Android M to Google Photos: Here’s what all Google could announce tomorrow.
New Delhi: Google I/O 2015 annual developers conference is all set to kick start from tomorrow and while the search giant prepares to show off some of its coolest technological innovations which developers could leverage to build their apps, we bring to you a preview of speculated products which could be unwrapped on the two-day event starting May 28 in San Francisco. Android, already the most widely used operating system in smartphones, could soon find its way into refrigerators, door locks and all manner of other “smart” appliances around the home.
Google doesn’t host many events—there’s no quarterly launch cycle, like there is with Apple, or the scattershot “Hey we have a new phone!” approach from LG or Samsung. All signs point to a developer preview of Android M being announced at Google I/O and made available shortly after (as was the case with Lollipop last year), so we could find out more about this soon. It is expected to have more robust security by allowing users to have more control over personal data such as phone numbers, locations, names and addresses. As well as pushing into home appliances, it could also be extended to play a deeper role in virtual reality, allowing Android developers to build apps for smartphones or VR headsets.
In years prior, the company has used I/O, its annual confab for developers, as a stage for splashy announcements, including showing off its mobile operating system Android in 2008 and its futuristic headset, Google Glass, in 2012—the latter famously demonstrated live by skydivers (video). Google wouldn’t let a developers’ conference go to waste without promoting the latest changes to Android, and this year the changes could be significant. The keynotes are always long, and there’s a significant amount to cover in just two days—which makes sense, because Google is working on everything. There aren’t a ton of details about the rumor, only that Google may be turning an eye toward Google Play Services, looking for methods to optimize this key app that powers most of the APIs and tools behind Android and third-party apps.
Extending Android to even more devices could help Google draw more people to its online services, and by putting the software in home appliances, Google could gather further valuable insights into people’s behavior. The operating system may introduce several features that are now familiar to iPhone users, including one-tap payment and a fingerprint scanner to unlock devices. Why this matters: Better battery life is something that seems to elude every smartphone release, with the only marginal improvements coming from larger batteries. Google also appears to have released an intriguing talking point, first spotted by 9to5 Google, that shows a new emphasis on Android’s business users: “This opens huge new markets for hundreds of millions of devices to workers at small business, deskless workers, logistics and warehousing jobs,” read one item on the conference agenda shortly before it was taken down. There have been reports that both Huawei and LG are working on their own Nexus handsets, with the former supposedly introducing a larger 6-inch phablet.
But according to a report last week in The Information, Google is developing new technology called Brillo that will run on low-powered devices independent of Nest with as little as 64MB or 32MB of memory. When Google SVP Sundar Pichai takes the stage, he and a team of executives will talk about browsers, TVs, cars, smartwatches, smartphones, tablets, PCs, instant messaging, email, photos, social networks, calendars, maps, smoke detectors, wearables, video, and likely, a few surprises. Google Photo service: In tune with Google’s plans of segregating the photos service from its Google+ social network, we might as well be able to see that coming true at this year’s conference. That means just about any appliance around the home—the lights, the air conditioner, a Crock-Pot—could be running Brillo and hooked up to the Web, so you could control them remotely from a smartphone or a PC. Right now, there are a lot of floating theories about what M stands for—Milkshake, M&M, Macadamia Nut Cookie?—but Google might not reveal the name until after the conference, as it did last year.
This may be the year the “Internet of Things” at last becomes a thing, especially if Google releases a new development platform that could seamlessly connect Android devices to everything but the kitchen sink. It’s a well-worn path that Microsoft and many other vendors also are treading, as they try to provide software and connectivity for tomorrow’s Internet of Things. Google is reportedly working on a new platform codenamed “Brillo” that would enable anything from locks to lightbulbs to garage doors to wirelessly connect to the Internet, offering Android users a new measure of control through their mobile devices.
Reportedly, Google almost put a reader in the Nexus 6, but the source code revealed it was ultimately removed, likely because it wasn’t ready for primetime. The announcement could steal some thunder from Apple’s highly anticipated launch of HomeKit, a new smart device platform expected to go live with its first compatible products this June. Now that Apple, Samsung, and PayPal are crowding the field, Google is getting ready to debut Android Pay, which reportedly will allow retailers to accept tap-to-pay transactions in-store. “It’s a very, very important form of data,” says Forrester analyst Michael Facemire. “Not only do they want customers using it, they want to make it incredibly easy for developers to add to their apps as well.” It’s still unclear if Android Pay will replace or supplement Google Wallet, which in February got the blessing of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile—the very wireless carries that blocked the app from their phones—while acquiring intellectual property from the carriers’ joint mobile wallet venture Softcard. The darling of last year’s conference was Google’s startlingly low-tech answer to virtual reality headsets: Cardboard, a corrugated cardboard enclosure for a smartphone, with two eyeholes cut out for viewing virtual reality apps. The Android Auto system connects to drivers’ smartphones and lets them access certain apps by voice, steering wheel controls or touchscreen graphics on the dashboard.
Google didn’t announce Android 5.0 was called Lollipop until October, and to signal that it’s still a work in progress, Google will probably stick with codenames again this year. The Apple Watch may have superseded Google’s release of Android Wear smart watches last summer, so Google may attempt to rejuvenate its wearables line with a few product improvements, including rumors of stronger batteries and smarter fitness tracking sensors.
One conference session, spotted by CNET, will hone in on health data generated by Google Fit, an app that rolls up fitness data into one comprehensive dashboard. Internet of Things: While the entire Silicon Valley and beyond are joining the IoT bandwagon and developing future devices which seamlessly communicate with each other; from connected cars to connected refrigerators, Google could possibly introduce new concepts in this segment as well . It is speculated that it could unwrap a rumoured Brillo OS which is a lighter version of its Android platform and meant especially for Google’s Nest Internet-connected smart devices, including a smart thermostat, smoke detector, and home security cameras from Dropcam.
Microsoft unveiled HoloLens, a headset that allows wearers to interact with holograms, and Facebook has been generating buzz with Oculus Rift before the headset is even widely on sale. Google Now is becoming a hub for predictive actions, able to tell you when to leave for your appointment and how much that house for sale across the street costs. Android TV devices “are selling fairly well, but they’re being returned,” Andrej Kostresevic, CEO of mobile engineering company Nomads, says, citing conversations he has had with TV sales reps. “If you look at some of the remotes for Android TV, they look like a flight control dashboard. Android TV and Chromecast: While its smart TV operating system- Chromecast took off when it was introduced a year and half back, Google’s Android TV didn’t hit the spot quite right. Consolidation of Android and Chrome OS: Currently offered as a separate entity, under senior vice president Sundar Pichai’s supervision, we could see a merger of the two operating systems.
At I/O last year the company showed off Cardboard, a crude but functional VR device that uses lenses to create a 3D effect after inserting an Android phone into it. Google also recently bought Timeful, a calendar app that would create a schedule for you based on what you actually need to get done—it’s probably too early for those smarts to really make their way across Google, but we might see some early fruits of the acquisition.
Generally speaking, Android M sounds like it’s going to be work-focused, as evidenced by an accidentally posted event listing that says “Android M is bringing the power of Android to all kinds of workplaces.” It’s an obvious move for Android, which needs to invade businesses the way the iPhone has. Work-friendly Android probably means more and more granular privacy and security in the OS, and it might also include support for fingerprint recognition, which has been rolled out in a few phones—most notably the Galaxy S6—but hasn’t officially been supported before. Google has been continually improving its operating system for wearables and recently it added WiFi support and the ability to draw emojis to its Android Wear smartwatches.
While the new features will be available on will be available on the LG Watch Urbane, Moto 360, Sony Smartwatch 3, and Samsung Gear Live; we expect to see either a new wearable or a smartwatch at tomorrow’s event. Some lesser known smart glasses makers, like the Osterhout Design Group and Vuzix, which overlay content on the wearer’s field of vision, already run a form of Android. But a more formalized Android OS for virtual reality, one that provides a strong link to Google services, would benefit the company more than the modified forms of Android that sometimes appear in other devices, said Gartner analyst Brian Blau. But it’s plausible Cardboard will make a repeat showing at I/O this year, given the recent attention on Oculus at Facebook’s F8 conference and HoloLens at Microsoft’s Build conference. A session hosted by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group will introduce wearable technology “we hope will blow your socks off”—a description Google says it means “more literally than you might think.” Is Google to unveil a smart sock?
Project Fi: Google recently unveiled its own Internet-based mobile network that switches between WiFi and cellular networks to curb data use and cut down on the phone bills. A couple of sessions focus on helping developers get content from their apps onto Android TV screens, or making their apps more easily searchable there.
As the company sells more devices and extends its software to more use cases, questions about its influence and larger strategy become more important than ever. As the modular phone makers draws closer to a test debut in Puerto Rico, we could witness a brief update about it and also a possible date when it could finally be rolled out to all. When Google acquired satellite mapping company Skybox last year, it hoped the technology could be used to improve Internet access worldwide and help during natural calamities. The Information reported in November, however, that Google is now trying to get into the country, though it’s unclear what compromises it’ll have to make.
A developer on Google’s security team tells Quartz that security will be a theme at the conference, and the company will discuss new ways to authenticate. There is a possibility that these solutions could include two-step/two-factor authentication, hardware dongles, or perhaps even some web-based variation of Android’s ‘Smart Lock’ system. Google Play in China: Due to the country’s strict Internet rules, Google Play is currently unavailable in the nation and Android phones sold in China do not come preloaded with Google apps.
Google Cloud: Although Google doesn’t traditionally use the I/O event to talk about its cloud services, with Microsoft and Amazon’s recent announcements regarding their flourishing cloud services, there are speculations it could use the event to woo developers to use its cloud platform. One year, a bunch of Googlers skydived live into the building; another, Larry Page invited us all onto his island where we could experiment with technology.