Google I/O condensed: The 33 most important things to know

Holy smokes, gang: Google is on fire.

Google IO 2014

The big G kicked off its annual Google I/O developers' conference with a massive two-and-a-half-hour keynote this morning -- and this one was positively jam-packed with huge consumer news. Last year's I/O may have been relatively quiet, but El Goog more than made up for it with this year's avalanche of announcements.

No joke: There's a ton of stuff to take in here. So after sitting in the sweltering auditorium of San Francisco's Moscone Center for the full marathon session and then wandering the halls of Google's wonderland to process it all, I thought I'd break down the most important takeaways for us regular user folk.

I've separated everything out into easy-to-follow sections. So take a deep breath, grab some cold water, and let's do this, shall we?

Android is evolving

1. The next major release of Android -- the "L" release, as it's currently being called -- will arrive this fall. A preview development build will be available to download and install starting tomorrow for developers (and the adventurous among us).

2. The Android "L" release will bring a "radical new approach" to user design -- what Google describes as a "fresh, bold, and new look." There'll even be new design guidelines for app developers to follow. A lot of the changes revolve around the idea of unifying design across different platforms -- phones, tablets, and even traditional computers -- and the updated guidelines reflect that ideology.

Android L Release

3. We'll see newly enhanced notifications with the Android "L" release. They appear to be more card-like in presentation, and they'll show up on the lock screen, too; in fact, Google says the lock screen will basically be merged with the notification shade as of the "L" release, so you'll see your most relevant alerts the second you power on your phone. There'll also be a new type of "heads-up" notification that actually pops up on your screen for particularly urgent things.

4. With Android "L," devices will be able to detect if they're in a "safe place" and then let you skip your PIN or security pattern in those preapproved conditions. It sounds kind of like what Motorola's done with its Trusted Bluetooth feature -- where PINs and patterns are bypassed when your phone is paired with a trusted Bluetooth device -- but this system looks to be a bit more involved, with more cues beyond just the basic Bluetooth pairing.

5. Android "L" will introduce a host of new performance enhancements. In non-developer terms, you can expect apps to run faster and better and graphics to be a step above what they are now.

6. Remember Project Butter? That's what Google called its effort to improve system performance back with the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean release. With Android "L," we're getting Project Volta, which aims to do the same thing -- only this time for system stamina. Google says its Volta-related changes will improve battery life across the board and also introduce a new Battery Saver mode to shift your device into minimum power when you need to make its charge last (similar to what we've seen from manufacturers like HTC and Samsung).

7. Android phones will soon be getting profiles -- a built-in way to create data separation between your personal and corporate configurations so you can have two completely separate and secure environments for home and work.

Android and Chrome OS are converging

8. Yup, it's happening -- just not in the way a lot of people predicted. With one executive now leading both the Android and Chrome OS platforms, the two are becoming more integrated in both design and function. One such example: Chromebooks will soon automatically unlock themselves and sign you in if your Android phone is nearby.

9. Another example: You'll soon be able to see incoming call and text notifications from your Android phone on your Chromebook.

10. And here's the big one: Android apps will soon be able to run on Chromebooks -- at least, in some capacity. Google showed off a couple of demos but didn't go into detail about how widespread the capability will be or when exactly it'll become available.

11. Finally, Android's Recent Apps multitasking interface is getting a card-centric redesign that'll feature your recent tabs from Chrome as well as your most recently used apps.

All combined, this is the type of cross-platform integration Google VP Sundar Pichai appears to be bringing to Android and Chrome. It's all about making things consistent and connected -- not creating a one-or-the-other-style merger.

Android's getting wearable

12. Android Wear is actually here! The first two Wear products, the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live (which is basically a version of the Samsung Gear with Google's software in place), will go on sale via the Play Store later today. Motorola's Moto 360, meanwhile, will launch later this summer.

13. Thus far, there have been a lot of unanswered questions about how Android Wear will work -- and slowly but surely, the picture is coming into focus. For instance, we now know Android Wear devices will show cards generated by Google Now, cards generated by apps on your phone, and cards generated by apps running on the watch itself.

Android Wear Cards

14. Google won't create a separate store or even standalone apps for Android Wear watches; rather, regular Android apps will just have companion watch elements. In other words, you'll install an app on your phone and the app's watch element will then automatically get installed onto your watch.

15. Android Wear watches will be instantly and continuously synced with your phone. You can say "Okay, Google" to your watch to set a reminder or appointment, for example, and it'll show up immediately on your phone. You can also dismiss notifications from your watch and they'll be dismissed automatically from your phone as well.

16. In terms of native content, Android Wear watches appear to be focused largely on contextual information -- the type of stuff Google Now gives you, plus some health and fitness-type elements as well. As I've noted before, that sort of valuable info is precisely what could make a smartwatch useful -- and precisely what smartwatches have been missing so far.

17. Voice control is also a significant part of Android Wear, as you might expect. Beyond the basic system-level functions, Google is working with app developers to create a variety of program-specific voice commands, like being able to say "Okay, Google, call me a car" to request a ride via Lyft.

[UPDATE: In depth: What Android Wear is actually like to use]

Android's going into cars

18. Android Auto is a new platform that'll put Android into car dashboards. It's supposed to make it easier and safer to use the types of apps you'd want to use in your vehicle -- apps focused on things like navigation, communication, and music.

19. Android Auto is designed to be contextually aware, so the apps and info you need will show up on their own when you need them. There's also a heavy emphasis on voice control for hands-free use.

20. You should be able to use Android Auto in actual cars as soon as this fall. Google has a few dozen major car manufacturers already on-board -- including companies like Chevy, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, and Nissan -- and expects to have Android Auto-enabled cars out on the roads within 2014.

Google's taking on TV (again)

21. Android TV is coming soon to a living room near you. According to Google, it "isn't a new platform" -- and "that's kind of the point." Instead, it's essentially an extension of Android designed to run on large-screen entertainment environments.

22. Android TV gives you a simple home screen that appears over your video content. The interface is taken up primarily by recommendations for content and easy access to apps and games. Gaming in particular looks to be a big focus for Android TV -- which makes sense, since Chromecast can already do the content-based basics so cheaply and easily.

23. Speaking of Chromecast, Android TV has the same sort of casting function it uses built in as well -- so in addition to using a remote, you can also cast content wirelessly from your phone, tablet, or computer directly to an Android TV device.

24. You can also use an Android Wear watch to control an Android TV device in lieu of a regular remote. Hello, Dick Tracy.

25. Android TV remotes will allow for voice-control input so you can speak to find the content or app you want.

26. A bunch of upcoming smart TVs will ship with Android TV as their operating system later this year. Standalone Android TV boxes are also slated to hit stores this fall.

Chromecast will soon do more

27. Don't despair, Chromecast fans: Even with Android TV on the horizon, our simple little content-casting gadget isn't going anywhere. In fact, Google just launched a new website dedicated to helping you find apps for Android, iOS, and desktop browsers that offer built-in Chromecast support.

28. Chromecast will soon let you cast videos from an Android phone even if you aren't connected to the same Wi-Fi network. The feature will be opt-in only, so if you don't like the idea, you don't have to enable it. And Google says it'll detect if the phone is in the same room as the Chromecast before it'll authenticate, which should (theoretically) make it tough to prank your neighbors with unwanted kitty vids.

29. Google's giving Chromecast owners a new feature called Backdrop. It's a built-in custom screensaver for Chromecast where you can have the device cycle through personal photos or professional image collections when programs aren't being played -- you know, instead of just seeing those same default nature pics that Chromecast shows you now.

30. What may be the coolest Chromecast news of all: You'll soon be able to cast the entire screen of your Android device onto your TV using the official Chromecast app. Google says the feature is launching soon in beta with support for a limited number of Android phones and more to follow.

Google Docs is getting a long-awaited upgrade

31. At long last, Google Docs will allow you to open and edit native Office apps -- no more converting! Docs will even save files as Word files if that's how they were started.

Inexpensive stock Android devices are on the way

32. Google is launching a new program called Android One that'll bring low-cost phones with stock Android software and fast upgrades to certain countries. Devices will cost as little as $100. The initiative will be starting in India and eventually spreading to other nations.

Google's getting healthy

33. Google's getting ready to get fit with a new program called -- wait for it -- Google Fit. A preview of the platform is launching for developers this week. Once it's finished, Fit will provide a single place for apps and services to store and process fitness-related data from multiple sources. It'll be "a unified view of a user's fitness activity," as Google puts it.

Android Power Twitter

Whew -- lots to take in, right? It's been a doozy of a day, and I/O isn't over yet. I'll have much more coverage, including hands-on impressions of the first Android Wear devices, to share with you soon.

Things are getting exciting, folks. Buckle in and enjoy the ride.


Android Wear deep-dive review: A smart start to smartwatch software

Samsung Gear Live vs. LG G Watch review: A real-world evaluation

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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