Google I/O 2014: impressive momentum, no wow moments

I am not in San Francisco but attended Google I/O Extended in London yesterday, to hear the keynote and a couple of sessions from Google’s annual developer conference.

image

I found the demographics different than most IT events I attend: a younger crowd, and plenty of start-ups and very small businesses, not at all enterprisey (is that a word?)

image

The main announcements:

A new version of Android, known as Android L (I don’t know if this will expand eventually to Lollipop or Liquorice or some such). Big release  with over 5,000 new APIs, we were told (when does Android start being called bloated, I wonder?). Themes include a new visual style called Material Design (which extends also to the Web and to Chrome), and suitability for more device types including Android TV, Android Wear (smart watches) and Android Auto. A new hardware accelerated graphics API called Android Extension Pack which implements OpenGL ES for better game performance, with support from NVIDIA Tegra. Android graphics performance will be good enough for a considerable subset of the gaming community and we saw Unreal Engine demoed.

Android L does not use Dalvik, the virtual machine that runs Java code. In its place is ART (Android Runtime). This is 64-bit, so while Java code will run fine, native code will need updating.

Google is working hard to keep Android under its control, putting more features into its Play Services, the closed part of Android available only from Google and which is updated every 6 weeks, bypassing the operator obstacle to OS updates. There is also a new reference design including both hardware and software which is designed for affordable smartphones in the developing world: third parties can take this and build a decent Android mobile which should sell for under $100 as I understood it. I imagine this is designed to ward off fractured Android efforts like Microsoft’s Nokia X, aimed at the same kind of market but without Play Services.

There are new Android smart watches on the way, and we saw the inevitable demonstration of a user using voice control to the watch for ordering taxis or pizzas, getting notifications, and sending simple messages.

Voice control demos always seem to be nervous moments for presenters – will they be understood? Unfortunately that uncertainty remains for real users too, as evidenced by Xbox One Kinect which is amazing in that it often works, but fails often enough to be irritating. Voice recognition is a hard problem, not only in respect of correctly translating the command, but also in correctly detecting what is a command (if the person standing next to me shouts “Taxi please” I do not want my watch to order one for me).

The smart watch problem also parallels the TV problem. The appeal of the watch is that it is a simple glanceable device for telling the time. The appeal of the TV is that it is a simple sit-back screen where you only have to select a channel. Putting more smarts into these devices seems to make sense, but at the same time damages that core feature, unless done with extreme care.

Android TV puts the OS into your television, though Google’s messaging here is somewhat confusing in that, on the one hand, Chromecast (also known as Googlecast) means that you can use your Google device (Android or Chromebook) as the computer and the TV as the display and audio system, while on the other hand you can use Android on the TV itself as an all-in-one.

Page 1 of 3 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Adobe results: 200,000 Creative Cloud subscribers and an impressive transition
  2. A great day for Android at Google I/O; not convinced by Google TV
  3. Microsoft Build 2014: what happened
  4. What next for Windows as Microsoft announces Build 2014?
  5. Windows problems: new users cannot log in, SQL Server 2014 install fails