June 5, 2015 // By Norton Lam
I had the pleasure of attending Google I/O this year.
As usual, the conference was full of big announcements and cool technologies. Whether you are part of an enterprise, a developer, or a consumer, there was something there for you.
While I/O is a developer conference, a lot of cool products were announced for consumers. Here are a few of the bigger ones:
The newest version of the Android OS has some cool features for consumers:
Battery life has always been a problem for Android and while Google keeps trying to make improvements, devices still barely last a full day. With Doze, that should change.
Doze makes use of the devices sensors to see whether the device has been put down on a table. If the device is detected as no longer being held or on person, the OS will cycle down the background processes to conserve battery.
Apple’s iPads have been known to retain battery power for days, even weeks. Hopefully this new feature will allow Android devices to keep similar power instead of dying after a day of sitting on a table.
While Apple made a big splash with fingerprint authentication with the release of the iPhone 5s, the only Android device manufacturer that has really done anything similar is Samsung.
Google wants to encourage more manufacturers to adopt the feature by standardizing it in the OS. Expect more hardware manufacturers to follow Samsung’s lead and provide devices with fingerprint scanners in the coming months.
Android Pay has actually been around for a while in the form of Google Wallet. What’s changed, however, is that users will no longer need an app to affect payment. Android Pay will be integrated into the OS so all a user will have to do is tap their phone to a capable payment terminal. As with Apple Pay, loyalty cards and gift cards will also be supported.
Another benefit will be the use of virtual credit card numbers. Like Apple Pay, the actual credit card number will not be transmitted to a merchant. Instead, a token will be sent to represent the card to facilitate the transaction for better security. It will also be able to make use of the new fingerprint authentication if the device has the capability.
Google Wallet will still be a separate app to allow person-to-person payments, but Android Pay will become the de facto standard for point of sale transactions.
Smart Lock has actually been available since Android L. However, Google keeps making improvements that make it worth mentioning. Smart Lock allows the device to be unlocked via Place (home, work), proximity to a device (Wear, Glass), or face. Recently, Google also have added voice and on-body detection.
Voice unlocking works by recognizing a user’s voice. The phrase, “Ok, Google,” can be said by anyone to any device to do a search, but if a device was not previously unlocked, an unlock request will be made before any personal information is revealed. However, if the device recognizes the owner of the device as the person that said, “OK, Google,” the device will be unlocked automatically.
On-body detection was also a recent addition to Smart Lock. The device is constantly monitoring device sensors to determine whether the device is on a person, or on a table. As long as the device detects the device as being on the owner’s person, the device will remain unlocked. Note that this feature takes a person’s gait into account so if a device is put down and picked up again, the device will know whether the person picking up the device is still the owner.
Android M will add Smart Lock Passwords to the mix. Passwords can be saved such that if the device recognizes the owner of the device, it will automatically log a user into an app. Developers will need to add this support to apps, but the feature could make users’ lives much simpler.
Google sees the ownership of a device as the key to doors, computers, and accounts. While Smart Lock still has a ways to go before being truly secure, some intriguing ideas are being kicked around Google to make ownership a trusted method of authentication.
Now on Tap
Probably one of the coolest announcements to come out of I/O is Now on Tap. Google Now is a feature that brings useful content to a user as they need it. Google is taking the feature to the next level by allowing it to be invoked in context. What that means is users will be able to invoke Now in an app, in an email, or other device context and Now on Tap will understand the context to provide more information.
The example given at the keynote was a user looking at an email from a friend about getting together to see the movie, Tomorrowland. Now on Tap was invoked and a sliding drawer came up about the movie and showed links to more information.
Another example was invoking Now on Tap in a texting app. The scenario centered around a restaurant so Now on Tap displayed the restaurant’s ratings, as well as links to Yelp and Google Maps for directions.
Many people criticize Google for its data mining, but Now on Tap doesn’t use any personal information to get its context. It simply reads what is on the screen. So users wary of Google Now (which uses the content of user’s email) should feel more comfortable using Now on Tap.
One of the bigger announcements for consumers is Google Photos. Photos has actually been around for a while and is well integrated into the Google+ app. However, it now has some compelling new features.
The app will back up all of the photos on your device and keep them in the “cloud.” While this feature has always been available, Google now allows you to store unlimited, high resolution photos and videos FOR FREE. Images up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p are free to store on Google forever.
They have also improved the UX. Users can now pinch and zoom to change the the timeline segmentation. The default is days—as you pinch in, the UX will group them into months, then years. Photos are also grouped by people, places, and things for quick access to photos related to those items. In general, these groupings work pretty well, but the demo at the keynote where Google illustrated being able to recognize a young person all the way back to their birth doesn’t yet wok for everybody.
Photos has also had a long-time feature on devices called Stories. If Google detects that you have taken a bunch of pictures within a short amount of time, or in a location you don’t normally go, it creates a virtual photo book with highlights from the event or location. These Stories have only been available on devices up until now, but now you can see and edit these Stories on a desktop browser.
Photo searching has also been improved to allow users to find photos even if they haven’t been tagged. Finding photos from a vacation to Paris back in 2013 will be as simple as typing it in as a search term. While it isn’t perfect, it does an impressive job for most searches.
As usual, Google announced a lot of new products at their annual conference and not all of it is available today. Android M should go to final release later this year. However, Google Photos is in the Google Play and iTunes app stores now and can also be found at photos.google.com.
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