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Google I/O 2015 kicked off in San Francisco’s Moscone Centre last night, complete with massive rectangular displays (borrowed from Samsung‘s MWC 2015 presser, we imagine) and a host of Google‘s top brass. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Android M.
David Burke, Google’s VP of Android engineering, had a twenty minute slot dedicated to the upcoming OS, scheduled for official release in Q3 2015.
But there wasn’t all that much to shout about.
Firstly, Android M will be more efficient than Lollipop, but that’s assumed for every new version of every OS anyway. M’s touted to extend battery life by nearly double that of Lollipop, which is fairly impressive but this will obviously be hardware dependent.
Burke noted that M will focus on refining and polishing the current Lollipop product, which means there’s no real deviance from the Material Design-inspired Lollipop UI. There’s a new Dark Mode theme — a very welcome addition — and a few new tweaks, once concerning volume control. Multiple dials controlling multiple streams is now present, much like Windows’ Audio manager for instance.
Security streamlining is where the company really excelled. Apps now have a harder time bypassing negligence as the OS asks users to agree with app permissions before install and before a said feature is used. Burke used Whatsapp as an example, which forced a pop up requesting permission from the user for the app to use the microphone. It’s reminiscent of UAC on Windows (many Windows comparisons, I know) which considering Android’s direction towards tablets and larger screened devices, makes sense.
There’s a new focus on web experience too, with Chrome being the centre of attention.
Something that made The Verge sweat profusely was the new “Now on Tap” feature, which beyond being punny, allows users to conduct Google Now-like searches within apps. Dieter Bohn explains:
In a chat that mentioned Anna Kendrick and Pitch Perfect 2, cards for those very entities popped up from the bottom of the screen. In both cases, they had information from the web and tiny icons to open up the relevant page inside an app like Flixter or IMDB.
Bohn did note that his experience was buggy, with a very early build of the feature, but it does sound promising. Still, we’ll keep the pessimist’s face donned until we have a go.
Drawing to a close, Google has adopted the future of device authentication — fingerprint readers. I’m not really sure if I like the idea. The Samsung Galaxy S6‘s fingerprint reader was shoddy to say the least, but the likes of the Huawei Mate 7 was as reliable as a Swiss watch. It’s a mixed bag adding the feature directly into the OS itself, but it will likely spur on a new generation of devices with readers. Do we explicitly need them? No.
Joining Apple in more ways than just fingerprints, Google’s new mobile OS will support the new USB Type-C port standard, which we’ve already seen featured on the new Apple MacBook range. In its design, it’s a brilliant little device, allowing up to 10Gbps transfer speeds on a port around three times smaller than a standard USB 3.1. It could spell the death of the microUSB cable, but perhaps that’s a good thing. Fast charging might become a more prominent feature now as well, with the cable rated at 3A.
Android Pay is another new Apple-like feature coming to Android, and it’s about the same as every other mobile pay system. Google previously noted that companies can build on top of Android Pay, rather than crafting their own solution, so we should see a few more manufacturers trying their hand at this. This is perhaps where Google’s fingerprint reader support comes into its own.
And finally, we all like free things. There’s a new Google Photos app which gives users free, unlimited storage for life, or so Google says. It’s essentially the hacked-off photo segment from Google+, and will allow users to share, backup and gander through millions of their cat photos. It’s cross platform too, so those on the web or iOS can enjoy the benefits.
While it wasn’t the most impressive I/O keynote we’ve ever seen, the future of Android does look a more stable, more secure and more user friendly environment.
But the real issue remains: when will users get the Android M update, when they haven’t even received Android Lollipop yet?
Feature image: Maurizio Pesce via Flickr