Yesterday morning, the majority of our engineering team and a few others here at Myriad packed into our conference room and with great excitement tuned into the yearly Google I/O 2014 keynote presentation. From the rumors I had heard prior to the I/O conference, I had a feeling whatever Google had up their sleeves would be impressive. And it is. Here are some of the more interesting announcements and reveals.
I absolutely have to start with Android Wear. I love Android Wear. Wearables is one aspect of technology that Google has really taken a leadership position. Now that we can see what the digital watches are actually capable of instead of mockups and concept art, it becomes clear that Android Wear has mostly lived up to what was anticipated. The live demonstrations of the LG G Watch and were exactly what I was hoping — fluid, well animated, colorful, and above all, useful. Google has something magical going on with Google Now, and being able to throw those to a watch to view at a glance is exactly what needed to happen. I preordered mine as soon as I could.
A New Way to Design
Google introduced to the world a new Android design paradigm called Material Design. This new mentality of designing apps plays heavily off the success of Google Now and Play Store cards. It considers most UI elements as physical cardstock cards with not only a width and height, but a depth from off the bottom as well. Artificial lighting and shadows are then cast on the UI elements giving a subtle and beautiful illusion of depth with little effort on the development and design end. In addition, bold, bright, completely opaque colors in banners and bars were themed throughout any given app.
Ticket to Ride
Google Auto came as a surprise to us. I’ve heard rumors about Android in the car, especially when researching Tesla Motors, but I didn’t expect to see anything at I/O 2014. Up until the presentation, my views on this sort of thing were mostly negative for something I viewed as fundamentally flawed. Why would I want a computer in my car for navigating and playing music when my phone can do the same and I can even take it with me when I’m done driving? I’d hate to spend a large sum of money for a computer I don’t need. Google seemed on top of this, though. I was pleasantly surprised to see Android Auto is more of an extension of the Android Phone, much like Android Wear is. The campy demonstration of Android in the car started with connecting the phone to the car through cable. Not only does this charge the phone, but it also unlocks the computing capabilities of the car. From there, the abilities to speak commands such as playing music, making calls, sending messages, and navigating were accessible from physical buttons on the steering wheel or the dashboard screen itself. You may have noticed the latency of screen press to feedback and the entire lack of swiping gestures on the vehicle’s screen. This is due to the dated resistive screen used instead of the capacitive screen your phone has. Extreme temperatures, the kind that cars bear regularly, don’t play nicely with such screens.
Finally, something which was squeezed into the last few minutes of the keynote but has importance is Google Fit. While this was announced beforehand it now bears an elevated degree of significance with the praise of Apple’s HealthKit. Both Google Fit and HealthKit are unified ecosystems for applications to track and record user biometrics. This standardization will allow any desired fitness application to work well with another. This means a user will not have to open and navigate three apps if they want an overview on relative health from the last thirty days. Instead, a fourth app may be installed which would pull data from Google Fit/HealthKit and display aggregate data in a meaningful and relative way. These ecosystems are sleeping giants. With the advent of wearables on a user all of the time people will want to see relevant data about themselves in order to make personal improvements, but people will not want ten apps displaying data independent of each other. I suspect Google Fit will rise to tremendous popularity and the top 50 health and fitness apps on the Play Store will all integrate with Google Fit.
It’s an exciting time, Google I/O. There simply isn’t enough time to write about all of the brilliant things we’ve also seen so far at the conference — Android TV, Chrome updates, and Android Wear. With new technologies, such as wearables, come not only new gadgets, but new kinds of apps and ecosystems to take full advantage of these gadgets. That’s what this conference is about: how to take advantage of the new technologies that will be offered by Google very soon. As a developer, I couldn’t be more excited.