Google I/O roundup: Android TV, L, Auto and Wear

New television platform, smartwatches, in-car connectivity and health tracking among announcements
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Google’s executives took to the stage at the firm’s annual I/O developer conference yesterday for almost three hours of announcements. PCR rounds up the biggest news…

Android TV

One of the biggest rumours ahead of the event concerned Google’s leap into television sets, which turned out to completely true.

"We're simply giving TV the same level of attention as your phone and tablet," said Dave Burke, Google’s Android engineering director, introducing the new ‘Android TV’ platform.

The operating system, which can be built into smart TV sets, set-top boxes and games consoles, provides an Android-like user interface for the TV, which can be controlled with a connected smartphone, tablet or video game controller – or an Android Wear smartwatch (see below for more details).

The platform include support for apps such as Netflix, games and downloaded movies, with more apps available through Google’s Play store.

Users can search through available films and shows using their voice, backed by Google’s own search platform to provide detailed look-ups (eg. ‘an action film from 1998 starring Bruce Willis’).

Android TV also includes support for Google’s ‘Cast’ feature, providing similar functionality to the company’s highly popular Chromecast device.

The first range of Android TVs will hit shelves in 2015, with vendors such as Sony, Sharp and TP Vision already signed up to produce compatible sets. Android TV apps will begin appearing later this year.

As part of the Android TV announcement, gaming firm Razer revealed that it will launch a new Android TV-enabled micro-console later this year.

"This is a console of the future," said Razer CEO Ming-Liang Tan.

"Built on Google's incredible Android TV platform, the Razer micro-console incorporates not only hardcore and casual gaming, but music, movies, and other entertainment and social applications, all on an affordable system."

Android 5.0 ‘L’

The latest version of Google’s smartphone and tablet operating system – Android 5.0 ‘L’ – was shown off, highlighting its ‘material design’.

The revamped visual design was billed as a way to make screens feel 3D, with support for dynamic shadows, context-sensitive animations and lively visuals which respond to touch in more dynamic ways.

L also adds support for 64-bit devices, as well as an improved notifications centre.

Enhanced security was also touted – a new feature titled ‘Personal Unlocking’ examines a user’s location, Bluetooth connections (eg. to a verified smartwatch) and voice in order to authenticate them and allow them to unlock their phone without the need to enter a PIN. If any of the designated checks are failed, the user can still use a conventional code to get in.

Android Wear

Google announced some details for its ‘Android Wear’ platform for wearable tech such as smartwatches and smartbands.

Wear was revealed to have support for multiple display configurations, such as square or circular watch faces, as well as voice recognition.

Location-based reminders were also demonstrated, with the request "remind me to check my mail when I get home” prompting the watch to pop up an email client when the wearer is detected to have returned home.

The event also saw two of the first Android Wear devices announced – the LG G watch, which is available through Google’s Play store, and the Samsung Gear Live, which is also available.

The first circular Android Wear timepiece, the Motorola Moto 360, was revealed to be available ‘later this summer’, which pre-orders open now.

Android Auto

Google is also shifting gears in the automobile market.

Android Auto provides connectivity for Android smartphones and tablets in supported cars, adding voice recognition and context-aware notifications to apps such as Google Maps.

Auto will allow users to mirror their smartphone screen to a car's dashboard display and use steering wheel-mounted controls or similar to navigate through the newly car-optimised interface.

Google Fit

Complementing the Android Wear announcement, Google Fit was also revealed.

The health-tracking platform is designed to unify multiple devices and services in order to provide a single overview of a user’s health and activity.

Third party support is to be added through a Google Fit API, with firms including Adidas and Nike already set to add support to their hardware and software.

Chromebooks

Briefly mentioned, Chromebooks were largely presented as a success story for Google.

The firm outlined the evolution of the platform from one reference device to eight OEMs making 15 devices today, adding that there were ‘many more on the way’.

This success story was capped by the announcement that the top ten highest rated laptops currently on Amazon.com are Chromebooks.

Cardboard VR

At the end of the marathon event, Google announced that all attendees would be given a gift.

The creation beneath each seat was a build-it-yourself virtual reality headset, constructed from cardboard, a smartphone and a rubber band.

Dubbed Google 'Cardboard', the kit utilises a special app on a smartphone to provide a VR experience that can be created for less than £15, and aimed to demonstrate the potential introduction of futuristic technology like VR to poorer communities.

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