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.
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.
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.
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+.