Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is in the midst of its yearly developer’s conference, Google I/O 2014. Besides demoing the latest version of its Android mobile operating system, previous Google I/O events have seen the public debut of new products like Google Glass.
Now that the 2.5-hour keynote has wrapped up, here’s what to expect in coming days from the Android camp:
Google I/O 2014 kicked off with the news that Android has surpassed 1 billion 30-day active smartphone users (current users versus cumulative activations) — nearly double the 538 million from last year — while Android tablets now account for 62% of global shipments.
To capture its next billion Android smartphone customers, Google announced Android One, a hardware reference platform that lets OEMs like Micromax release a 4.5-inch Android smartphone for under $100.
Because Apple’s (AAPL) cheapest smartphone offering is the ancient iPhone 4s — with a 3.5-inch display and $450 price tag — Google is moving aggressively to maintain Android’s global lead.
Speaking of Android, at Google I/O the next version was designated as “Android L,” not Lollipop, as expected.
Perhaps a move to sound more sophisticated.
Or perhaps no candy-themed names could be agreed upon.
Making the move to 64-bit support (like last year’s iOS 7), Android L features improved developer tools for animating actions and adding 3D elements along with design tools and guidelines to help keep apps consistent across smartphones and tablets (currently a sore spot for Android).
A new Material theme puts these elements to use and will be employed in all Google services over the summer. Google says performance is double that of last year’s KitKat, graphics are better and batteries will last longer. Android L is claimed to be fully cross-platform compatible, including with devices using Intel (INTC) chips.
Android Wear — Google’s smartwatch platform– got the full demo treatment (particularly its contextual awareness features), with LG’s highly anticipated G Watch in the Google I/O spotlight. Android Wear is capable of some neat tricks like full turn-by-turn directions on a smartwatch.
The big surprise here? After switching to Tizen OS with its Gear 2 smartwatch, at Google I/O 2014 it was announced that Samsung (SSNLF) is offering a Gear Live smartwatch on the Android Wear platform. Google also gave a shout-out to Samsung for its work in BYOD security — perhaps a sign the company is trying to smooth its relationship with Android’s largest OEM.
Android Auto is Google’s shot at Apple CarPlay. Android phone owners with compatible vehicles will be able to control smartphone functions from a touchscreen display, by voice or by using steering wheel-mounted buttons. Google says over 40 car manufacturers and suppliers have signed up for Android Auto, with the first cars due on dealer lots before the end of the year.
With Android TV being announced at Google I/O 2014, the company is taking yet another crack at that big screen in the living room. Android TV can be controlled with an Android smartphone, Android Wear smartwatch and supports big-screen gaming. It supports full Google Cast capability (essentially turning a smartphone into a Chromecast).
A new Android TV store will open in the fall, with a range of manufacturers including Sony (SNE) and Asus offering Android TV-compatible TVs and streaming boxes.
Previous attempts by Google to get Android on streamers and smart TVs haven’t played out so well, but maybe the third time’s a charm. Given the success of the Chromecast (at Google I/O it was announced the little streamer will gain cellular/cloud support for guest casting without access to host Wi-Fi network and personal photos onscreen as a backdrop), Google’s TV ambitions might just take off this time.
In a similar move to Apple’s HealthKit, Google Fit is an API that lets fitness tracking devices and apps to exchange information. It was glossed over fairly quickly, although participation of Nike (NKE) and its Fuel app were spiked out as being early supporters of Google Fit.
Apple had its big WWDC 2014 reveals including iOS 8, OSX Yosemite, HealthKit and HomeKit at the start of the month, and Samsung has already made its interest in health tracking and home automation well known. Amazon (AMZN) has released its living room attack with the Fire TV and an assault on Android’s smartphone domination with the Fire Phone.
Other Notes from Google I/O
- Chromebooks gain closer Android integration, including use of a smartphone proximity to unlock a user’s Chromebook, display of smartphone notifications and a coming ability to run Android apps.
- Android for Work is a certification program to make Android device more attractive to enterprise users, both through improved security, easier app distribution and Microsoft (MSFT) Office compatibility in Google Docs.
- Google Play and Google’s Cloud platform also saw some love. Cloud services are getting faster, cheaper, easier to deploy and test and come with improved analytics, while Appurify testing services will make it easier for developers to release high quality apps through Google Play.
With Google’s Android strategy for the coming year now in place, the big question is Apple’s pending hardware reveals. Expected are a bigger iPhone 6, an “iWatch” expected to be packed with fitness sensors and an Apple TV set-top box that seems likely to be more ambitious than a simple video streamer this time around.
Once Apple takes the wraps off of those in the fall, we’ll have a pretty good idea of just how the next phase of the Apple/Google battle will play out.
Based on what was announced at Google I/O 2014, it seems likely that the smartwatch, fitness/health tracking, the living room and the car will all be subject to intense competition.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.