East End Tech: Going Google? What’s New for the Tech Giant

Blackboard, Google takes tech fans to school, Apple
Google takes tech fans to school, Photo: hunur/iStock/Thinkstock

We covered Apple’s development conference a few weeks ago, and now it’s Google’s turn! At their yearly I/O (Input/Output) conference, Google announced a lot of new plans for their Android phone OS, as well as a lot of integration between Android and other platforms.

The keynote focused largely on Google’s Android OS, which is getting a major overhaul later this year. Dubbed “Android L,” it features a major facelift that is meant to unify the design across different platforms. Dubbed “Material Design,” the facelift has a flatter look, with rounder buttons and softened edges. Simplified shapes and enhanced animations give it a very fresh look compared to previous versions of Android, which have looked relatively similar since 2011.

It’s not just a facelift, though. Android L has a new way of handling notifications. Notifications can now be interacted with on your lock screen, and are sorted by importance rather than simply the order they are received. If notifications on a lock screen seem pointless because you still have to unlock your phone, Trusted Environments is here to save the day! Trusted Environments allows you to set your phone to bypass the PIN or pattern lock in certain environments—for instance, when you’re hooked up to your home WiFi network, or when you’re within a certain range of your Bluetooth earphone or watch.

One of the main criticisms of Apple—indeed, it helped their stock prices to drop—at their WWDC conference was the lack of wearable technology. Google’s taken the hint on that, and announced quite a bit regarding wearable tech, most notably smart watches. Available for pre-order are two new smart watches, with a third that will be available later this summer. The two available now—Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch— are both roughly the same size, with 1.6 inch square screens and comparable features. The Moto360 from Motorola, which will be available “late this summer,” changes the “classic” smart watch look up, and is circular. It essentially looks like a slightly-oversized normal watch.

Alongside these watches, Google announced a new development kit for wearable technology. This SDK allows developers to create interactions for their apps that take place on a smart watch, including custom user interfaces, voice actions, and more.

Similar to the integration that will happen between Android phones and watches, your car may soon come with a version of Android as well. Android Auto will provide context-based services, depending on what you’re doing—for instance, getting into your car on a Friday could automatically open up your GPS app with directions and traffic information for the journey to your home on the East End, and load up a “get in the mood for vacation” playlist automatically for you.

Google also introduced Google Fit, a development platform similar to Apple’s also-recently-announced HealthKit. Like HealthKit, Fit will aggregate data from various sensors and appliances to provide an overview of fitness and health-related data about
the user.

Also introduced was Android TV, a successor to the disastrously bad Google TV. Android TV is intended as an integrated OS for televisions, allowing for native viewing of YouTube, Netflix, etc. directly from the TV—basically an integrated Apple TV or Roku, and a step up from what is currently being offered on higher-end TVs. Rather than involve heavy browsing, it will be based on recommendations. Since it’s based on Android, many Android games will be playable in it as well.

Other announcements included a new program to maintain a lower-spec version of Android to allow for cheaper phones in developing markets, a long-awaited update to the Google Docs portion of Google Drive—which will finally allow for native editing of MS Office files!—and some major updates to Google’s Chromecast television hardware. Also announced was support for Android apps in Google’s Chrome OS.

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