How Google Is Taking Android Development in New Directions

NEWS ANALYSIS: Google, like Apple, wants to be everywhere you are: in your phone, laptop, tablet, TV, car, home, business—even on your face.

Google I/O Conference

SAN FRANCISCO—Google, which already runs the world's busiest search engine, is mapping/photographing the world and building driverless cars, is now moving into the homemade television-content business among a few other markets.

Consumers will soon be able to connect their televisions and Android devices to form de facto home television studios. And that's not all, at least according to news announced onstage June 25 on Day 1 of Google I/O, the annual developers' conference here at Moscone West.

Google, like its cross-Silicon Valley competitor, Apple, wants to be everywhere you are: in your phone, laptop, tablet, television, car, home, business and even on your face (with Google Glass). If there's anyplace else left untouched, it probably wants to be there, too.

Google I/O's three-hour-long keynote address was jammed with Android and Chrome-related news, ranging from connected wearable computers to devices and software for home, business and vehicles. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company released Android v4.4, also called Android L, which includes a "kill" command for smartphones which disables them in the event they are lost or stolen. Law enforcement officials have been calling for this feature for a couple of years.

No TV Settop Box Introduced

A few new devices (TV settop box, smart watches) were described, but only one—the Android One—was actually introduced. The Android One, designed for emerging markets, such as India, will be a fully functional Android smartphone with an FM radio, a removable SD card and a 4.5-inch screen. The cost? Less than $100, Google Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome and Applications Sundar Pichai said.

The connecting thread: Using the rapidly expanding Android ecosystem (now more than 1 billion active users globally in any given 30-day period), each of these mini-PCs can be controlled from a person's Android smartphone. Soon, they too will be controlled by smart watches (also connected to phones) still in development with Samsung, LG and Motorola that should be generally available in the fall.

In the case of the potential home television studio, for example (no Google settop box was introduced June 25; it was only described), users will be able to deploy the Google Play interface and the Android platform not only to show standard and on-demand television fare on various devices but also to stream personal live and recorded video from smartphones and tablets directly to home televisions. From there, the completed videos can easily be loaded onto YouTube -- another Google property.

In theory and almost in practice now, families and individuals will be able to produce their own television shows using all these tools.

Streaming Live Video from Phone to TV Screen

Dave Burke, Google’s Engineering Manager for Mobile and chief architect for the company's Chrome To Phone project (connecting Android phones to PCs), demonstrated the use of an Android phone to video to some of the 6,100 attendees at the keynote and connected the streaming image to a television screen onstage. The possibilities of this type of interaction among devices are apparently endless.

The settop box, which can be used in concert with the popular Google Chromecast dongle (the $35 plug-in that is now the biggest-selling IT item on, is expected to become generally available this fall.

Google is aiding and abetting all this interactive connectivity among devices by providing one Android software development kit for all form factors, Burke said. More than 5,000 new application programming interfaces (APIs) are included in the new SDK; the developers in the Google I/O crowd cheered when they heard that factoid.

Google Taking More Control of Android, Analyst Says

Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, wrote in a media advisory that he thought the overriding theme of the keynote was that Google is reasserting control over Android by releasing new development platforms using the same Android SDK: Android Wear, Android Auto, and Android TV.

"The core objective of Android has always been to provide the widest possible audience for Google's services, but over the last several years Google has seen a variety of device vendors customize, tweak and fork Android in ways that either submerge Google's services beneath their own or strip them out entirely," Dawson wrote.

"Google has achieved its objective of creating a very widely used mobile operating system, but it's a very Google-light version of Android which is driving that growth."

Google's increased control over Android has been extended, thanks to the Android Wear, Auto and TV platforms, Dawson said.

"The Android user interfaces in each of these new domains will be standard Google interfaces, and won't be customizable in the way Android on smartphones and tablets has been," he said. "Google's search and voice control, Google-provided location and other contextual data and other Google-centric services will be at the heart of these devices in a way they're currently not on many Android smartphones and tablets."

Users Understand Wearable Computers

Damien Mehers, senior software engineer for wearable computing at Evernote, one of the first apps on Google Glass, offered some context on Google I/O, which has attracted a global audience of developers, analysts, vendor/partners and media types to Moscone West. More than 1 million people watched the keynote via livestream, Pichai said.

"Google's all about pushing the integration of everything—whether it's your watch, your phone, your TV—all of them put together," Mehers, who's based in Geneva, told eWEEK. "Some people love the idea that if you've got your watch with you, you don't have to unlock your computer or your phone. That seemed to go down well. It's about context —making things easier and offering more choice for users."

In one of its demonstrations, Google showed the Evernote Android app running on Chrome OS on a Chromebook laptop.

"People are getting into wearable computing pretty quickly because it provides an immediate benefit," Mehers said. "Watches and sports fitness devices might be a fad in themselves right now, but if they can be combined with other values, that's good.

"If they can bring you notifications or other relevant information without you having to pull out your phone, then there's value."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...