Thursday, 3 July 2014

Top 5: Favourite Google I/O 2014 announcements

Image: Android Central
Google I/O. When every Google fan and Android enthusiast geek-out over anything and everything Google announce. I gotta admit, I geeked-out pretty hard during the keynote (you can tell by all the posts I shared during the event). Even though a lot of what was announced had already been leaked before the event, there were still plenty of surprise announcements during the keynote which kept me wide awake (the event started at midnight here) until the end, almost. There were announcements regarding Android, Android Wear, Android Auto, Android TV (yes, a lot of Android), ChromeOS, Google Drive and many more. Now, this won't be a summary of the best announcements made during the keynote, there are plenty of those already out there written by journalists who attended the event. This will just be some of my personal favourite announcements from the keynote. It was difficult to narrow it down to just five, because there were so many awesome announcements. So I'm doing a top five + two bonuses. And the top five will be in no particular order.

Google Drive 
If you've been following me on Google+, you'll know I'm a huge fan of Google Drive and the suite of apps that come with it. I started using Drive more than a year ago, and it's been my preferred productivity tool over Microsoft Office ever since. The only times I've had to use Office is for some of my Master's research work. But for everything else, I use Drive. So I was very happy to see the amount of attention Drive got during the I/O keynote. The full suite of mobile apps (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) now work offline, Microsoft Office files can now be opened, edited and saved directly in Drive without conversion (which is why the QuickOffice app is getting killed), and the user base for Google Drive (on an individual and institutional level) is growing at a rapid pace. The number of active users is up 85% from last year, and 72 of the top 100 universities in the world also use Google Drive. No matter how you look at it, Google Drive is growing, and growing fast, and I'm excited for it.
Chromecast 
The Chromecast is another great success story for Google. Since its launch, the $35 dongle has become the highest selling streaming device in the market, outselling all other competing devices combined. The Chromecast launched with a measly selection of 5 apps that supported it, 4 of which were Google apps. But now, there are over 6000 registered developers, working on over 10000 apps for Chromecast. Some of those apps include major titles like Plex, Pandora, WatchESPN, HBO GO, and Pocket Casts. In addition to more apps, Chromecast will also be able to mirror your Android device, something many people have wanted for a long time. Not only has the content grown, but using the dongle is also much more social now. Instead of giving your friends your WiFi password to allow them to use the Chromecast, they can now stream content without connecting to your WiFi. How does it work without a WiFi connection? Magic. Android TV may not be for everyone, but the Chromecast can easily extend your media consumption (and productivity) to the big screen without much effort.

Android Wear
We can't talk about I/O without mentioning what is probably the biggest step forward in terms of mobile computing for the consumer market, Android Wear. Smartwatches aren't new to the market. Sony have had their brand of smartwatches for quite some time now, and even Samsung have gotten in on the act. More tellingly, even Kickstarter Pebble have been very successful in the smartwatch market. So with the hardware already on the market, Google did what they do best - work on the ecosystem. Android Wear is different from the other smartwatch platforms because it moves away from the traditional mobile OS we all know. There's no app drawer, no navigation buttons, no keyboard for input. Android Wear does what a smartwatch is supposed to do, act as an extension to your mobile device, not a replacement. I'm definitely excited for Android Wear, and some journalists are too.
The first three Android Wear watches. Image: Which?
Material Design
Some people might say that Material Design is nothing more than a re-skinning of Android. Well that's true, to a certain extent. Material Design is also a design philosophy not only for Android, but for the web as well. In the past, design was going flat. Google is now trying to add some depth to that minimalistic flatness with Material Design. Elements in apps and also on the web will be "floating" over other elements, as you can see with the "new post" button in the Google+ app. Google Drive will also get Material Design on the web. When it comes to Android, Material Design will be largely appreciated because the Holo design introduced in ICS was getting old. But looking at the bigger picture, Material Design won't just be how Android and Android apps look, it'll be how Google looks, including Google sites on the web and the Android OS as a whole.


Android + Chrome OS
One very popular reason why many people continue to use Apple devices and services is because they are already invested trapped in the ecosystem. But for people already in the ecosystem, one benefit they have is that hardware and software within that ecosystem work well with one another. Google is looking to strengthen its own ecosystem by adding more functional connectivity features that work between Android and Chrome OS. Your Android phone will soon act as a key to unlock your Chromebook when you (and your phone) are in close proximity to your Chromebook (similar to Motorola's Trusted Devices). You will soon get Android notifications such as incoming calls, texts, and low battery warnings on your Chromebook, similar to Google Now notifications and Pushbullet's mirrored notifications. Lastly, and probably the biggest feature that got everyone excited, Android apps on Chrome OS. Android and Chrome OS may be two distinct operating systems, but it's clear that Google want them to work as closely together as possible to provide an enjoyable user experience to the consumer.

Bonus - Android One and multiple demo devices
Android One probably garnered the least attention from the keynote, probably because it's not targeted at the attendees and people watching from home. Instead, it's Google's plan to bring affordable, reliable smartphones to the next billion Android users, with reliable software support direct from Google. Remember rumours of that extremely affordable Nexus device? Android One is probably it. My second bonus isn't really an "announcement", but a collection of moments from the keynote. I posted about it a week ago on Google+.


So that was Google I/O 2014. A lot of cool new stuff coming our way. The Android L developer preview was something new, similar to how Apple release beta versions of iOS prior to the final public release later in the year. I had a few days to play with it, which you can read about here. All in all, I/O provided us with some huge numbers about Google's growing presence in existing markets. Android, Google Drive, Chromebooks, the Chromecast, all are growing in user base. With Google now venturing into smartwatches with Android Wear, cars with Android Auto, home entertainment with Android TV, and developing countries with Android One, Google's reach will keep on growing.