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Digital Life

Android dominates Google I/O developer conference

Published on Jun 27, 2014 3:07 PM

No Google Glass. No Nexus devices. Like Apple’s WWDC, Google’s I/O developer conference earlier this week was more about the software rather than the gadgets.

Google’s senior vice-president Sundar Pichai started the ball rolling by boasting that the Android platform now counts 1 billion active monthly users, up from last year’s 538 million. Mr Pichai, who heads Google’s Android and Chrome efforts, also revealed that Android tablets now hold 62 per cent of the market.

Judging by the announcements at Google I/O, the company has big ambitions for Android. Google is bringing it to automobiles, wearables and the living room. It also introduced a new consistent design for the Android interface that spans across all kinds of devices.

Here are the key takeaways from Google I/O:

Android to go into cars, watches and TVs

Google's senior vice president Sundar Pichai introducing the Moto 360 smart watch running Android Wear. -- Reuters

Google introduced its Android Wear software for wearable devices in March. At Google I/O, it was announced that two Android Wear smart watches, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live, are now available for pre-orders on the Google Play Store in selected regions. A third from Motorola is expected to follow soon.

Besides wearables, Google is trying, for a third time, to bring Android to TVs and set-top boxes. Earlier attempts have failed to gain traction among consumers, but Google has revamped the interface and added the ability to search using voice commands.

But its secret weapon is that Android TV lets you play Android games with a controller. Sony and Sharp are making TVs for this platform while Asus and Razer are expected to launch Android TV boxes later this year.

Last, but not least, Android will be making its way into automobiles from up to 28 automakers. Powering the dashboard on vehicles, Android Auto connects to Android smartphones so you can still have your apps, such as Maps and Spotify while behind the wheel. Voice commands also make for a hands-free experience.

What it means: Unfortunately, history suggests it will be a while before we’ll see Android TV in Singapore. The local Google Play store does not yet offer movies or TV shows, which seems like a reasonable prerequisite before Google launches any Android TV devices.

The LG and Samsung Android smart watches are currently not available for locals via the Google Play store, though individual manufacturers may choose to launch them in Singapore, like what Asus does with the Nexus 7.

As for Android Auto, it is still early days despite Google stating that it will be in cars later this year. Much of it will depend on automakers and how quickly they adopt the technology.

L: the next version of Android

This is material design, a new design language underpinning the latest version of Android. -- Google

Google showed off an early developer build of the next version of Android. Currently known as “L-Release” - the company has not finalised the name - the upcoming Android operating system is expected to be released sometime this fall.

It use a new Material theme, which is part of a new design language to make Android compatible for all devices. Google says that the design “uses tactile surfaces, bold graphic design, and fluid motion to create beautiful, intuitive experiences.”

First impression: Android L certainly looks colourful. The interface gives the impression of depth using multiple layers. For instance, instead of pressing a button to access quick settings in the notifications shade, you swipe down to bring out the icons, giving the illusion of another layer underneath. The multitasking menu now adds browser tabs along with the usual plethora of running apps.

Besides a new interface, Android L is expected to feature improvements in battery life and performance. Like Apple, Google is also introducing a remote kill switch to let users remotely wipe their Android devices if they lose them.

What it means: Those using Nexus and Motorola phones are likely to get Android L earlier than other Android brands. But manufacturers are now increasingly quick with rolling out the latest Android updates.

HTC has said that its latest HTC One (M8) and HTC One (M7) will get Android L within 90 days of getting the final software from Google. Expect other manufacturers to be similarly prompt with updates.

Bringing Android smartphones to low-cost markets with Android One

An Android One phone from Micromax that costs under US$100. -- AFP

Google unveiled the Android One program to help manufacturers build low-cost Android smartphones for less developed markets. The company is starting its efforts in India.

In order to hit the price points (around US$100) for these markets, Google engineers will produce reference hardware designs that can be adapted by phone makers when building their own. An example used by Google was a 4.5-inch, dual-SIM phone from Indian manufacturer Micromax.

Like Nexus devices, these phones will run on stock Android and receive the latest updates promptly from Google.

What it means: Android One lets Google set a baseline for minimum hardware, countering critics that deride the cheap models out there for running outdated versions of Android. A larger Android phone market could also attract more developers, leading to more diverse apps on Google Play.

Given that Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi sells out its affordable smartphones here, albeit in limited quantities over the Internet, local consumers want cheap phones, too. This program could spur more companies and even start-ups to offer inexpensive phones.