SAN FRANCISCO—Google not only continues to pack additional functionality and usefulness into its standard apps, but it's also bringing some key consumer applications alive for use when they're offline.
On Day 1 of the Google I/O 2015 developers' conference here at Moscone West, the giant Web services provider announced May 28 that users now will be able to use Google Maps without Internet connectivity—and that includes turn-by-turn directions. They also will be able to view YouTube videos for a window of 48 hours without being connected to the YouTube site.
Travelers and adventurers who enjoy being out in the wilds, far from connectivity hot spots, will certainly appreciate offline Google Maps, which will provide up-to-date geo-positioning without WiFi or 3G or 4G connectivity.
Google Photos Offers Unlimited Storage
Google also announced an impressive new photo app, appropriately dubbed Google Photos, which provides unlimited photo storage in the Google cloud and features a fast, efficient way to find and display individual and groups of images and/or videos. Go here to get download information; it's available in Google Play and the Apple App Store.
In a nutshell, Google has put its considerable search capabilities to work in the Photos app so that users can find images and videos fast. Everything is chronologically marked and saved, and by simply swiping down quickly, users can scroll through months and years of photos in seconds. By using simple keywords, as one would do in any search engine, users can get groups of photos that fit that description to pop up quickly on the screen. By pinching the screen, users can make smaller the size of the proofs to add more photos to scan.
Google Photos undoubtedly will become a major competitor to Apple's Macintosh photo app, which was introduced in February, as all the storage for the images is unlimited and free of charge, just as in Google Apps.
All of these new capabilities will run on Google's latest version of the Android operating system, Android M, which was introduced May 28. Developers this week will be taking home the preview build of it, which will run on Nexus 5, 6 and 9 devices, in addition to the Nexus Player set-top box. The GA release of Android M won't be available until this fall, Google said.
"We're all about understanding the context in which people use our products and services," said Aparna Chennapragada, a mobile and Android products manager at Google. "We already have so much information at our disposal and we understand so many of the use cases that we can put it all together in new apps that are really useful."
Google Pay, Project Brillo
Google also introduced Android Pay, which will take the place of Google Wallet on smartphones. It appears to be very similar to Apple Pay in that it will power in-app and tap-to-pay purchases on mobile devices.
Vice President of Android Engineering Dave Burke described Android Pay as a typical Google open platform for developers to use and one that will be supported by other Google apps. "Already, we have more than 700,000 stores in the U.S. that will be supporting it right off the bat," Burke said.
Google Wallet will still be supported, but it will be used only to conduct Play Store purchases on the Web. It also will facilitate peer-to-peer payments through the app and on services such as Gmail.
Google didn't offer a lot of detail as to when Android Play will be rolled out but said it will be in testing this summer.
Google's Internet of things (IoT) operating system, dubbed Project Brillo, was mentioned briefly as a derivative of Android that will serve as a low-power connector for millions of devices in the future. A developers' preview is expected by the end of the year.
Google Now on Tap
Google is consolidating more of its capabilities so that they can work in real-time fashion in an app called Google Now on Tap. This new digital assistant literally listens in on your activities and can combine input such as geo-positioning, airline and train schedules, and news regarding weather, traffic and other factors (is the president coming to town to upset traffic patterns?) so that a user can get to the airport, for example, with as little friction as possible.
These data streams are all combined in the same app to serve the user.
Android M will be capable of handling the new bidirectional USB-C plugs, which eliminate the annoying requirement of plugging in right-side up.
Some other assorted facts and figures, according to Google Vice President of Products Sundar Pichai (who runs Android, Chrome, Search and Maps):
- Google now has more than 1 billion Android users and more than 900 million Gmail users.
- Google has sold 17 million Chromecasts and supplied more than 1.5 billion TV casts.
- Eight out of every 10 phones worldwide is operating on Android.
- Google's Android Wear software is growing in use globally, and the watches it runs could pose a serious challenge to the Apple Watch. It was launched a year ago on two smartwatches, and it now powers seven of them.
- The apps are there, too; there are now 4,000 Android Wear apps available in Google Play.
- Google I/O 2015 was streamed to about 2 million people on six continents on May 28.