|

6 highlights from the Google I/O 2014 keynote

The company talked up new smart watches, Android Auto for cars, and much more

Published: June 25, 2014 05:15 PM
Google's Sundar Pichai talks about Chromebooks at Google I/O 2014

Sorry, Apple, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. While we continue to wait for new i-devices, Google kicked off its annual developer’s conference, Google I/O 2014, with a keynote that embeds Android more deeply into TVs, cars, and smart watches than ever. The company also provided a preview of the next version of Android.

Here are a few highlights from the presentation.

Android Wear

If there was one thing Google emphasized throughout its presentation, it was a desire to present a unified look across all devices, from phones to laptops (especially Chromebooks) to TVs, cars, and of course, wearables.

Interestingly, there was zero mention of Google Glass during the keynote (and I’ve only observed a few people wearing the device so far), although a breakout session will cover Glass later in the week. But Google talked a lot about smart watches.

For starters, the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, which both run on the new Android Wear OS, became available for pre-order today. And the developer’s kit for Android Wear also was made available today, which means more developers will be able to create apps for the watches.

The LG G Watch, for example, is always on, showing what it "perceives" as the most important item to the wearer. Users will see a stream of cards from Google Now, as well as apps running both on the watch and on the phone. The latter is one example of how Google wants devices to work better together.

Context is also an important feature of wearable devices, Google says. Pinterest, for example, will let you know if you’re passing by a favorite restaurant pinned by someone you follow. A new app called Eat24 keeps an eye on what you’ve been ordering, and at a relevant time (for example, dinner on Wednesday), it will let you know you ordered take-out at this time last week, ask if you want to order again, give you choices of nearby places, and let you pay with a tap.

Android TV

The new Android TV will run from an app on your phone or watch (another case of heavy integration among devices). It includes Content Recommendation, which gets its listings from among the other apps you use, like Netflix. There’s also a robust search, which will let you make very specific requests (like "Walking Dead") or broader ones ("Best Picture Oscar winners"). The results will provide lots of info you can dig into, like actors featured in a show or movie, film clips, and apps you can view from.

A store with Android TV apps will launch this fall, and 2015 models of (so far) Sony and Sharp TVs will use the platform.

Android TV will also support Google Cast, which lets you take your phone to a friend’s house and play your music or show a favorite YouTube video on their TV.

Chromecast

Google has added a lot of apps to its Chromecast streaming platform since it launched. A couple of interesting new features were added today. First, if someone comes to your house and wants to stream something from their phone or tablet onto your TV via Chromecast, there’s no longer any need for them to enter your Wi-Fi password. Instead, a button lets them connect automatically. Google says this is an opt-in feature, so this can happen only when you allow it.

Next, a new feature called Backdrop will let you stream a variety of content to your TV while it’s not in use. There’s a Museum section, which will show works of art from famous museums (and if you ask for more info, a Google Now-like card will pop up and supply that).  Another section will stream satellite photos of Earth. There are options for weather, news, and lifestyle, and you’ll also be able to show your own photos via Google+.

For more on mobile devices, check our buying guides and Ratings for smart phones, tablets, and laptops.

Android Auto

This is a version of Android completely redesigned for use in cars. Icons are simplified and easy to find so you can press them with minimal distraction, according to Google. Even better, it’s a voice-activated system.

With Android Auto, you’ll be able to play music, respond (by voice) to text messages, request navigation, or ask for recommendations for restaurants, gas stations, parking garages, and more. It runs over your Android phone, which plugs into the car.

Auto partners include many major car makers. Android Auto will be available later this year, with the next version of Android.

Android L

Google continues its tradition of naming updates in alphabetical order. We don’t know yet what sweet namesake the next Android, due out in the fall, will carry. Lollipop is a favorite. But there’s always Licorice, or Lemon Bar.

Without giving away the yummy name, Google did provide a preview of “L” today. Consistency across devices will be the overarching goal, with rippling touch effects, shadowing (like so many other operating systems), and simplicity.

Just as important is integration from one device to another. One way that will show up is with notifications. Google wants to streamline those, so it will show what Android perceives to be the most important ones first. And you won’t have to unlock your phone to deal with them. Instead of entering your pin, a feature called Personal Lockin determines if it’s in a trusted environment by, for example, detecting your Bluetooth smart watch. When it does, the phone will automatically unlock when you swipe.

One more interesting feature is the Recents icon, which gathers all the apps, docs, and websites—including individual Chrome tabs—into one place.

Chromebooks

As with other devices, Google wants your Chromebook to take advantage of your other devices when they are nearby, and vice versa. So your Chromebook will automatically unlock when it detects your phone. Google Now cards will be available on the Chromebook. And call notifications and texts will show up on your Chromebook—much like Apple’s announcement recently that calls and texts will appear on your iMac or MacBook. But this is one case where Apple betters Google, since you’ll actually be able to answer calls on your Apple computer.

—Donna Tapellini

   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Electronics & Computers News

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more