18 Aug 2014

Google I/O 2014

A month and a half ago, I went to Google I/O 2014. I’d been wanting to go for a long, long time, and finally managed to get tickets! In years passed, they have made major announcements about Android, Chrome, Google Cloud Platform, and given away some really cool gifts (laptops, phones, tablets etc..) always valued above the entrance fee…… Except for this year… This year, tickets cost $900, and the combined value of all gifts was about $550-$580. Being around all the attendees for a few days, it was clear that people were disappointed. Last year, the gift was a $1400 laptop. The year before, it was a tablet, a phone, a Chromebox desktop, and a Nexus Q. You get the idea. It’s obvious Google wants serious developers to attend, not people who just come for the free gifts, and I overheard a few Google employees mention this as the reason for the less impressive gifts. Next year will prove this was an anomaly, or the plan from now on.

Usually, Google I/O is a time for major product announcements, and this year didn’t disappoint. A major new Android release (code named ‘Android L’) was announced, alongside Android TV, Android Wear and Android Auto.

Google’s previous TV effort was absolutely abysmal (read my previous post for an explanation). Basically, their first two attempts were built on an old neutered Android version, shipped on severely underpowered hardware, couldn’t run most Android apps, didn’t work with the NDK (so no games or XBMC), and had a ridiculous remote control. Abysmal is probably an understatement. Now though, Google has released their third attempt, and it looks like they’ve finally learnt from their mistakes. It runs the full version of Android, will ship with great hardware (demo units were Tegra K-1), has a game controller to play all the Android games you’ve already purchased on the Google Play Store, and has a good TV friendly UI. I’m looking forward to buying one later this year.

Android Wear is Android’s answer to the Pebble, and other smart watches. It runs a slimmed down version of Android, mostly used for interacting with Google Now, and receiving notifications. Both of this year’s Google I/O 2014 gifts were watches: The LG G Watch

And and the upcoming Moto 360.

So far, it’s more gimmicky than valuable for me, but hopefully, through some software updates, things improve.

Finally, we have Android Auto. I’ve been dreaming about this for years, and have always wondered why I should have to pay extra for the navigation package, when it’s worse than what’s on my phone. I got to sit in both an Audi A3 and a Hyundai Sonata that were Android Auto prototypes, and left very impressed. The beauty of it, is that there’s nothing complicated on the vehicle, so it shouldn’t cost much. The car is just a dumb touchscreen, with all the work being done on your phone, simply connected to the car by a USB cable.

Google is leaving pricing, availability and implementation up to the individual car manufacturers. Since this feature likely removes the need for an in-car navigation system for anyone with an Android phone, car manufacturers will want to recoup their money by charging extra for the Android Auto functionality.