The 10 biggest Google I/O 2014 announcements

Google kicked off its annual I/O developer conference this evening with a host of announcements on the future of its two biggest brands: Android and Chrome. Here’s what you need to know.

Material Design is a new unified design language for all of Google’s products, most notably its web properties and Android. The look is colourful and minimal, with frequent use of open space and a newly tweaked Roboto font. Depth is added through the subtle use of shadows, while transition animations give new guidance on what is happening on the screen in front of you. Material Design will debut in redesigned Android apps later this year, but you can see it in action now with this online quiz app.

Android L is the codename for the next release of Android, due this autumn. The new version will include the new Material Design look, which encompasses the system’s core apps, software buttons, typography and icons. The notification shade and the lock screen have been merged into a single entity that features a card-based interface, while new drop-down notifications have been added. Multi-tasking will now include content within apps (like tabs in Chrome), too. Android L will run exclusively on the ART runtime introduced in Android 4.4, which in combination with other changes will allow for faster apps, longer battery life and improved graphics. Android L will be available for developer devices today and will be released for everyone in the autumn.

Android Wear, Google’s adaption of Android for wearables, was further detailed today. You can swipe up and down to see different cards, like recent messages, music controls, fitness stats and alarms. You can swipe left on some cards to access further information and perform actions, like ordering a pizza from a nearby restaurant or calling a ride using Lyft. Two Android Wear smartwatches are available to order today, the LG G Watch and the newly announced Samsung Gear Live. These cost £159 and £169 respectively, and will be despatched by early July. The circular-dialled Moto 360 will debut a few months later.

Android Auto is, surprise surprise, Android for cars. The system casts your phone to your car’s display, allowing you to access navigation, communication and music controls. As well as touch, you’ll be able to use voice commands and steering wheel buttons to control things. Supported apps include Spotify, Pocket Casts and Songza. Android Auto will debut in the autumn on cars from Dodge, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Audi and Bentley.

Android TV is Google’s latest attempt to take over your living room; it’s Android for your TV. Android TV offers a familiar tile-based interface to stream audio, video and pictures from a range of sources. Voice search is supported, with Google’s Knowledge Graph allowing you to ask questions like “Who played Katniss in the Hunger Games” and get accurate answers. Android TV runs Android apps like games as well, although you’ll likely need to hook up a controller to play more serious titles. Android TV also includes the same functionality as a Chromecast, allowing you to choose media to stream from mobile phones, tablets and Chrome on laptops and desktops. Android TV will come on TVs and set-top boxes from Sony and Sharp in 2015.

Chromecast itself is also being upgraded, with a “cast screen” button that lets you mirror your Android device’s display on your TV. When you’re not streaming content, a new feature called Backdrop will show you interesting photos, weather and news stories. Finally, Chromecast will now allow you to stream content from devices that aren’t on the same wireless network, using some fancy cloud technomagic to figure out that you’re in the same room.

Chrome OS will soon be able to run ported Android apps at full speed, even allowing access to your Chromebook’s camera and other local hardware. This works with Chromebooks with and without touch-screens, with mouse clicks standing in where necessary. Chrome OS will also pair with your Android phone to show notifications, or allow your phone to unlock your Chromebook by proximity.

Google Drive has gained the ability to natively edit files created in Microsoft Office, without the hassle of conversion and reconversion. Drive will also include a suggested edits list, which better allows multiple people to write a document simultaneously.

Google Fit is the equivalent of Apple’s HealthKit, providing a centralised location and API to access fitness data from a range of wearables and other devices. Nike, Adidas, Withings and RunKeeper are all on board.

Google Cardboard was the final big announcement of the event, and it’s a weird one. Cardboard is just a set of instructions for creating a virtual reality headset like the Oculus Rift out of a smartphone, some cardboard, plastic lenses and some other bits and pieces you could find at a hardware store. Once prepared, Cardboard lets you experience virtual reality in Google Earth, YouTube, Photo Spheres and Maps.

So there we have it – 10 big announcements from Google I/O 2014. Be sure to let me know what you think of the article in the comments below.

About William Judd

Editor-in-Chief for XSReviews. Find me @Expert_Will or on G+.

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