Google I/O 2015 announcements: Android M, Photos app, Jump VR, Android Pay and much more
In stark contrast to Microsoft Build, Google I/O 2015 was a developer’s conference that was exciting and full of brilliant forward-thinking ideas. Here’s a brief round up of the all of the major announcements from Android Pay, to Google Photos, to its new VR capturing feature, Jump.
What was announced (at a glance):
- – Jump VR
- – Google Cardboard 2.0
- – Google Play parental controls
- – New Google Maps features
- – Photos app
- – Google Now
- – IoT: Brillo and Weave
- – Android Wear
- – Greater control over app permissions
- – Android Pay
- – Improved charging and power management
- – App streamlining
Google also announced Jump, a new method of capturing VR footage. A 16 camera array, Jump captures 16 simultaneous feeds of high-definition content, using shared camera settings and frame levels to synchronise each separate feed. It’s then up to the Jump’s software to join the feeds together, benefitting from computational photography and computer vision to create a stereoscopic image – and iron out the seams. Thanks to 3D depth alignment, Google Jump also doesn’t suffer from the same joints as other composite 3D footage.
After announcing that Google Cardboard now has 1 million users, Clay Bavor talked about several improvements to the cardboard VR box.
A tweaked design for the Google Cardboard means it can now accommodate phones of up to 6 inches. It’s also easier to assemble – only taking 3 steps.
A heftier announcement is that Cardboard SDK will now support both Android and iOS, meaning you can use Apple phones with a Cardboard setup.
Bavor then went on to reveal Expeditions, a VR tool for the classroom that allows a teacher to take students on virtual reality field trips. I’d imagine that this could be a pretty cool tool for immersive teaching of history or science.
Google Play parental controls
Having built Google Play into an app store to rival that of Apple’s, Google was more than happy to boast about its 1 billion daily active users and 50 billion installs of applications over the next 12 months. Play is now growing twice as fast in developing nations such as India.
But there’s still a section of Android users that aren’t properly addressed. In the US a third of Android users are families with young children, and so Play has decided to launch a family friendly initiative to point out the apps made for families.
When searching for an app a little green star with a smiley face will show it’s safe for families. There will also be an entirely new “designed for families” section of the Play Store, allowing families to safely browse and download apps their children will love. Let’s just hope it’s isn’t open to the same abuses that YouTube’s Kids section has been exposed to.
Google is working to make Maps better offline
Google is “investing in creating a better experience for the next billion users” with a better offline experience for Maps.
Following a brief mention of the public transport Transit function being brought to an increasing number of places, Jen Fitzpatrick spoke about how Google maps is bringing more features offline.
In Airplane mode, without any internet connection, you’ll still be able to search for places. Impressively, you’ll also be able to view reviews and opening hours for places when offline as well.
The biggest cheer from the audience came with the announcement that turn-by-turn audio directions will also be available offline. This looks to be a very useful set of feature, especially when travelling abroad and navigating cities without an internet connection.
Google will start to bring Maps Offline later in the year.
Having initially been a part of Google Plus, Google Photos has been spun out into its own app and it’s looking mightily impressive.
Developed to work intuitively and continue on Google’s theme of creating a seamless user experience, Photos lets you store your images and videos securely, whilst assisting you in creating scrapbook memories and share them seamlessly with friends and family.
All your photos and videos are stored up on Google Drive and, from the demo on stage at I/O, you can navigate through these cloud-stored images seamlessly. Images are grouped by date and you can easily zoom in and out with Photos automatically sorting pictures into Day, Week, Month and Year categories. If you’d rather have your photos stored in a more personal way, you can have it automatically group them by people and places, with Google magically identifying where an image was taken and who’s in it. Somehow Photos is also capable of recognising individuals over time as you won’t need to tag people or places in pictures.
From anywhere in your timeline, a quick swipe to the left, Photos can suggest ways to creatively save your pictures into albums, GIFs and videos with music. Of course, you don’t have to take Photo Assistant up on the offer, but it’s a nice way to quickly create memorable albums.
Multi photo selection has also improved: you now only need to press, hold and then drag to select multiple photos. Plus, users now have a new “no strings attached” way of sharing those photos via a browser link that can be clicked by anyone on any platform.
The best bit, though? Google Photos, from today, delivers unlimited photo backup for Android users, and even videos with a resolution of up to 1080p.
Google Now… Now on Tap
Google also showcased some dramatic improvements to the Google Now system in Android M. Dubbed Now on Tap, the new functionality is designed to assist you “in the moment” – and it now extends to apps. By using what Google is calling “Natural language understanding” Now on Tap is able to intelligently pull relevant information based on simple speech commands, and the context of your situation.
When listening to music, Now on Tap answers your questions about a track that’s playing in Google Music. If you’re texting a friend about going to dinner it can understand your conversation and give you extra information as you go – links to reviews about your restaurant, for instance.
Although currently in the pilot stage with over 100 partners on board, a new-improved Google Now with Now on Tap functionality will be included in Android M.
Internet of Things: Google reveal Project Brillo and Weave
Google has revealed steps to unify the sprawling Internet of Things (IoT) using Brillo OS and Weave communications language.
Teams from Nest, Android and Chrome OS have been working together to create a comprehensive system that links integrated devices in the home.
Name-dropping the Nest Thermostat and Nest Protect CO protector, Sundar Pichai claimed that Google is putting forward an “end-to-end solution” for the IoT. This is broken down into three parts: the underlying operating system, the communications layer and an elegant operating system for users.
Project Brillo will be the underlying OS. Brillo is “derived” from Android but “polished” to the lower levels. Because it’s based on Android, it has broad silicon support. It’s also easy to secure, has minimal system requirements, and supports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which is very handy.
Weave is the cross-platform communications layer between the cloud, your smartphone and Brillo devices. Essentially, it lets these parts of the IoT talk to each other.
Android devices will auto-detect both Brillo and Weave. Brillo will launch Q3 2015 and Weave will launch Q4 2015.
Android Wear 5.1.1
After making some sly digs at Apple Watch for having a “lack of choice” in terms of design, Android Wear director David Singleton went on to highlight some of the new features of Android Wear update 5.1.1.
While the crowd applauded the new features of emoji recognition, hands-free interaction and always-on screens, none of these features are actually very new to Android Wear at all. The latest update came out weeks before I/O.
However, Singleton did highlight upcoming Android Wear Apps, and a snazzy voice activation feature for Uber’s Android Wear app. He also revealed that Android Wear already has 4,000 apps available for download. A large number, but with Apple Watch already growing in popularity, it will need to grow faster to stay ahead of the competition.
Android M gives you more control over your app’s permissions
With Android M, Google is looking to work on improving user experience. This doesn’t just mean quashing bugs, but altering the fundamental ways in which Android works on a developer level.
Central to this idea is streamlining how users interact with apps. In Android M, instead of Apps hassling you for permissions upon installation, it only requires you to authorise the services when you actually use them. One example given was WhatsApp’s microphone support. Here it was automatically turned off upon installation, and when you decide to use a voice note for the first time it kicks in and asks if you’d like to give WhatsApp permission to use the microphone.
In each Android M-ready app you can pick and choose what permissions each app has. Any legacy apps – i.e ones made for Lollipop or earlier – will operate as they always have, meaning no headaches installing older applications.
Google offers first glimpse of Android Pay
Google reveals the Android Pay system that enables users able to authorise payments through fingerprints on Android M. Android Pay works with KitKat or later devices and is, according to Dave Burke, about “simplicity, security, and choice.”
Android Pay uses NFC and Host Card Emulation and works with 700,000 stores in the US, including McDonalds Uber. It also works in-app for in-app purchases.
“The same partnership model that fueled Android’s growth” will help Android Pay, claims Burke.
Android Pay is an open platform, so can be activated either through Google or your bank’s app. According to the presentation, Google is working with American Express, Visa, Discover and Mastercard.
Interestingly, Android M’s inbuilt fingerprint sensor will allow users to authorise payments using fingerprints. The news comes as an onslaught against Apple Pay, and is a clear attempt to grab hold of the burgeoning mobile payment service.
Android M’s improved power management and charging
Android M introduces Doze, a new power management system to get the most out of your Android device. The new system uses motion detection to monitor when your tablet or smartphone is unattended, and then puts it into a deeper, energy-saving sleep than the normal standby mode.
Although Google say it’ll take slightly longer to wake up, alarms and chat requests will function as normal. What’s more Google has already put the new system to the test – and the results are impressive. A Nexus 9 loaded with Android M lasted twice as long on standby as one with Lollipop.
Android M also has future-proof support for USB Type-C – as seen on Apple’s latest MacBook. Google believe it can help charge devices at up to 3.5 times the speed, and like Apple’s Lightning connector, it also works any way up. USB Type C’s versatility means it can be used to charge, transfer data and much more – so Android M now allows you to choose select the function when connected to any other USB Type C device. You’ll even be able to use your Android M smartphone to charge other devices.
Android M app streamlining
Another feature of Android M is streamlining how apps interact with one another. Instead of opening Chrome or bundling in a custom browser for an in-app web browsing experience, Google has developed a service known as Chrome Custom Tabs.
Click a web link inside an app and Chrome Custom Tabs takes over, seamlessly layering in a Chrome tab with the same look and feel as the app you came from. This ensures users have lightweight apps, and all their login, browser history and site preferences are automatically carried across.
Android M’s other streamlining initiative is its ability to link from app to app. With a new piece of code dropped into Android M, you’ll see far less of those irritating “which app do you want to open this in?” messages. Instead, Android M will just know the best app to open with.
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