Google’s I/O 2014 keynote wasn’t just about another iteration of Android; it wasn’t even about Glass. This year, the company is giving the world a glimpse of the future, according to Google – and it’s powered, naturally, by Android.
At the I/O keynote, Google made plenty of announcements in rapid fire fashion. From the new Material Design philosophy that will shape and unify the design languages of all Google products, a preview of Android L as well as the new “branches” of Android – Android Wear, TV and Auto – and ending even with Project Cardboard, there was one common feature that connects all the announcements: Android. To be more specific, your Android smartphone.
Throughout the keynote, one particular slide out of the hundreds used really stood out, and perfectly describes how Google is envisioning what Android would be in four simple terms:
A big part of this “new Android” movement is with contextual awareness. Android now intelligently gathers information such as location, recent search queries, and even nearby WiFi connections and Bluetooth devices. With this information, the system predicts possible actions you might take, and pushes notifications even before you ask for them.
Sounds a little like Google Now, isn’t it? That’s because this feature is set to be a central figure in Google’s plans for Android. You see it heavily in action on Android Wear as well as on Android Auto, where Google Now-style cards pop up periodically to provide useful information in context to your location or even previous activities. The data collected from Google’s Knowledge Graph has taken on a life of its own with these two Android branches, and makes things really exciting for those using Android Wear and Android Auto – even if the execution is a little creepy at first.
Vertical Integration. For the common user, it’s just another big term big companies use. In practice, the new announcements today show off just that it really means: once you’re using an Android device, Google is making it nigh-on impossible to be tempted away from any other ecosystem. It’s as if Google has just said, “Hey, that Android smartphone you’re holding? What if we told you we’re giving it the power to control almost everything?”
Just take a look at the other Android branches announced earlier this morning. Android Wear, Android TV and Android Auto…they’re all separate entities, but they’re powered and literally brought to life with an Android smartphone. Android Wear devices connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, you can use your smartphone as the Android TV remote, and you connect your smartphone to a car to enable Android Auto.
Voice Control Across All Platforms
Another aspect Google has heavily invested on is with its voice recognition technology. While Apple’s Siri catalyzed this form of interaction between man and machine, Google is attempting to make voice control more than just something to play with when you’re bored.
Voice control is present in every one of Google’s new Android branches. Besides simple swipe gestures, Android Wear relies heavily on an always-on voice activation, and the same can be said for Android Auto and Android TV. The engine is also more robust, allowing the AI to understand contextual conversations. For example, you can ask about a landmark of a place you’re headed to, and when Android Auto/Wear provides the search results, you can just say “navigate there” and it opens the navigation app immediately.
It’s an extension to what Google has been doing for Android on mobile devices. The Moto X was the first (and so far only) device that features always-on voice activation control even when it is on sleep. On the Android home screen for other supported devices, a simple “OK Google” opens the voice search app.
With Material Design, Google is attempting to make the experience of using its products more uniform, regardless of which product it is. Whether you’re on a smartphone, tablet, a laptop or even something bigger, Material Design is responsive and automatically adjusts and scales itself to look and feel similar across all devices.
There’s more to it than just aesthetics, of course. Where notifications sync across different devices before, they now sync across platforms: swipe away a notification on Android Wear, and the same notification is dismissed on your connected smartphone almost immediately as well. For Android TV, you can use the bundled remote or – via an app – use your smartphone to control the TV; voice control works there, too.
One Device for Everything
By now, it is an evident and recurring theme: Google is empowering your smartphone to be the most important device you’ll ever own. But what if your boss says you can’t use it for work?
Enter Android for Work. Samsung’s KNOX security suite has been completely integrated into Android L, and that’s quite an achievement. The South Korean giants have had its fair share of mild tussles against Google, and for it to give away something that other Android OEMs do not offer for the mutual benefit of all…seems almost unbelievable. Yet, here it is.
With KNOX integrated into Android L, its devices will not only contain a secure and encrypted partition for sensitive work data, all in- and outbound traffic involving these data are encrypted as well, making it even more compelling for enterprises to adopt Android once L is released – rather than having to force employees to work with a secondary device.
Android Home: Soon to be a Reality
Google announced Android Wear, TV and Auto today, but notice that there is another area that it hasn’t mentioned: the connected home. With many companies holding a vested interest in the connected home, surely Google has something up its sleeve for this area as well?
That’s where Google’s $3.2b acquisition of Nest Labs comes in. Nest only has two products in its stable: the Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect Smoke Alarm. The Nest Thermostat learns your habits as you use it, and dynamically adapts so that you no longer have to fuss about choosing the right temperature every time.
Today, Nest announced Works With Nest, a series of collaborations with other home appliance companies, as well as Mercedes, Jawbone, Logitech and of course, Google. Suddenly, it’s not just a thermostat anymore, but the centre of the connected home.
With Works With Nest, products connected to the Nest Thermostat can perform actions based on the thermostat’s actions. For example, when the Nest goes into Away Mode (detecting that you are not at home), LIFx’s LED bulbs turn on and off periodically as a security measure. Or, if you are on your way home in a connected Mercedes car, the Nest Thermostat automatically begins to adjust the temperature to make sure you open your door to a perfectly comfortable home.
Think of Works With Nest as an automatic generator of IFTTT recipes that creates more recipes with more products that are connected to it. Speaking of which, if you’d like to create your own Nest recipes, you can do so too, because the IFTTT app also Works With Nest.
Beyond all this, Google’s Nest acquisition has just as much to do with the data the Nest collects. As Wired points out:
Over time, as the Nest Learning Thermostat uses its sensors to train itself according to your comings and goings, the entire network of Nests in homes across the country becomes smarter.
As the devices talk to each other, by building an aggregate picture of human behavior, they anticipate what we want before even we know.
“Anticipate what we want before even we know”. Sounds a lot like the contextual aim of Google Now, isn’t it?
The Future, Powered by Android
Google has just given us a glimpse of the future, and it’s powered by Android. Soon, everything from your watch all the way to the devices running at home, will be controllable with your smartphone. And with so much integration offered by this single device on this single platform, why would you leave to any other?
Of course, what we’ve seen today may not be fully realized until many years down the line when the technology partners trickle their way to this side of the world, but it sure looks pretty damn exciting – even if some people may not agree.