Google I/O 2014: Android L

Google

Every year, at inconsistent times of the year, Google have their annual I/O Developers Event, in which consists of traditionally 2 days of keynotes and 3 days for the Devs to check out and learn the best things happening in the world of Google moving forwards, difference being this year the 3 days became 2.

But, for those not in attendance, or those who simply just want to know what the future in the world of Google holds, the keynote was the best place to start, and here’s our keynote run-through.

We must also mention, that whilst some protesters were present at this years I/O, they did not affect any of the keynote, except maybe some odd sounding noises during the event, all of which have been patched out from the current I/O keynote video.

Stats

As always at these tech conferences, we kick things off with some stats.

  • Google Play paid out over $5B in last year
  • Everyone gets a piece of Cardboard (apparently a joke), either a G Watch of Gear Live, Moto 360 when available.
  • Google I/O 2014 Day 1 Re-cap
  • 20% women devs in last year
  • Open Platforms?? Android and Chrome
  • Smartphone Shipments: 315M Q4 2013
  • Android 30-day Active Users: 1BN Active Users
  • Android Tablets: 46% last year, 62% tablet market this year (not including Kindle etc)!
  • Mobile Chrome usage from 27M active mobile users, 300M now

Android feature rundown

Before kicking in to the main announcements from Google I/O, we do want to bring attention to this slide from Google I/O, showing ‘Android Innovation’. The intention of this slide, was, of course, as a little jab at iOS 8, but also a good point to look at just how quickly Android really has been moving forward over the years to get where it is today, be it that it’s more than slowed down in the last few releases!

Android One

Back at Microsoft’s Build Conference, Microsoft showed off some new devices coming in from Micromax and Karbonn, both of which used what Microsoft called it’s Reference Design Program, in partnership with Qualcomm, so how does Android One match up against this.

Well, Micromax and Karbonn return, along side Spice and more OEMs to be announced once expanded, but the general story is more or less the same. With Android One, OEMs in immerging markets, starting in India, will be able to create hardware for retail sale, then Google themselves will handle the software side of things, but it’s that Google software side that gets us really interested about Android One.

  • Devices will run Stock Android
  • OEMs can request Auto installs of certain Play Apps
  • Google will prioritise OS Software Updates, in the same way they do for Nexus devices and Google Play Edition hardware

So let’s get this straight, for around $100, you’ll be able to get a Stock Android device, yes not with the best specs, which runs the latest and greatest version of Android with Google’s backing … we’re in!

Android One of course does seem very similar to the rumoured ‘Android Silver’ program which was rumoured to replace the ‘Nexus’ program, which has yet to be seen what Silver will offer, we’re guessing a similar model for high end, either way we’re happy with Android One.

Android L

You’re probably wondering why just Android L is in our title of our Google I/O post? Well, the simple answer is, that’s genuinely all that was announced throughout the keynote! But, one thing that was different was of course, Android no longer means Phones and Tablets, it means a lot more!

Whilst speculation had risen pointing to a ‘Lollipop’ name for the next version of Android, the name remains one thing we will not find out about the next version of Android …yet, the name will likely be announced once Android L, as it’s known now, gets finished for public release.

For now known as Android L, the next version of Android, following KitKat, is disappointedly not much of a feature release. Whilst Google touted over 5,000 APIs, if you look in to them, almost all of them are related to the real big, and almost only, feature of Android L, it’s User Interface!

Material Design

Material Design UI Android L
Material Design on Chrome OS, Android Tablets, Phones, TVs and Watches.

Codenamed ‘Material Design’, this is the new look everything Google will begin transitioning too, whether that be within Android L, to apps,  websites and of course much more! Whether you like it or not, Google will be pushing it out everywhere in the fall starting with their Gmail on Android and iOS.

The key feature of the Material Design is animation, which now all run at 60fps throughout the OS, which is a massive step forward for Android, which almost for a laughable time, even to this day, still experiences lag, but the Material Design effort could see the final end of this, which we’re more than excited about!

But, the Material Design isn’t just a local UI, for those wanting to use the Material Design online, Google will allow you to do so using their Polymer technology, which will allow websites to use the Material Design at 60fps. More information on Material Design, and how to take advantage of it is available on Google’s Design Page.

OUR IMPRESSIONS

Whilst the changes aesthetically are rather minimal, we must admit before we continue that we’re not fans of the new Material Design. We’ve tried to give it chances, but whether it’s from the childish colours, to the over-animations of basic touches throughout the OS, everything to us looks really cheap, which is such a shame.

It’s even more of a shame when you take a step backwards and remember the biggest change in Android UI design last was in 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which was a massive design change over anything before it and finally brought Android forward in UI aesthetics, but with the Material Design we have to be honest, we think it’s a real step backwards.

Whilst we applaud Google’s attention to detail with the Material Design, there’s also such thing as taking it a step too far, and it’s that we think they’ve done. Don’t get us wrong, we like a few elements of the UI, which we’ll get in to when we talk about the platform itself, but as far as visuals go, we’re not fans.

DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Android_OEMs

The Material Design literally was the highlight of Google’s show at I/O this week, but it does bring up a rather important problem, does it actually matter? Consider the fact that Google’s Android platform has an insane number of committed OEMs who all inject their own vision of the platform through UI skins and add-ons, so where does the Material Design stand now?

Another aspect where Android UI is rather irrelevant is customisation. Whether it’s from routing your Android device through methods such as Cyanogenmod, to simply installing new Launchers, basically make any changes to the Android UI rather irrelevant. The only aspect of the Android UI that will remain visible with the Material Design changes will be the apps themselves, which let’s be honest loads of apps change their UI and we don’t batter an eye lid … unless it’s Facebook in which we complain obviously!

Long story short, if you don’t like the Material Design, for the 90-odd percent of Android users, you won’t tell a difference anyway!

Phones/Tablets

Android L Nexus 5

Android L will of course be rolling out to Android Smartphones this Fall, or at least to Nexus 5, 4, 7 and 10 this fall, as well as the expected new Nexus device, and this is what your home screen will look like. Whilst the Home Screen doesn’t see much changes other than the changes in the on screen buttons, everything you open or interact with has seen a new UI.

The best way to describe the Material Design changes we find is simple, think Google Now with rainbow colours. But aside from the UI changes in L, Google did of course show off the feature set of Android L, which leads us to another thing we were rather disappointed about with L, their really isn’t much to talk about, but we’ll get to the tiny amount they did talk about.

64-bit on ART

When Apple introduced the iPhone 5S, as well as the latest generation iPad Air & Mini, with them they introduced to the world the A7. The A7 was special as it became the first 64-bit mobile processor to hit the masses, whilst we can all rant about Ram and the irrelevancies of 64-bit on iOS now, what no one can deny, is the tables were turned to Google to finally introduce 64-bit support natively on Android, and that will be one of the major features in Android L.

But, it won’t just be 64-bit that will get Android users excited, the entire OS will now run exclusively on the new Android Run Time itself known as ART. Previously, Android has run on Dalvik, but when Android 4.4 KitKat came out, the option to test a new run time known as ART was available as an option promising noticeable performance improvements. Whilst, lets be honest, performance improvements from ART were un-noticeable, with Android L, the final adjustments on ART are done and it will now be the default run time.

Other tiny changes in Android L for Smartphones/Tablets

  • Graphics Improvements with Android Extension Pack (Improved Graphics Engine, high end hardware only)
  • Project Volta, battery saving codename in Android L. Battery Saver tool also available (up to 90 mins really??)
  • Do Not Disturb mode
  • New flatter keyboard, coming to Play Store
  • Over the coming Summer months, all Google experience will see Material updates
  • Enhanced notifications, actionable and available through the Lock Screen *cough iOS*
  • Heads up notification = actionable notification that appear on top of the app at the top … again, like iOS
  • Personal unlocking = Checks for devices, location and other attributes to check if its you, unlock automatically if detected, won’t if it can’t and Pin lock etc will appear
  • Google.com search results re-invented with Material Design, demoed with a Search Exploration.
  • Recents (Multitasking) UI revamped, now shows a sea of front to back cards UI, each website shows up in it’s own screen as well as applications actively running, (similar to what Windows Phone 8.1 does you’re not the first Google!!!)
  • Website to app linking, including mapping to certain app locations, previously only on certain apps, now any
  • Search to app linking also included
  • developer.android.com Dev Preview available from Thur, images for Nexus devices available Thur 26
  • Android for Work: One experience for your Home and Corporate experiences with L, similar to Blackberry 10. No app modifications will be needed through Play. Samsung Knox integration will also be available due to Samsung’s previous efforts.
  • Drive unlimited storage $10/m

Google Play Updates

Google Play

At WWDC 2014, Apple announced they now had over 1.2 million apps in the App Store, whilst we didn’t get Google Play numbers, we did get a few updates from Google coming to Google Play, all of which will fairly improve the experience moving forward.

Interestingly, Google noted their Google Play Services updates via Google Play, which, according to Google, over 93% of users are running the latest version of Play Services. The reason this is important is because, again according to Google, malware protection and security patches are all available through these updates and provided through Google Play, which until they mentioned that, even industry experts online were tweeted questions of proof, as are we!

The big update to Google Play of course was the final introduction of Factory Reset and Universal Data Controls, both of which are great final features to arrive to Android built in. Both Apple and Microsoft have had solutions for their iOS and Windows Phone platforms respectively, now Android has remote wipe and factory reset protection built in, taking Google existing Device Manager to the next level.

Other Announcements

ANDROID WEAR
  • Uses precisely the same tools already existent on existed Android Smartphones
  • Supports square and circular screens
  • (Android devices checked 125 times a day, average …REALLY?? )
  • LG G Watch demoed
  • Always on display
  • Google Now essentially on a watch, same cards, but with full Notification information too with swipes & actions
  • OK Google, actionable and always listening, otherwise double tap screen
  • Voice Notes demoed, but failed
  • Vibrational notifications on watch
  • Calls integrated, instant replies when receiving a call built in, accept or decline etc
  • Do not disturb built in to the watch, swipe down
  • Music controls on watch, pause, skip etc, with album art shown on watch
  • Steps counted and integrated, with Heart Rate monitoring, based on external devices syncing which are supported
  • Pintrest integration …..yey?
  • Full Android SDK available/released, almost all existing Android APIs available
  • Eat24 app demoed with Watch integration, order last meal in 3 taps
  • AllTheCooks app demoed with recipe and guided instruction integration with Watch
  • All Watches water resistant
  • Wear Devices: LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live available now. Moto 360 available in Summer with circular display *disappointed awww on that*
ANDROID TV
  • The TV similar to Smartphones in 2006, no consistency, confusing, one per platform
  • Not a new platform, TV getting existing Android experiences
  • Remotes will be a simple D pad, app available for phone (Likely Android, possibly iOS) or Wear devices
  • Home UI, accessible with a Home button, gives you recommendations to Live TV or applications or Games. Integrated with Play Movies and TV, kind of like Apple TV
  • Voice search can use phone as a voice remote with full Google Now experience
  • Any Android Game that can use Remote integration can be used on Android TV, once updated for TV, then available in the Android TV Store.
  • Full Google Cast support available with Android TV, exactly the same features as Chromecast also available
  • Sharp, Sony and Philips future TV range will support Android TV, and many more launching from the Fall.
  • Demoes running on ‘ADT1’
CHROME OS UPDATES
  • Started 3 years ago
  • Top 10 highest rated Laptops on Amazon (US) are ChromeBooks
  • Chromebooks will feature the same Unlocking feature found in Android L such as Personal Unlocks
  • Notification Sync coming to Chromebook
  • Android apps coming to Chromebooks with the tiniest App editing for the best experience. Evernote, Vine and Flipboard demoed.
CHROMECAST
  • Available now in 18 Countries
  • Google Cast Ready apps
  • Launched with just 5 apps, now over 40
  • Google Cast SDK for Android, iOS and Chrome (Windows/Mac/ChromeOS)
  • chromecast.com/apps or ChromeCast app allows app discovery for your Chromecast
  • You can now cast to a TV without being on the same WiFi network, previously both devices had to be on same WiFi, will now work without WiFi, using the Cloud. This will be an ‘opt-in- feature and optional
  • Google Cast Ambient Experience (Backdrop), demoed with an iPhone 5. Allow you to add your own Photos on TV and more. Places will deliver satellite images, as well as other topics like Lifestyle, Art, Weather, News etc. If you want more information about an image shown, ask Google Now ‘what’s on my Chromecast’, and it will tell you, even on iOS.
  • Mirror Android devices on TV using ‘Cast Screen’. Not compatible with all devices though, currently only HTC One M7 (oddly not M8), LG G2, G2 Pro, Nexus 4, 5, 7 (2013), 10, Samsung Galaxy Note3, S4, S5 and more coming in the future.

Summary

We were excited following Microsoft’s Build Conference, that excitement continued through Apple’s WWDC 2014, but we have to be honest, we were incredibly bored throughout this years I/O. We’ve covered I/O for a few years now, but never before have we been this disappointed.

Whilst we do only cover Smartphones and Computers so the whole Android Wear/TV/Auto content is not covered at its fullest, all of them are generally Google Now and Play content in the given scenarios, boring and expected.

We’re sure you’ve probably noticed throughout this post, but it really was a hard post to write as we generally weren’t impressed with any of the announcements, and we’re not going to lie to you and tell you otherwise, here’s hoping next year is miles better.

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