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Google I/O 2014 began with a blast

By Mark Killian / June 25, 2014

Google I/O 2014 began with a blast

Google’s annual developer conference is never short on excitement, and this year’s Rube Goldberg machine was no exception. The transition from an analog clock and a bowling ball to a dot racing through their entire digital portfolio truly captured the sentiment that “Every bit counts.” And as those of you who watched the keynote already know, there were A LOT of bits of wisdom in the nearly three-hour keynote presentation. Here’s some of the stuff that stuck out the most to us.

What the L?

The Google I/O keynote kicked off with the announcement of their new Android developer platform, L. Android L will offer over 5000 APIs that make it easier to design apps for every screen you come in contact with, but the simplicity isn’t limited to the coding.

Android L focuses on Material Design, a new look and feel that was inspired by some things most of us have lost touch with, paper and ink. The design is characterized by bold colors, simplistic fonts, and “cards” that hover over content, providing a seamless UI with a tangible appeal. To keep developers and designers on the same page, Google is releasing Material Design guidelines to keep apps and interfaces from looking fragmented—a painpoint that’s haunted Android from day one. Animations were also a big part of the new Android look and feel, with just about every action containing some kind of motion element.

But Material Design isn’t exclusively for native apps. With the help of Polymer, a design program released at last year’s I/O, developers can bring the Material Design framework into mobile or PC browsers. This will be very important now that you can open an app via Google Search, assuming you already have it downloaded to your phone.

Android Wear

Another star of the show was Android Wear, Google’s platform for wearable tech. With the help of the LG G, Moto 360, and Samsung Gear Live, Google demonstrated how the Android operating system can perform just as many functions on your wrist as it can in the palm of your hand.

David Singleton, Google Director of Engineering, showed how truly versatile an Android Wear-equipped smartwatch can be. First, we saw how you can unlock your phone, computer, or tablet just by wearing your smartwatch near your mobile device. This means no more annoying pin or pattern entries.

Next, Singleton showed us how we could receive flight notifications, pull up our boarding pass or put our phone on silent with a few swipes of the watch face. You can also read and respond to texts without ever taking your phone out of your pocket thanks to Google Voice.

But perhaps the most impressive demonstration was David’s attempt to order a pizza in less than twenty seconds. Thanks to Android Wear’s tight integration with smartphone apps, David was able to display his Eat 24 order history on his wrist and purchase his favorite pizzas without having to make a phone call. And yes, he did it all in under twenty seconds.

The only slip up during the demo was David’s attempt to make a note of his million dollar idea, a double-sided peanut butter jar. After two unsuccessful attempts, David had to settle for describing what should’ve happened. Such is the pitfall of a relatively uncharted territory. All stage fright aside, Android Wear and smartwatches look promising. LG, Samsung, and Motorola may be the first Android Wear devices on the market, but they certainly will not be the last.

Smarter Cars

In addition to their Android Wear demo, Google was also kind enough to invite us along for their test drive of Android Auto. After gutting a sedan for the sake of their stage set, the Android team showed how their automotive OS will make the roads safer and more entertaining for drivers (until they finally release their self-driving car to the general public).

Android Auto puts the driver’s most important apps front and center, allowing them to find directions, answer calls and select music with as few distractions as possible. All you have to do is plug your Android device into an Android Auto-ready vehicle. Whether it’s a rental or the ride you drive everyday, the built-in system will recognize your phone and honor your personal settings. And much like Android Wear, Android Auto will lean heavily on voice commands.

To ensure they have the most versatile automotive offerings, Google will release an Android Auto SDK that will allow messaging, music, and many other kinds of app developers to create apps specifically for vehicles. You can expect that SDK to drop soon, since Google promised the first Android Auto cars will be leaving the dealership before 2015. And with 40 different car manufacturers committed to the Open Automotive Alliance, it’s anyone’s guess which brand will be the first to bank on the Android entertainment system.

Smarter Houses

Once you’ve parked your Android Auto car in the garage, you’ll probably want to enter an Android-powered home. Fortunately, the Google I/O keynote had plenty to offer anyone looking to inject a little Google software into their living space.

Most of their time was spent talking about Android TV, Google’s attempt to give the largest screen in your house the same capabilities as your smartphone or tablet. The new TV operating system will allow users to seamlessly look up shows, movie stars and games like you would on a PC. The interface also incorporates the Material Design guidelines, creating a user-friendly and attractive viewing experience. Lastly, you can make voice commands like you can on the Xbox One, but with the power of Google’s search engine. Expect to see this offering on Sony, Sharp and Philips TVs in the not-so-distant future, or start developing for it on June 26th.

This portion of the keynote was also the perfect time to talk about Google’s Chromecast updates. First, they announced Backdrop, the customizable and interactive screensaver that turns your idle TV from a blank screen to a living picture frame. How is this different than their current offering? Now, you can add your personal photos to the slideshow or choose which kind of pictures you’d like to see on your screen.

To further increase the interactivity, Chromecast will now let you connect even if your smartphone isn’t on the same WiFi network as the Chromecast stick. Worried that anyone can now detect and connect to your advice? Don’t be. Google was smart enough to make it possible to protect your dongle with a password. Last, but certainly not least, Chromecast will now allow screen mirroring—something Apple TV users have been enjoying for years now. You can even mirror your smartphone camera, turning your TV into a crude surveillance device.

Right back at ya, Apple

In addition to all the new stuff Google released, they also made sure to touch on their offerings that compete with Apple’s latest announcements. For example, they discussed the rise of Chromebooks and their own brand of handoff. But rather than just demonstrating how Google apps cooperate with Google laptops, they showed how third-party products like Vine work just as well on a Chromebook as they can on a smartphone. They also briefly mentioned Google Fit, their HealthKit competitor. Similar to Apple’s SDK, Google Fit will make it easier for fitness app manufacturers to integrate their data within the Android infosystem.

Google’s going Oprah

Google rewarded the developers who had the bladders and buns to sit through their three-hour presentation with a slew of goodies. The first of which was a piece of cardboard with the I/O logo printed on it. This item received more laughter than applause, but it was quickly overshadowed by the announcement of the free LG G and Moto 360 smartwatches each attendee would be receiving. Whether it was because of the gifts or the fact that they could finally leave the auditorium, the crowd went wild—aside from the protesters who were ejected throughout the presentation. We can’t wait to see what the rest of Google I/O has to offer.

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