Google's annual developer conference, Google I/O is on again, and the tech world is abuzz with the various announcements, upgrades and projects announced on day one of the event. But if you don't have time to go through the various blog posts and live updates to make sure you're on top of the latest news from the search giant, don't worry - here's a collection of the big announcements from I/O, and how they relate to future developments.
The first big announcement from I/O 2015 was the launch of Android M, the next version of Android's operating system. Android M will succeed Android Lollipop later this year, with a pre-release version launching immediately. Android M will provide a range of performance enhancements (including an upgraded copy and paste functionality), as well as improved power management (based on motion detection) and USB Type-C support for faster charging.
Android M will also include improved app integration, with a new linking system enabling apps to open content direct (instead of prompting users to grant access) and an improved app permissions system, giving users more control over the features apps can access.
But the big announcement was Android Pay, a system that will enable people to quickly and easily to pay for things via their phones in real-life stores. The new system will integrate the much maligned Google Wallet system, Google's first attempt at mobile payments which launched in 2011. Google has brought American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Discovery on board for the new Android Pay system, which will work in 700,000 stores across the U.S., and for in-app purchases.
The introduction of Android Pay puts it in direct competition with Apple's Apple Pay system, a contest both are very keen to win, as mobile payments are likely to become a major revenue stream in coming years - not to mention the data they can gather from purchases made via this method.
Android Wear was the second discussion point of the conference, with Android Wear director David Singleton announcing that over 4,000 apps have now been developed for Android Wear since its debut. Singleton discussed the many variations of the Android watch, noting that 1,500 different watch faces are now available. Singleton demonstrated Android Wear's new 'Always On' system, where apps, when activated, are always viewable on your Android watch screen in a powered down mode - no shaking of your wrist or tapping to activate, handy when looking at maps and shopping lists. Android watches will also integrate new wrist activation options and a system that enables users to draw an emoji on your Android watch face and the system will recognise it and translate it into likely emoji matches.
Singleton also demonstrated some of the latest app integrations with the Android watch, including an option to call an Uber by speaking into your watch.
Google Senior VP of Products Sundar Pichai next discussed Project Brillo. Brillo is effectively an operating system for small scale devices, like light bulbs and security cameras. Google plans to combine Brillo with another new system called Weave, which will enable these devices to communicate with other connected equipment and web services, giving users more centralised control over, well, everything. Android devices will auto-detect Brillo and Weave connections, enabling users to integrate connected devices more easily - this particularly relates to things like Nest, the thermostat company which Google acquired last year. Project Brillo is about controlling more elements of your world easier, moving us closer to being able to manage everything - from our household appliances to our weekly shopping - from one, single touchscreen.
Expanded Google Now - "Now on Tap"
Google's Director of Product Management Aparna Chennapragada was next on stage to discuss forthcoming changes to Google Now. Dubbed "Now on Tap", Google's has developed a search feature that remains active all the time and analyses what you're doing on your device in order to provide a relevant, contextual response. For instance, you might be listening to a song on your phone and you want to know who the singer is - you could ask Google "who's singing this?' and Now on Tap will provide a Google search response that will pop-up on screen. The response provided is also not a Google search match, so not a link, but a direct answer, moving Google further away from traditional search matches and more towards direct response data.
"Quick answers to quick questions, without having to switch context," Chennapragada proclaimed.
There's significant potential in this addition, and it may help Google strengthen its hold on search amidst the challenge of social search options, increasing with the rate of data entered every day. The system would also, theoretically, be able to provide better contextual search matches within every process on your Android phone. The possibilities of this are great, and the examples shown at I/O were certainly impressive - it'll be interesting to see how this works in real life.
Google Photos will be re-launched and will offer unlimited image and video storage for free. What's more, the new system will analyse your images and sort them into groups, making it easier to manage and maintain your photo collections - it'll even identify faces and people and help sort content based on such matches.
Images has always been one of the strong points of Google+, and several tech journalists have noted how the move to separate Google Photos from Google+ is another step in the slow dismantling of Google's social network. Previously, you'd have had to sign-up to Google + to utilise their image storage options, but Google Photos will be a standalone app, independent of the network.
Google Cardboard and Jump
Google also announced a new Google Cardboard viewer which will fit larger phones. Cardboard is a virtual reality viewer that enables users to turn their smartphones into virtual reality headsets, in combination with compatible apps. The new Cardboard is easier to assemble and works with various devices (including iPhones). Cardboard chief Clay Bavor discussed the innovative ways in which virtual reality can be used, including to help teachers take students on virtual reality excursions to places they'd never be able to access in real life. To support this, Google is launching 'Expeditions', a classroom set of Cardboard headsets that can be controlled by a master tablet.
Google's also developing a new camera rig called Jump, which is a set of cameras in a ring type device that will, eventually, enable users to capture their own virtual reality content. Jump will have a limited roll out to selected users at first, with a view to opening VR up to everyone in future. Davor also noted that YouTube will support full virtual reality soon.
These were the main highlights of day one of Google I/O. The conference has one more day to go, no doubt with another set of demonstrations and examples (though historically the big announcements have come on the first day). As always, there's some big things in development at the search giant, and as it looks to expand further into every element of our daily lives, we're going to see more and more options for tech integration and advancement, giving us more control over our ever-expanding array of devices, and providing Google with more data with which to reach us.