At its annual I/O developer's conference, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced a redesign for its Android operating system. Android version 5.0, dubbed L, featuring a further refined interface called Material Design, additional tools and APIs for developers, and a new runtime that is optimized for 64-bit processing. Google also announced its Android One program to develop low-cost Android phones, its Android Auto effort to install Android functions into vehicles, and its Android TV initiative to bring Android apps and services to users' TVs. The company also provided additional details on its Android Wear platform for wearable devices like smart watches, and a new program called Google Fit to collect Android users' health and fitness data.
Google posted its nearly three-hour Google I/O keynote to its YouTube I/O channel.
Overall, Google's announcements reflect the company's desire to push Android into a wider and wider range of electronic devices, and to counter the advances of Apple's iOS platform as well as Microsoft's Windows Phone, Tizen, Firefox, Ubuntu and other alternative smartphone platforms. To be clear though, Android remains by far the world's most popular smartphone operating system: eMarketer reported that Android users will account for 50 percent of U.S. smartphone users in 2014, compared to 40.5 percent for iOS users.
During its event, Google itself announced that 1 billion people worldwide who use an Android device, which the company said equates to more than 20 billion text messages sent every day, 1.5 trillion steps taken with an Android and roughly 93 million selfies.
However, much of Google's business is focused around mobile advertising, and in that area the company continues to face challenges. According to eMarketer, Google's remains the most dominant company in the digital advertising space, but its position is slipping. In 2014, Google will take 31.5 percent of the $140.2 billion global advertising market, down from 31.9 percent in 2013, eMarketer estimated.
In an effort to bolster and expand its Android position, Google showed off the next major version of its Android operating system, dubbed L and due in the fall. Android L will feature 5,000 new APIs for developers along with a new Material Design initiative that seeks to unify the design of all of Google's Android interfaces. For smartphones specifically, Google said that Android L will feature a redesigned keyboard, a notification screen that will merge with the lock screen, and improvements to Google's Now card-based alert service. Android L will also exclusively run the Android Runtime (ART) that was introduced with Android KitKat, replacing the Dalvik runtime, which Google said will make the operating system run more smoothly. Finally, Android L will feature better support for powerful and graphically intensive games.
Separately, Google also announced its Android One program, which is designed to provide a software and hardware reference design to smartphone makers that Google said will help lower the cost of developing and building Android phones. Google will debut Android One hardware made by Micromax, Karbonn and Spice in India later this year. Google said that Micromax, for example, can build a 4.5-inch Android device for under $100.
As for Google's efforts in the wearables market, the company disclosed additional features and functions for its previously announced Android Wear operating system. Google said Android Wear devices can easily interact with other Android devices including phones and tablets, and will be able to display alerts from its Google Now service. Importantly, Google said that both LG (with the G Watch, to be sold by AT&T) and Samsung (with the Gear Live) would build Android Wear smart watches, and that the gadgets would be available to purchase this week. As for Motorola's previously announced Moto 360 smart watch, Google said that device will be available later this summer.
During its developer event, Google also announced its new Android Auto program, which is designed to push specific Android applications and services into automobiles. The company said a wide range of auto makers including Audi and Volvo are participating in the program, and the first cars that can support Android Auto will be available later this year. Android Auto essentially allows users to connect their phone to a vehicle's systems and get access to Google services like Maps and Messages through voice commands or through a touchscreen in a car's dashboard.
Google also announced its new Android TV effort, which will push Android apps and services onto users' TVs. The Android TV interface works through a directional pad and voice commands, and displays video content like movies and TV shows available through the Android ecosystem. Android TV can also access select Android apps and games--including multiplayer games. Importantly, Sharp and Sony are among the handful of companies that will build Android TV devices.
In other Google I/O tidbits:
- Google announced the Google Fit Platform for collecting and managing health and fitness data from various body-monitoring gadgets. Google Fit is essentially Google's response to Apple's new HealthKit platform and Health app.
- A number of protesters disrupted Google's I/O presentations, and there were protesters outside the event too.
- Google said its Chromebook operating system for laptops will be more tightly integrated with its Android phones, and will soon be able to display notifications from Android phones and also will be able to run some Android apps.
- Google has paid out $5 billion to its Android developers during the past 12 months. However, Benedict Evans pointed out that that figure indicates Google Android users in total "are spending around half as much on apps on more than twice the user base, and hence app ARPU on Android is roughly a quarter of iOS."
- Google Drive for Work will cost $10 per month and come with unlimited storage.
- Google announced improvements for app monitoring and testing for Android app developers using its Play store.
- Google acquired mobile app testing company Appurify and will use it to help Android app developers more easily test and deploy their apps.
- Thanks to its acquisition of QuickOffice, Google will be able to offer native Android editing of Microsoft Office documents through its Google Docs service.
Finally, Google also announced improvements to Android L that will allow the company to more effectively target the enterprise market. Specifically, the company announced a new service that can separate corporate applications and personal applications on one Android device, thereby improving the security of corporate data and allowing users to only carry one phone for personal and work activities. Google also said that Samsung has integrated much of its Knox mobile enterprise technology into Android, and that Google will initiate a "certified Android for work" program.
"Google expands Android into more device types, in an ambitious attempt to offer an integrated set of services on them all," summed CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood in a tweet from I/O.
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