Google IO was upon us this week and it’s fair to say we were glued and excited to see all the latest and greatest Google has to offer the world. Typically Google takes this opportunity to show off the latest version of Android and further updates across the board all around Google, and this year was most certainly no different. One thing we would say though, without sounding too bold this early in to this post, we were for the first time, very disappointed by Google IO, but of course we’ll let you be the judge of that.
Android has always been the main thing to look for when Google kicks off IO and this year was no different, in fact Google kicked off straight away to Android off the bat. Last year Google was focused entirely on the, then new, ‘Material Design’ across the fresh Android L which of course became Lollipop, this year the focus was on fixing the bugs and smoothening out the edges. … Yes, that’s what Google claimed Lollipop and KitKat would do too, but we guess no one will argue with more stability, although some new features wouldn’t go a miss.
Google didn’t talk about Android for long, which in reality says it all about what’s actually new you’ll be able to see, but their of course is some new features;
Not the most exciting “feature”, but easily the biggest sign of Google’s smoothening out the edges in Android.
Facebook is in reality not the most trust-worthy company, and quite frankly neither is Google, but when you get a certain uneducated whistle-blower viewing the ‘Messenger’ App Permissions, out popped a world of conspiracy over what Facebook was doing with what you were doing through the app. Turned out, not much, but the wording, and forced acceptance is definitely something that was in need of a change with Android, and that’s just what Google are doing with Android M.
Now, permissions are simplified to definitions which make sense, such as “Microphone” or “Camera”, and you can now both install apps and updates without having to first accept a permission beforehand. This is not only good for developers as permissions won’t scare users away, but the second you need a feature requiring a permission, then and only then do you need to accept.
Control over Permissions
But Google didn’t stop there, within the Settings you will be able to not only control which permissions through one app, but out of a list of accepted permissions, you can handle every app, as well as decline a previously accepted permission should you wish moving forward. Of course this has been in platforms like iOS for a while, but certainly great to finally see it on Android.
The first thing you think of when you think of the Web experience on Android is of course Google Chrome, and Google are making some big updates to the way the Chrome web engine runs on the Android platform with M. It goes without saying that Chrome will be faster and interact with more updated web standards going forward, Google are also speeding up web connectivity in hard to hit areas by smartly compressing the Web in certain regions.
However, whilst Chrome is a very decent browser, whenever you browse a link through an app that’s not a browser by choice, you’re left with a less than decent in-app web viewer. The problem with this is of course the pages you visit online don’t have the latest enhancements that Chrome has to offer, of course you could just open the link in Chrome, but it’s by far not as seamless as it should be, which will be no more with App Links.
Now if an app opens a Web interface it opens the actual Chrome browser with full Chrome functionality within the app. Developers can even add their own temporary features to Chrome during that session, for example a Pin it button in Pinterest.
This functionality also works both ways. With App Links in Chrome, when you browse a Web page with a link which could open in one of your apps, for example a Twitter link, Chrome will now smartly aggregate priority of what to do with certain Web links, all with a simple line of code within that application. We can imagine this being useful for Twitter, Instagram and a ton more.
Another big feature coming with Android M is a whole new payment process for Android, Android Pay. Now, we all know what you’re thinking, what about Google Wallet? Isn’t this just the same? Luckily, absolutely not.
The biggest things that’s interesting about Android Pay is how very familiar it’s working progress is. You pay for items supported of course by Android Pay, or any Contactless Payment transfer, life your phone to the receiver, select your Card and authenticate (with your Finger where available), then the app will send an encrypted transaction not using any of your actual payment details but one time details, and of course paying with a tick in a circle. In other words, it works identically than Apple Pay.
The similarities with Apple Pay though is a very good thing, this not only means you’ve a more secure payment method, but you don’t need to worry about an insert of hardware like Google Wallet, which relied on either a chip and identifier in the phone or the SIM Card.
Android Pay will be rolling out shortly following M release in the “fall”.
Android M will also natively support Fingerprint scanners across the entire Android AOSP. So you can natively unlock using a Fingerprint, make purchases through Google Play, and apps can use your Fingerprint too where available.
Now of course we all want the best possible battery life on our devices, and with Android M Google are adding a feature called ‘Doze’ to hopefully improve that dramatically.
Doze essentially puts your Android device, focused mainly on Tablets, to a much deeper sleep to preserve a vastly larger standby time. Google claims that on a Nexus 6, standby time was increase 2x, but of course time will tell and real world use will definitely be interesting to see.
Google also confirmed what we all knew was coming, USB-C will be the new standard on future Android flagships, with very clear advantages over microUSB, some of which you’ll likely already know, here’s some of the biggest;
- Reversible connector
- Support for fast charging (3-5 faster than microUSB)
- Support for video out, and further accessories
- Charge a device from your device
And that’s Android M, for now at least. Google have released a Preview of Android M for the Nexus 5, 6 and Media Player, which are available through Google’s Developer channels.
All future features from Google IO will be available for Android devices running 4.3 Jellybean or later, and interestingly (aside from Wear…yet) will be available on iOS too, which is interesting.
Google has taken their Google+ Photos away from Google+ thankfully, likely as nobody uses it unless forced to through either YouTube or Android itself, but ironically what they’ve done with the changes they’ve made, is actually one of the best possible Photos solutions you can find! No really.
Whilst the Google Photos app isn’t too different to the way it was through the Google+ Photos app on Android, it’s cleaned up, separated from Google+ bloat, and the most important thing, you get unlimited storage to back up all your Photos / videos for free! This is unparalleled, and it’s really worth trying out, whether on Android, Web, or even iOS. Of course this is an app which you need to try for yourself to give a true impression, but our first impression is good.
Google kicked off a very brief speech of Android Wear to highlight the current Android Wear stats. Currently over 4,000 Android Wear applications with key apps like Spotify coming very soon, as well as 1,500 custom Watch faces.
Google didn’t announce many new things coming to Android Wear other than a few key points coming soon, but they are of note and we’ll list them here;
- Always on
- Wrist gestures
- Draw emoji
- Touch watch face = App launcher
Of course their are many advantages of these new features, for example having the Watch always on allows you to easily get quick access to the apps you’re using in an energy efficient darker user interface. One thing we would say however, is the wrist gestures Google have been promoting alongside Android Wear are less practical than they sound as you’ve to really yank it un-naturally.
Probably the most useful addition to Android Wear is a finally for all of us is an App launcher finally quickly accessible from your Watch face by tapping on the Clock face. Less useful is the draw emoji feature allowing you to simply draw the Emoji you wish to add to your message, and the Watch will guess which you want through suggestions and applies it.
Google Now… on tap
Google Now is going to get a lot smarter in Android M, through an additional set of features called Now on Tap. Where Google Now looks at your entire digital footprint and uses that to apply some digital smarts to your world, Now on Tap gets more granular and focuses on delivering contextual information inside of the app you are currently in. It can search for showtimes for a movie your friend just emailed you about, give you pictures of food you see on a menu that doesn’t visualize well, and a ton more. Google used an example of someone playing a song through Spotify, and Google Now through an “OK Google” could answer questions about that song without specifying the song name or artist.
If you’re a fan of Google Now, this is a huge step forward.
Just like at last years Google IO, Google gave out to everyone in the audience a Google Cardboard, Google’s lowest priced attempt at bring virtual reality to the masses. With the latest version of Google Cardboard, Google have increased the size for more larger sizes, hello Nexus 6, and more devices running forward. Google Cardboard supports Android and iOS natively through the API Google are providing.
But of course Google are taking Cardboard to the next level with a feature they call Expeditions. With Expeditions, Google are allowing users of Google Cardboard to take a journey anywhere around the world in a virtual reality fashion, and for a collection of devices to be controlled by a main device, an example used for a School class going to the wonders of the world and in the ocean through virtual reality all controlled by the Teachers machine.
This was easily the most impressive thing Google showed off at IO, and it’s going to be incredible to see where this goes moving forward, and all of this out of a piece of Cardboard and Velcro.
To vastly improve the Google Cardboard experience, Google are allowing anyone to create their own 360 degree virtual reality world, which you can record with a mount of a collection of Cameras.
Of course you can create and configure the mounts yourself, or Google have made the experience even more easier thanks to a partnership with GoPro, who will be offering a build to order experience for everyone. Just like Google Cardboard in general, the potential is massive and it will be very interesting to see where people take it.
But how will you play the 360 degree content on your Mobile Device? Through YouTube of course. Google will be updating the YouTube experience on both Android and iOS, and through the app you can watch in full 360 degree, and when you add up how cheap a Google Cardboard is, the experience really does become incredible.
So their you have it, Google IO 2015. Whilst it would’ve been nice to see a little bit more from the world of Android, and at least something for the world of Chrome OS, but what we have seen, be it less than typical from Google, is typical Google IO, from phones to virtual reality in the click of a button.
We stick to what we said before, that we’re rather disappointed with Google IO, similar to how we weren’t as impressed with Microsoft’s Build conference, we’ve just got Apple left now with WWDC in the next couple of weeks.