Friday, May 29, 2015

What exactly happened during the Google I/O 2015 keynote

Google is betting big on Android

This morning, the main keynote for Google I/O was held and it was full of announcements ranging from new services to hardware that'll create stereoscopic videos. It was quite an intense session and unlike Microsoft's BUILD conference which was literally developer focused for the most part, Google's keynote was quite playful. You would have definitely heard about unlimited storage for photos and GoPro's crazy camera rig but overall, what exactly can we conclude from the nearly 3 hour keynote?

First off, I want to talk about the venue and stage for the keynote. Google thought of this well and the wraparound display across both sides of the hall showed some creativity and the "fun" and cheerful part of the company. Before the keynote actually started, there was an intense game of Pong across the ultra-wide wraparound display across the hall and ultimately the champion turned out to be an asian dude.

To kickstart the keynote this year, Google didn't show an inspiring video about their products but instead the massive display was used to send everyone on a journey in the Milky Way. Ultimately, the light show ended up in planet earth and Sundar Pichai, the man which oversees nearly every product family in Google took the stage to roll out some quick update in Google's network.

Beyond the breathtaking intro video, Google managed to squeeze dozens of new announcements during the keynote and virtually everything was software based with the exception of the GoPro JUMP rig. Those who were expecting to see new Nexus hardware would be disappointed as Google didn't mention anything about new Nexus devices and that's quite reasonable because you wouldn’t want a device running software from last year, do you?

As per usual, Android is the big talk during the keynote and basically everything mentioned during the keynote has to do with Android and it is clear that Google is trying the broaden the device range for Android. Likewise, Android now spans from the Internet of Things all the way to Virtual Reality with Google Cardboard.

" Android: Auto, Wear, TV, Phone, Tablet

Besides highlighting unlimited storage for the new Google Photos app available for Android, iOS and the Web; Google Now on Android M is also getting quite some traction as being "smart". Similarly to what was rumored last year with Android Lollipop, apps will now plug into Google Now so you can perform the usual commands on a given app. Google calls this Now on Tap (NoT) and this Android M specific feature will intelligently answer your query based off the information on screen.

All you have to do is to long press the home button on Android M and a contextual Google Now card will pop up from below and tell you something about the information on screen. This can be useful in emails where you receive a message for a new movie and activing Now on Tap will help you understand what the movie is about and you can also build up questions upon questions related to the topic and Google Now will still be on track on what you're trying to ask.

Basically this is some pretty ingenious use for all the data Google already harnesses and the machine learning engine of Google Now comes in handy to identify points throughout the script which can be potential 'ask points'. As groundbreaking as this is, this feature however requires Android M to work but developers don't need to rework their application for Now on Tap to work, this is wholly a Google script on top.

It might sound a little creepy that all these new Google services like Now on Tap and Google Photos are snooping through your phones data but the outcome balances it up. In return for your data, Google is providing you with data you want to see and as a whole it's a win win situation for Google as they'll also be able to improve their machine learning research and thus providing better services in the future.
(click to enlarge)
Another thing new in Android Pay, Google's solution to Apple Pay and also Samsung Pay. This is just another mobile payments platform which works with Android Lollipop and beyond. Google isn't digressing much into what's unique about their platform but they are supporting upwards of 700 retailers in the US and AT&T, Verizon and Tmobile will be activating Android Pay on their Android devices.

Conclusively, Google might be working on polishing Android as a whole but one big problem still lies within everything and that is fragmentation. You just can't deny the fact that not every android phone out there today is running Android Lollipop and not even Google can assure that the new smartphone you're buying today will be updated to Android M. I'm not trying to be bias towards this matter nor do I think change will happen overnight but Google has to find a way to solve this problem with software updates. 

developing...

Android M

Following the alphabet game, this year the spotlight is set on the letter M and like last year, Google is rolling out a developer preview at Google I/O and a full consumer release will be coming in Q3 2015. In addition to that, Google says they will be pushing out two Android M updates in the coming weeks ahead and the changes will reflect on the bugs which developers testing the OS reports to.

The notion behind the new features in Android M is to polish and fix the existing problems that lie with Android. Google is pushing towards a more refined mobile operating system and building upon the refreshed look which Android Lollipop introduced last year, Android M seems to focus more on underlining changes rather than upgrading the aesthetics.
During the keynote 6 major features of Android M was talked on and that includes improved app permissions, better web experience, app links, mobile payments with Android Pay, fingerprint support and power/charging. These are just a handful of new changes coming to Android M and do check out the official changelog here.

Unlike what I was expecting to see, not much developmental updates for Android Wear was announced but Google did shed some interesting stats on the platform. According to Google, there are now over 4000 apps designed for Android Wear and there has since been 4 updates for Android Wear which improves and adds upon the original experience.

" Still no android wear support for the iPhone

In addition to that, Google says they are committed to updating all 7 android wear smartwatches currently available with new software to improve the overall experience. Although, they did not mention any new developments for Android Wear, there is some news for developers that is applications on Android Wear will soon be able to take advantage of all the onboard sensors to create a more personalized application.

Android Pay

There's just something exciting about mobile payments that I'll never understand and with Android M, Google is forging a new mobile payments platform which at this time still does not replace Google Wallet. Android Pay is a brand new service available for Android Lollipop and above devices but Android M devices will have deeper integration with this new mobile payments platform. 
Being introduced just in time, native support for fingerprint scanners on Android M will ease authentication for Android Pay and Google will be including an official API in Android M which enables developers to take advantage of Android Pay as well as the fingerprint scanner to authenticate the payment.

Internet of Things

As expected, Project Brillo was introduced and it'll be Google's highway to the Internet of Things. Quoted as to be derived from Android, this versatile platform will work well with existing Android devices. IoT might not mean much to you but this platform also relates closely with home automation and with the broad connectivity options at the core of Android, smart devices will definitely benefit from this integration.

Google says that a developers preview of Project Brillo will be released in Q3 2015. Alongside the Project Brillo is WEAVE, a common language in which IoT devices like lightbulbs and thermostats will communicate with each other. This common language will support both iOS and Android and will be paired alongside Project Brillo to complete Google's IoT network. WEAVE will be rolling out in Q4 2015.

Virtual Reality

There was no sight of a second generation Google Glass during the keynote but Google is renewing their efforts towards Virtual Reality with a new version of Google Cardboard which now supports phones up to 6 inches in size. Not only that, iPhones are now supported by Google Cardboard and Google is also opening up the SDK for developers to build VR apps for iOS.

The new version of Google Cardboard is just part of the story, the crazy idea creating a VR headset from cardboard is no getting serious. With a new pilot program called Expeditions, Google aims to bring students anywhere around the world with the help of Google Cardboard and this means that field trips will get even boring. Alongside that, Google is partnering with the American Museum of Natural History to create guided tours with Google Cardboard and more companies are expected to chip in on this too. 
The final piece of Google's Virtual Reality dreams is JUMP, this project aims to simplify the process of making immersive VR content and Google is starting with the camera rig which includes 16 uniquely different cameras on a circular rig. GoPro is the first of many to show off their awesome JUMP certified rig and with that, just about anyone can share amazing VR content online. Speaking of sharing, Google is utilizing the new "street view" like mode on Youtube to enable users to view VR content through Google Cardboard.

No news as to when the GoPro rig will be publically available but Google will be sharing the schematics for the DIY camera rig.

Google photos

Probably the headline of the show, the new Google Photos app is a new archiving platform which not only intelligently group images but it'll also help you edit photos. Basically, this acts pretty much like your standard gallery app but the main difference is that under the hood is the prowess of Google's machine learning engine. With that, you'll be able to do things like search an item inside your picture and your photos will magically be tagged too.

The glue sticking all of this together is no the rich engine behind all the magic but it's the unlimited storage. Google says they'll be uploading photos up to 16MP and videos up to 1080P in it's original format to Google Drive. Truth be told but this is just a deal too hard to resist when you look at the competition which charges upwards of $100 for just 1TB of cloud storage per year.