Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) showcased its Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch and Daydream mobile virtual reality technologies at Google I/O in Mountain View, California last week, and both tools could reshape the way developers collaborate with Google moving forward.
Android Wear 2.0 represents "the most significant Android Wear update since its launch two years ago," according to Google Vice President of Engineering David Singleton.
The release features a number of updates, including:
New UI -- The Android Wear 2.0 user interface (UI) includes a notification design and app launcher to help users launch apps and respond to notifications quickly and effortlessly.
Complications API -- Google's Complications application programming interface (API) enables app developers to publish data to multiple watch faces and make it easier for users to launch an app from the watch face, Singleton noted.
Standalone apps -- Singleton said Android Wear apps now can access the Internet directly over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular.
Android Wear 1.x and 2.0 emulated comparison of the same notification. (Source: Google)
Viktor Bogdanov, head of marketing and public relations at Chicago-based software development company Intersog, told FierceDeveloper that he believes Android Wear 2.0 represents "a major overhaul for Google's smartwatch development platform."
"One of [Android Wear 2.0's] key features is standalone apps. ... This feature will significantly extend capabilities of Android Wear apps for iOS users. So, finally developers can make real standalone apps without having to inherit the Wear APK into a smartphone app," Bogdanov noted.
He also pointed out the Complications API could deliver immense benefits for developers.
"Android Wear 2.0 comes with a Complications API that lets developers transmit raw data straight to a smartwatch face. As such, mobile developers can now better manage data flow from data providers to watch faces and display complicated data of various types," Bogdanov said. "This will help developers reduce time to design interfaces by eliminating the necessity to code in order to get underlying data."
A look inside Daydream
No discussion of Google I/O would be complete without a look at Daydream, the company's new Android-powered mobile virtual reality platform.
Daydream serves as the follow-up to Cardboard, a disposable VR headset that Google launched two years ago.
Unlike Cardboard, Daydream will function with smartphones that feature specific sensors and screens. This will lead to the creation of Daydream-ready devices as well.
In addition, Google has announced eight hardware partners to develop Daydream-ready smartphones:
Furthermore, Daydream raises many questions for developers, including whether this platform serves as a viable alternative to Samsung's Gear VR.
"With an array of smartphone hardware partners already onboard, Daydream looks to be a more accessible platform than Samsung's Gear VR," James Moar, senior analyst at Juniper Research, told FierceDeveloper. "However, as it is tied to specific Daydream-ready phones running Android N, the adoption will be slower than we've seen for Cardboard. Google knows this, as it's been steadily updating YouTube to be Cardboard-compatible, a line of development which Daydream will not stop."
Incentives for Android developers
Android developers looking to enter the smartwatch and mobile VR markets now have additional incentives to create apps for these segments.
But Bogdanov said many developers remain skeptical about the smartwatch market, despite Android Wear 2.0's new features.
"I don't believe developers will rush to create Android Wear apps. The reason is users who are very dissatisfied with smartwatch as a new form factor and believe that smartwatches are only good when synced to a smartphone," he said. "As more apps featuring a new enhanced and advanced functionality emerge, users may change their mind and love to deal with standalone apps. This can definitely fuel further expansion of the Android Wear apps ecosystem, but it's yet too early to make any predictions now."
Comparatively, Daydream could give developers an opportunity to capitalize on the mobile VR sector, a market that is expected to grow over the next few years.
Market intelligence firm Tractica has predicted 96.4 million mobile VR devices will ship between 2014 and 2020, and Daydream could make it easier for developers to enter the mobile VR segment quickly.
Moar pointed out that developers who are interested in entering the mobile VR space should choose Daydream over Cardboard as well.
"Daydream's first users will be those with the latest Android phones, and potentially more disposable income to spend on VR apps," he said. "While Cardboard offers a greater addressable base at present, and so merits some degree of parallel development support, the user base is not large and the platform will ultimately be folded into Daydream as Android handsets are updated."
However, Moar noted that developers will need to incorporate distinct features to help their Daydream offerings stand out.
"In order to keep that monetization aspect going, app developers need to keep their features as distinct from Google's own offerings as possible. So, for example, apps based on viewing publicly available spaces are unlikely to have much shelf-life when Google Streetview arrives on Daydream," he noted.
Of course, questions remain about how Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) will respond to Daydream, too. And how Apple responds to Daydream may influence the mobile VR market's trajectory.
"The other big shoe still to drop is how Apple will respond," Lewis Ward, research director of gaming at International Data Corp (IDC), told FierceDeveloper. "I suspect they'll announce something similar to Daydream within 18 months, and so developers will want to keep an eye on iPhone 6S and 6S Plus specs and do everything possible to develop content that's going to run smoothly on the most recent iPhone releases."
Top image: Screenshot of Google Daydream home page