That doesn’t mean nothing of consequence was introduced, though. Google announced entirely new platforms, new features for Android, and updates to Android Wear. Here are 10 highlights we think deserve your attention.
Android Pay faces off with Apple Pay
Google was first to the mobile payments race with Google Wallet, but that initiative languished. Now the company is making a second attempt with Android Pay. Though fundamentally the same as Wallet, Pay adds new features, like additional credit card partnerships, fingerprint verification and secure transaction tokenization.
Better Android permissions
In the past, Android devices have handled permissions by presenting them all up-front when a device is installed. This can overwhelm users with information, however, encouraging them to click through before they fully understand. Android M will combat this will dynamic permissions that appear only as needed; if a selfie app wants to access your camera, for example, it’ll ask permission only when you first take a photo, rather than at installation.
Android Dozes off
Android devices have always consumed more power than iOS hardware in sleep mode, but Google thinks it has a solution. A new featured called Doze mode will be present in Android M, and will dynamically set a device into deeper and deeper sleep states based on the last time the device was used.
To determine when that was, Android will rely on more than the last time the screen was active. It’ll also use motion detection to tell when a device is being left unattended. During long periods of inactivity, Doze will scale back how frequently Android updates background data. Google says this will decrease sleep power use by up to two times.
Google Now on Tap
Now on Tap is Google’s latest addition to its virtual assistant. The feature is designed to improve Now’s ability to respond to context by analyzing what’s currently on an Android device’s screen. When you’re looking at an email, for example, Now will be able to bring up related information; if it’s a movie date suggestion from a friend, it will present you with movie times and information.
In addition to that, Now will have the ability to respond to more natural questions by understanding the context of what’s on your display. In a demonstration, a user asked the real name of an artist while listening to his music, and Now retrieved the information without the artist name being included in the question.
Using Maps in the back-country
Maps is incredibly useful, but only if you have a data connection. That’s a bit ironic, really, because often the moment you need a map the most is the same moment you won’t have data. Google is working to change that with an offline versions of Maps that will include turn-by-turn directions.
Aside from convenience, this feature will be helpful to people who lack access to a reliable, high-bandwidth data plan, and Google mentioned it’s targeting markets like Brazil, China, and India.
New Photos app, with unlimited free storage
Photos is the latest in a family of Google offerings that started with Picasa. This time around the company is focusing on organization, providing advanced zoom and sorting features to make photos easier to find. There’s also an automated video editor that can create highlight reels of your adventures.
The big news, though, is unlimited free storage of photos and videos. This is available to all photos below 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution. Photos will be able to sync with Android devices and PCs.
Jump for 360 degree cameras
360-degree virtual reality video may sound batty, but Google thinks it has promise, and is supporting it with an initiative called Google Jump. Its headliner is a crazy 16-camera rig called the Array. Built by GoPro, it can record high-definition film in all directions simultaneously.
Jump videos recorded by the array, or other 360-degree cameras, will be hosted on YouTube. From there they can be viewed on virtual reality devices including Google’s inexpensive Cardboard.
Cardboard gets better
Speaking of which, Cardboard received some love at the conference. The cardboard VR headset has a new design that makes assembly easier and can handle phones with screens up to 6 inches. Support for iOS is being included, too, which is good news for iPhone 6 Plus users.
Another new feature is Expeditions, a collaborative VR tool that can be used alongside up to 30 Cardboard headsets. It lets a guide take viewers to virtual locales and point out areas of interest. Google built Expedition with the classroom in mind, but it’s easy to imagine how it could carry over to other areas.
Brillo and the Internet of Things
Google formally introduced the Internet of Things contest with Brillo, a new platform for IoT devices. Based on Android, the operating system is designed to run on devices with very low system requirements with minimal power consumption.
The company also introduced Weave, a language that lets devices talk to each other. A certification program is planned, which will help developers get on board with designing for the language. Weave will even support voice commands.
A preview of Brillo will arrive in the third quarter of 2015, and release is planned in the fourth quarter.
HBO Now, now on Android
This one’s pretty simple, but still important. HBO’s stand-alone streaming subscription is coming to Android TV and Chromecast, breaking the short-lived exclusivity to Apple devices. With this move, HBO has access to 17 million Chromecast users and tens of millions of streaming devices, televisions, and other devices with Android TV support.
Wear is polished
While Wear didn’t receive a major update announcement, but Google did highlight some recent polish. For example, Maps will now take up an entire Wear device’s display when navigating and stay live during the duration. There’s also a new flick gesture for scrolling through notifications and a new launcher menu that stores apps and contacts.
And then there’s the real news – you can send emoji by drawing them! The robots can take over, now. Humanity’s purpose has been fulfilled.
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