low power hibernation state, although alarms, notifications, and calls will still chime. But in doze mode, the phone or tablet’s battery can last up to twice as long. Perfect for that tablet that sits at home while you’re in the office. To go along with the extended battery life, Google has been working on a new Type-C USB cable, which will be reversible, and will charge devices three to five times faster. The best part? You can use the same cable and have your phone charge someone else’s. Hey, sharing is caring right?
Next up is Android Wear. A few upgrades to its smartwatch capabilities. There’s a new “always-on” mode, with apps switching to a low power mode after a time period. This ensures that your watch (FINALLY) always tells the time. Smartwatches are also being given more control in-app; Shazam a song from your watch, analyse your golf swing, change your Spotify channel, you can do it all with a few taps and flicks.
Speaking of fine control, Pichai finally brought up Android Brillo, midway into the keynote. An Android-based OS for low-power, low-processing units like smart locks, Brillo is priming to be the platform on which the Internet of Things is built. But to synchronise all that, Google has announced Weave, a programming language that will help build the framework on which all the devices are designed.
Google Now has become the hub of seemingly everything in Android. And that’s been taken a step forward. Google Search has been made smarter, trained to look for context in a search situation, and display results immediately – it’s called “Now on Tap”. get an email invite for a movie but have never heard of it? No problem, just tap on the movie name, hold the home button, and it’ll show you a synopsis, ratings, and more. Google Now forms cards based on your changing habits and search queries.
The new Google Photos is also quite impressive. Earlier, navigating hundreds of photos might have seemed a daunting task but, it’s a lot easier now. A pinch to squeeze and, instead of having them grouped daily, you can see all the photos from one month together, or even a year. It also automatically groups your photos by people, place and theme, all without a single user-generated tag. Just search for, say, beach photos from Kerala and voila.
There’s also a photo assistant, that you slide left to access, with animations and video editing options, and a whole new way to select multiple pics. No more pecking at each check box, instead, just click, hold, and drag. There’s also a new way to share photos on photos.google.com. Simply share your photos via link and the recipient can see Hi -Res images without ever needing the app. Also, if they’re signed in, they can download the photo and keep it too. And lastly for Google Photos, the company announced unlimited storage for 16MP images and 1080p videos for everyone, for free. It’ll be available a little later today.
Google is also thinking about developed countries. Considering the kind of slow, or glitchy data streams in places like India or Mexico, Google has introduced customised search results pages, with a 4x faster load time, and 80 percent less data used. Pages load only text and links with basic image placeholders. You can also save a webpage offline for your perusal later. Maps also has some new functionality. The Indian railway transit system has been introduced in the app; as well as offline functionality, with search, GPS and navigation all working without a data connection.
Google Play has a few new additions, like the family-friendly star. The star marks an app as being kid-friendly, and has it feature in the dedicated section for kids’ apps. There are now also Character badges, allowing you to search for all the apps and movies pertaining to a particular character.
A new Google Cardboard design is out, to accommodate for larger smartphones, as well as a cardboard button (instead of magnet) as the clicker. And the SDK for the Google Cardboard now also supports iOS. Strangely enough, that’s the most we heard about Virtual Reality from Google. A bit of a letdown if i might say so myself.
And finally, there’s Jump, Google’s attempt at putting VR creation in the public’s control. Jump is basically a 360-degree camera rig, an assembler, and a player. The rig is a design created by Google, that uses 16 cameras, that will synchronise, to create one smooth image. While Google is releasing the rig design later this year, 16 cameras is a lot to spend on. If you DO have that kind of moolah, however, then hold on to it. Because GoPro is going to be building and selling use-ready versions of the device. So 16 GoPros on a rig………actually, maybe I’ll just buy a Caribbean island instead.
The assembler is a bit of software that kits the feeds together, smoothes them out, and then, renders them in a 360-degree pattern. The special player meanwhile, is not as special as you think. Yup, it’s good ‘ole YouTube. This wasn’t the most surprising announcement, considering YouTube already has support for 360-degree video, but it was definitely an unexpected move.
And those are some of the most important launches at Google I/O 2015. No Nexus announcements, nothing from Space X, and not even a peep from Project Arya. Please Google, I want a modular phone so bad. Why must you torture me? The fact that there’s been no word from Google’s ATAP research team (Advanced Technology and Products) on Project Arya does not bode well for the phone. But then again, there was not even a hint of Google Glass, but the company has been clear the project isn’t scrapped and will be revived soon. So maybe all is not lost.