In its courtship of developers and expanded share of the consumer market, Google’s never been afraid to go the extra mile during its annual I/O conference—even resorting to James Bond-style antics when it suits the occasion.
We may or may not see anyone drop out of the sky with Google tech strapped to their bodies this week, but there should be plenty for developers and consumers to sink their teeth into at the Google I/O developer conference on May 28 and 29, 2015.
With its opening keynote less than 24 hours away, here’s what we’re looking forward to.
Google is very likely to unveil its next version of Android and related software development tools at I/O. No surprise there, considering it’s a developer conference. The company generally uses the event to introduce new Android software, and this time around, it basically leaked some bits itself (see below). As for what we can expect, here are some of the most consistently reported features:
One-touch fingerprint authentication for apps: The company is expected to release developer tools, so app makers can support the biometric login. With this, users would be able to access every supported application on their Android devices without punching in a password, just as iPhone users can.
Greater app-permission control: Instead of forcing users to approve or reject a blanket set of permissions for access to data, Google wants to give users more fine-grained control over permissions. People would then be able to pick and choose which pieces of information to funnel through to apps, and which to block.
Android Pay: Announced at Mobile World Congress, Google’s new mobile payments technology will vie with the tap-to-pay juggernaut that Apple Pay aims to become. But this isn’t the Android maker’s first entry into payments (see: Google Wallet). This time, the company looks like it may be pinning its hopes on a new HCE-based (host card emulation-based) alternative. HCE refers to a software platform that essentially duplicates credit cards, ATM cards, transit cards and the like as digital representations. Developers who support Android Pay could allow users to pay for goods or services inside apps or at stores with a single tap.
Android for Work Update: So far, Android for Work has aimed to help employees separate their personal and work data on a single Android device without the pain of user-switching, i.e. constantly logging in and logging back out under a different account. As for what the update could hold, the short description that briefly hit the Google I/O agenda didn’t offer many clues. (It was unceremoniously yanked in short order.) Given how important security is to companies, it’s very likely Google will focus on locking things down even further.
The text of the missing session description seems to corroborate that Google (as expected) will refer to its next-generation software platform as Android M. From Ars Technica:
Android for Work Update
Android M is bringing the power of Android to all kinds of workplaces. This opens huge new markets for hundreds of millions of devices to workers at small business, deskless workers, logistics and warehousing jobs; all be powered by adoption of Android devices at Work.
Now that the long-anticipated Apple Watch is finally on the wrists of consumers and Pebble makes its new Pebble Time ready for its close-up, Google’s not likely to ignore the wearables category.
Its smartwatch software already got a major update last month, which brought Wi-Fi support and wrist flicks to the table. If the company hasn’t saved some secret new additions for its developer conference, then it will probably use the time in one or two ways: either reveal new integrations for the watches, show off the cool things apps can now do with the recent changes, or both.
If all that’s too mundane for attendees, Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group aims to show us ideas for wearables that will “blow [our] socks off,” adding, “(We mean this more literally than you might think…).” Consider it the team’s vision of where smartwatches and other body-worn devices could go. And it has something, apparently, to do with socks.
Speaking of ATAP, it may have just the thing for those of us who are bored with today’s smartphone choices. If you were excited by the prospect that Phonebloks put in front of us in 2013—a modular smartphone with replaceable parts—then you’ll want to take note of the Project Ara portion of the conference.
After unveiling the Spiral 2 Project Ara prototype earlier this year and announcing its plans for a test market in Puerto Rico, Google could follow it up with a peek at the next hardware version, presumably called Spiral 3. ATAP proclaimed that “The engines on Project Ara are revved.”
At last year’s conference, Google presented attendees with foldable Google Cardboard “headsets”—basically inexpensive cardboard boxes tricked out with lenses, for basic virtual reality viewing using Android devices. The notion seemed laughable at the time, but the company has been all too serious about it—issuing out software development tools for Cardboard, creating a certification program, and making its Search Design Chief the new Cardboard boss, amid rumors of a new VR operating system.
Plus, over the past year—with all the hype over long-delayed VR goggles—the notion of fast, affordable virtual reality experiences has charmed us.
At its core, the way it works is very familiar to anyone who’s ever picked up a Mattel View-Master, which makes it hardly surprising that the toy maker teamed up with Google to update the old stereoscopic staple with virtual reality features.
The market for smart goggles has been ramping up, making for a crowded space, as Oculus Rift (Facebook), Microsoft HoloLens and possibly even Apple push in. Google itself has more than just one bid for our faces in play, between its VR-oriented Cardboard and AR (augmented reality)-focused Google Glass, which just got a reprieve.
Google has had varying shades of success in its efforts to become part of your ever-smartening home, but its $35 Chromecast streaming media dongle was rated as the top connected device according to App Annie last October. An I/O Chromecast 2 reveal would hardly come as a surprise.
It’s interesting that there has been relatively little buzz over the prospect of a new Nexus Player, considering the device basically houses a Chromecast within it. The only hint is that Google quietly dropped the Player’s price by $20, which seems to indicate that a new and improved version may debut at I/O. Either way, we know the company wants to get Android TV and Google Play into more houses.
Consider it part of the tech giant’s larger push into our houses. The tech giant will actively court developers to integrate with its Nest smart home division, so it can put the smart thermostat, carbon monoxide alarm and Dropcam cameras at the heart of a holistic system that controls and automates our abodes.
Real-Time Satellite Maps
Last year, Google bought satellite imaging company Skybox for $500 million. That paves the way for an overhaul of the Google Maps and Google Earth infrastructure—which may give us real-time views of the world, instead of street views that are updated every few years or so. Although it probably won’t be done and ready to launch this week, the company will offer some glimpses of what we can expect on the mapping front.
On The Road
On Tuesday, CNET’s Brian Cooley reported positive experience with how Android Auto works as the go-between connecting a Nexus 5 to a new Hyundai Sonata’s navigation screen. As he describes it:
The apps and processing still run on the phone; Android Auto is largely a projection technology that filters, reshapes and presents services on the car’s screen.
The process still involves a physical cable to connect the phone to the car. It’s hard to believe that such a cobbled melding of tethers would be considered cutting edge by Google’s standards—and perhaps it’s not really supposed to be.
In December 2014, a Reuters report revealed that Google “is laying the groundwork for a version of Android that would be built directly into cars,” instead of relying on physically jacking in. The media outlet called it “a major step up from Google’s current Android Auto software.”
From cars and phones, to wrists and homes, Google’s universe has been expanding outward in all directions. Starting tomorrow, we’ll find out how it plans to take developers along for the ride.
Lead photo, Cardboard, Chromecast and Android Auto photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; Android vs. Apple photo by Tsahi Levent-Levi