By Andrew Till
Yesterday was the first day of the 4th annual Google I/O developer event and what a day it was. Google opened the event with a fact filled keynote showing the progress of Android such as:
· 36 OEMs
· 312 device models
· 100M devices activated
· 200,000 apps now available
· 4.5 b apps downloads
· 500m apps downloaded per month
· 112 countries shipping Android devices
And when they had let us pause for breath they hit us with news of the new upcoming releases. The first was the announcement of Honeycomb 3.1 which will be shipping in a few weeks time and includes a number of much sought after features such as a more advanced task switcher, USB Host support so that you will be able to connect standard USB peripherals to you Android device, Scalable widgets and support for GoogleTV (2.0) with a free upgrade for existing Google TV subscribers. And just to be clear Google also confirmed that Honeycomb will not be open sourced but this is not standard policy for future releases.
Following this was the formal announcement of IceCream Sandwich (ICS) which included, to loud applause, the unveiling of a new logo and confirmation of key features such as new apps framework APIs, significant improvements to the video and camera functionality including face tracking and speaker recognition for video conferencing. But perhaps the most significant announcement was that ICS will be used as the single OS and UI platform for all Android device form factors moving forwards.
This was followed up by two key service announcements the availability of Google Movies for Movie Rentals and Music Beta. Both are full cloud based solutions and underline the importance of the GMS services as a platform differentiator for Android. With a similar announcement expected from Apple on cloud based Music services in June Google was clearly laying down a marker that it fully intends to take on Apple and iOS head to head (which was also clear from much of the artwork used in the keynote).
While much of the above had been expected the next announcement was much more of a surprise. This was the news that ICS will support a new set of APIs for supporting HW accessories what can be controlled by your Android device or can interact intelligently with your Android device. Thus this brings in to the Android community a whole new development community that is much more familiar with building HW than SW. Google is also providing an open source reference HW design for developers and for those of us who went to the breakout sessions we were able to get our hands on the first version. Full Android source and firmware for the reference HW will be made available from Android.accessories.com from today.
Google demonstrated a couple of interesting use cases the first being intelligent control of the home lighting system while playing a game to really enhance the mood and the second being a smart exercise bike that when you connect your Android phone was able to control a game on the phone (the speed of the rider controlled the higher of a character in the game). This is certainly an exciting development especially when combined with the USB Host support and will open up a lot of new use cases and vertical markets to the benefit of Android. It also has the potential to position Google strong in the home and work environments in a much broader way with your device able to fully interact with its surroundings.
Of course there were then many more updates and announcements in the break out groups but for the ask of brevity I will focus on just one here NFC. NFC was pushed as a key enabling technology that further builds on theme of interacting with your surrounds (via NFC tags) as well as enabling new consumer use cases around content sharing. Of particular focus was using NFC to set up Bluetooth connectivity between devices by just touching them together and thus removing the need for complex BT pairing sessions. Google also disclosed that ICS will focus strongly on leveraging NFC to deliver Zero Click sharing of contact information, URLs and Youtube/web videos with some very nice features such as call back support (so when you share a web video you can also share the play point) and ground dispatch to enable an application to capture all incoming NFC tags.
And perhaps the most important question that was answered during the day was “will Google still provide us with great giveaways” which was the source of much debate before the show opened. The simple answer is YES and I think Samsung for my pre-release Galaxy Tab 10.1 and am eagerly looking forward to the 3.1 upgrade due in a couple of weeks.
That’s all for day one. Come back tomorrow for another update.