Google I/O 2015 started with a virtual trip through the solar system before landing on planet Earth, but the audience in San Francisco's Moscone Center could be forgiven for thinking they never touched down as over the next few hours company executives announced a string of impressive new releases.
Sundar Pichai, senior VP at Google, opened the keynote speech speaking about new releases in broad strokes before handing it over to the lead engineers in different departments to make the big announcements. Pichai's speech reached more than 2 million viewers of the live stream from 90 countries around the world. He emphasized Android's dominance of the smartphone market, saying that 80 percent of all smartphones shipped in the last year were Android, including the 600 million users that chose Google's operating system for their first smartphone.
Arguably the biggest shock of the morning was the announcement that the new Google Photos platform is launching with unlimited free storage for photos and videos. The clearly partisan crowd hollered and cheered almost every announcement, but the free storage was greeted with particular glee from the gathered crowd of mostly male developers. Google Photos also offers some pretty neat ways to organise and share your images.
Dave Burke, VP of engineering for Android, ran through the highlights of Android M, the upcoming release of the mobile operating system which was much talked about in the run-up to this event. There are changes to app permissions, where users are prompted for permission every time they use a new app feature rather than when the app is first installed. He also showed off custom Chrome tabs which can have the look and feel of any particular app so that users can seamlessly switch from apps to external links. Burke also unveiled the newly named Android Pay, its mobile payment system. It works in more than 700,000 stores across the U.S. anywhere mobile payments are accepted. It supports fingerprint authentication, allowing users to make payments with one imprint of their finger. Burke also said that Android M will include APIs that will allow any developer to add fingerprint support to their app.
Android M also boasts new battery and charging capabilities. The OS has a new "dozing" feature that allows the phone to operate on low power during quiet times like during the night. The feature allows a Nexus 9 to last twice as long when running Android M rather than Lollipop. Burke also announced that Android M phones would come with the new USB Type-C charging port. The new USB is symmetrical and flippable, which means no more grappling with trying to find the right direction to plug it in. The official release of Android M is due in the third quarter later this year.
A new "Always On" feature was the most interesting update announced for Android Wear. It means the Android watches will always display the time in a low light setting that preserves power. When an app is activated the always on feature will display the last screen viewed by the user. For example, in Google Maps, the map will remain on the watch face so that the user doesn't have to shake or tap the watch again to look for directions.
As expected, "Project Brillo," Google's operating system for the Internet of Things, was also unveiled. Google wants Brillo to do for the IoT what Android did for smartphones. It lowers Android's layers, scaling it down to the most essential features so that it can run on low-memory and -capacity devices like smart light bulbs and thermostats. Pichai himself also announced "Weave," which he hopes will become the common language of the IoT. Weave will allow devices to talk to each other whether they're using Brillo or some other operating system.
Next up was Google Now director Aparna Chennapragada who introduced us to "Now on Tap," which is coming on Android M. New machine-learning techniques allow Google Now to understand context in user's questions. As an example, when a user who was listening to Srillex asked "What's his real name?", Now can infer that "his" means Srillex's. It's also able to accurately guess mispronounced words. Users can also tap and hold any word on a page to show up Google Now information related to that text.
Anil Sabharwal then took to the stage to announce Google Photos. Pictures are automatically organized by people, places and things but the wow feature was that unlimited images up to 16 megapixels and 1080p videos can be stored for free.
There were a number of smaller announcements including Google Maps and YouTube being offered offline and a new green star that flags child-appropriate apps on Google Play before attention switched to virtual reality.
First up was an update to Google Cardboard, the build-it-yourself goggle set that turns your smartphone into a virtual reality headset. Cardboard 2.0 works with any 6-inch smartphone, including iPhones. Another VP of product management, Clay Bavor, introduced the audience to "Expeditions," which allows teachers to take their students on virtual field trips anywhere in the world using the cardboard VR sets. Teachers can synchronize their expeditions, turning them into guided tours.
Bavor finished his presentation with a description of "Jump," a new virtual reality content creation tool. Jump camera rigs are made up of 16 GoPro cameras shooting in 360 degrees. Once the video is recorded Jump uses all sorts of magic to blend the 16 different shots into one 360-degree VR environment. Jump will be available to select users around the world this summer when we can also expect to see VR content appearing on YouTube.
Pichai then returned to the stage to wrap up proceedings with a nod to some of Google's "moonshots" like self-driving cars and Project Loon, which hopes to bring the Internet to the developing world via giant balloons. Just thinking about all the innovations introduced in the keynote is exhausting. The keynote showcased how large Google has become and how the company is increasingly becoming involved in every part of our daily routines.