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Google debuts Android L, plus wearable, auto, TV versions

Jun 25, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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[Updated Jun 27] — At Google I/O, Google previewed Android 5.0′s new UI, and also unveiled Android TV and Android Auto, while offering new details on Android Wear, including new Samsung and LG watches.

Once upon a time, Android was just one of many topics discussed at the yearly Google I/O developers conference. Now, the Linux-based operating system is crowding out Chrome, search, and enterprise news, not only in its standard mobile configuration, but in spinoffs including new Android-based platforms for TV set-tops, automotive infotainment, and wearables.

Android Wear had been previously announced, but Google offered new details and noted the simultaneous launch of two Android Wear smartwatches: Samsung’s “Gear Live” and LG’s “G Watch.” Android TV was widely expected to be the name of the heir to Google TV, and now it’s here, at least as a preview SDK. Android Auto is brand new, although it seemed a likely next step after Google’s Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) was announced in January.

The highlight of day one, however, was “Android L,” which is expected to ship later this year as Android 5.0, and perhaps “Android Lollipop.” The release features a revamped UI with a flatter, brighter, look and feel, a faster new ART runtime, and more.

 

Android L

At Google I/O today in San Francisco, Google designer Matias Duarte previewed the Android L release — the first major upgrade since last November’s Android 4.4 (“KitKat”) — which is expected to arrive later this year. Duarte, who revamped the Android interface with Android 2.3 and refined it later with Android 4.0, has made some major changes in Android L. The UI, which is said to be based on a concept called “material design,” will be implemented to some extent in all the Android UI variants for wearables, TV, and the like.



Screenshots from Google’s Android L presentation
(click images to enlarge)

The design is somewhat paradoxically described as both “flatter” — with a grid-based layout and flat colors similar to Windows Phone — while also as providing the illusion of more depth. The interface includes animations such as ripple effects and the ability to add real-time shadows. Color shades can be generated dynamically, based on whatever else is on the screen.

Under the hood, Android L features a new Android Runtime (ART) that supports 64-bit processing and offers twice the performance of Dalvik, according to Google. While Dalvik uses a JIT (just-in-time) compiler, ART uses an AOT (ahead-of-time) compiler that is said to process code in advance for better performance. ART, which was introduced as an experimental option in KitKat, will also improve battery life, claims Google.

ART will be supported with an extension pack that is specifically designed to accelerate gaming performance. The runtime is also said to be backward compatible, so developers won’t need to rewrite apps to enjoy its benefits.

Android L also introduces a native battery saving mode called Project Volta, which seems to be independent of the battery savings found in ART. This can work harmoniously with manufacturer supplied power-saving modes, providing up to 90 minutes more battery life per day, claims Google.

Another “key” new feature that will apply more directly to end-users is a personal unlocking function that lets you unlock a phone via Bluetooth using a paired smartwatch. You can also choose to show notifications from your lock screen, and there’s also a kill switch for disabling a stolen phone. A new feature called “Recents,” meanwhile, synchs Chrome browser tabs from a desktop PC with the mobile device, letting you see what you were looking at on your PC.

Below are three short videos demonstrating and discussing Android L.




Above: Android L preview

 



Above: Android L design presentation

 



Above: Android L performance presentation

 

Android Wear

Google today released the Android Wear SDK and demonstrated more features of the smartwatch platform using a new LG G Watch that will launch today along with an Android Wear based Samsung Gear Live smartwatch.



Android Wear watches: LG G Watch (left) and Samsung Gear Live
(click images to enlarge)

Most of this was already covered back in March when Google announced Android Wear. The round-faced Motorola Moto 360 watch tipped at that event, will ship later this summer.

Google showed off voice-activated Google Now intelligent personal-assistant technology, which is built into Android Wear, as well as the UI’s vertical and horizontal swipe functionality. Google demonstrated how one can order a pizza or a Lyft car with a voice command, and Google Now handles the multi-step transactions involved with the purchase.

Below are two videos relating to Android Wear: Google’s Android Wear demo presentation, and LG’s G Watch promotional video.




Above: Android Wear demo

 



Above: LG G Watch promotional video

LG announced its previously tipped G Watch, and opened pre-orders at $229 for a July 7 release. The square-faced smartwatch runs Android Wear on a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, and features a 1.65-inch color IPS display.

The 63-gram G Watch ships with 512MB RAM and 4GB of eMMC flash. The device integrates a 400mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0, and multiple sensors. The IP67 protected watch is dust and water resistant, and made of PVD coated stainless steel, with customizable colored straps.

The Samsung Gear Live is open for pre-orders at $199, and similarly launches July 7. It features the same 1.63-inch, 320 x 320 Super AMOLED screen found on the Tizen-based Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, as well as Samsung’s earlier, Android-based Galaxy Gear. That’s also quite similar to the LG G Watch.

There are several other similarities between the Gear Live and Gear 2, as well as with the G Watch. These include a dual-core processor — now 1.2GHz instead of 1GHz — and the allotment of 512MB RAM and 4GB flash. The IP67-protected watch weighs in at 59 grams, compared to 68 grams for the Gear 2. That differential is due in part to the lack of the Gear 2′s 2-megapixel camera. The Gear Live has the same 300mAh battery as the Gear 2.

Once again, Bluetooth 4.0 is on tap, along with a heart rate sensor and an accelerometer. In this case, the sensors will eventually be able to tap into the newly announced Google Fit service. This open source API platform offers a sensor discovery service, data collection, and user tracking of health data.

The potential for Google to track your health data via Google Fit and sell it to marketers adds more fuel to the fire of critics concerned about Google’s privacy incursions. Earlier this week, there was much speculation about whether Google might be able to tap into home video surveillance footage of Dropcam cameras, once Dropcam is acquired by Google subsidiary Nest.

In related wearable news, prior to the Google I/O event Google upgraded its Google Glass eyewear platform with a new version that provides 2GB of RAM. Seeing as there is no free upgrade for the original 1GB version, pioneering Glass users took to the streets with pitchforks. (“Ok Glass: Light torch.”)

 

Android Auto

It was only in January that Google announced an Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Nvidia to ease and standardize integration with Android devices and in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems. Now, Google has a first-gen platform in place called Android Auto, and it has announced support from many more automakers including Ford, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan, Renault, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

Android Auto is not a full-blown IVI stack like the Linux-based GENIVI. Instead, it’s a standardized way to connect Android apps and services in the car, offering syncing and content exchange between Android mobile devices and a variety of automotive IVI systems. It appears to be somewhat similar to the Car Connectivity Consortium’s MirrorLink technology and Apple’s CarPlay.

The Android Auto app does not run on the car computer, but on an Android mobile device. The voice-activated app can cast the contents of the phone to the car’s IVI screen and use the IVI’s devices controls, including steering wheel buttons, to interact with it. You can also use the phone’s voice controls, so for example, you can use voice-activated Google Maps on the larger IVI screen, and without having to prop up the phone up on your dash.

An Android Auto SDK will be released soon, with a focus on audio and messaging. The messaging APIs, for example, will let you respond by voice to a text. The APIs will be similar to those used by Android Wear, allowing potential integration with smartwatches as well.

Below is a video of Google’s Android Auto presentation.




Above: Android Auto demo

 

Android TV

Rumors of a dramatic “Android TV” upgrade of the failed, Android 3.1-based Google TV platform have been popping up since last fall. UI images, videos, and technical documents were leaked in April. A very similar, card-based UI was demonstrated today at Google I/O where the Android TV branding was used for the first time.

Android TV, which can run on a TV, set-top box, or other devices, appears to be based on Android L. One of the main differences with Google TV is that it’s much more integrated with the main Android SDK, and Google Now voice actions now drive the search feature. You can talk to Android TV with an Android device or with an Android Wear smartwatch. Other features include more personalized suggestions.

Google Cast is integrated, so you can send videos to your TV, and keep them in synch, letting you switch back and forth between devices without losing your place. An Android TV Preview SDK will be available tomorrow.

Android TV also has a gaming component, as indicated by a prototype Android TV-based micro-console from Razer that will ship in the fall. The unnamed device will offer gaming support in addition to multimedia functionality, and will offer voice support from Android devices. There was no word on what kind controller might ship with the “affordable” device. There does not appear to be a standardized controller design for Android TV.

Other Android TV set-tops will be available from Asus and LG, says Google. Smart TVs using the interface will appear from Sony, Sharp, and TPvision

Speaking of casting, Google also announced new functionality for its popular, $35 Chromecast dongle device. Chromecast can now stream video from devices even if they are not sharing the same WiFi network, letting users share videos via the web. Another feature will cast photos to TVs from Android devices when the TVs are not in use.

Below is a video of Google’s Android TV presentation.




Above: Android TV demo

 

Android One

Google announced a variation on its Nexus reference designs called Android One, aimed at budget phones. As with Nexus, the Android One phones will use stock Android, without bloatware and skins. The Android One designs will also offer automatic updates.

Google demonstrated a 4.5-inch Android One phone with support for dual SIM cards. The phones will launch first in India from three mobile providers at prices under $100. It will then move to other emerging markets.

Android 4.4 was the first release to actively improve Android performance on budget phones. The low-end smartphone market, which is also being targeted by Firefox OS, is expected to be the fastest growing segment in the next few years.

The video below shows Google’s Android One presentation.




Above: Introduction to Android One

 

Further information

More information on Google’s new Android L may be found here. More on the Android Wear, Android TV, and Android Auto platforms may be found here. Developer SDKs, some of them in preview form, will be available from these same pages on June 26.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

One Response to “Google debuts Android L, plus wearable, auto, TV versions”

  1. Nicolas says:

    They are good at covering a wide range of devices, Google Android is the new Microsoft Windows!

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