This year's Google I/O Conference showcased an enthusiastic love affair between Android and its fans. Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Google Apps, told conference attendees that Android phones and tablets are everywhere. Android now has 1 billion users who check their phones 100 billion times a day, take 93 million selfies and walk 1.5 trillion steps.
Essentially, "everything Android" was the real theme of this conference. One session after another highlighted new products, from economy smartphones to fitness wearables to the updated entertainment world of Android TV and Chromecast – basically, a consumer's paradise. Rumors also floated about a new, less-expensive version of Google Glass, in addition to network-connected thermostats and smoke detectors from the labs of Google Nest.
Now that the dust has settled from Google I/O, here's a look at the most compelling announcements from the conference, along with some thoughts on what they mean for developers, business owners and consumers.
Android Wear: Emerging as Leading OS for Wearables
Gartner research director Brian Blau says some of the biggest Google I/O news surrounded wearable devices such as smartwatches. They come in multiple colors, styles and features, with the LG and Samsung Android Wear watches available now and the Moto 360 from Motorola anticipated by summer's end.
Here, application developers face a challenge, Blau says. "The smaller form factor is certainly more convenient and accessible, but it makes apps look dumb and less functional. App developers will need to carefully balance when to use a smartphone and when to use a wearable device," which he sees consumers treating as an accessory.
That said, if Google can attract enough developers, and if they in turn create demand for the devices, Blau says Android Wear will be one of the leading operating systems for wearables.
[ Commentary: Why Android Wear Is the 'New iPad' ]
Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Jeffrey S. Hammondhas been testing the Samsung Gear Live since Google I/O. "I have to confess, I'm taking my phone out of my pocket a lot less. Scanning emails, messages, and even replying to texts and emails via voice is pretty slick," he says. Overall, Hammond adds, the platform works really well, but "I'd love to see a bit more battery life."
That may soon change. Android engineer Dave Burke told consumers that Google's latest Android OS upgrade will extend battery life on phones and tablets by 90 minutes while adding some 3-D graphics capabilities. Meanwhile, new security features will include personal unlocking via owner touch through familiar Bluetooth signal recognition and various other clues. These features aren't available on wearables yet, but they'll be added in the future.
Google Drive for Work: 'Premium Offering for Businesses'
Google Drive for Work is technically an upgrade to Google Drive, though the company's enterprise team describes it as a new, premium offering for businesses. It includes unlimited storage, advanced audit reporting and new security controls for $10 per user per month. In addition, businesses big and small can store single files as large as 5TB, more than any other desktop or laptop drive that's currently available.
Scott Johnston, a director of product management at Google, says Google Drive for Work includes the benefits and guarantees of Google Apps for Business, along with access to all of Google's familiar productivity apps – Docs, Sheets, Slides, Sites and Hangouts – and enterprise-grade security and compliance. This makes collaboration possible in many more ways than before, he says.
Android Auto: Putting Google Apps, Services in Your Car
One major Google I/O hit was Android Auto. Blau says it's "a nice start at expanding [Google's] ecosystem into the car industry, but cars won't appear until later this year and even beyond then before most people can use this new platform."
Android Auto, which follows in the footsteps of the Open Automotive Alliance announced in January, will offer many popular smartphone features on new models from more than 40 auto manufacturers later this year. Owners can tap the steering wheel or an onscreen button and talk to Android Auto, commanding it to locate, navigate and/or communicate destinations; provide directions through Google Maps; chat with contacts via car phone, text message or email, and request tunes from the Play Music app.
Google's voice input and text-to-speech systems use the familiar commands from Google Now, minimizing the learning curve for current users. "Clearly, there was a focus on enabling Google developers to engage with Android users in many new ways. Improvements to basic UI functionality will help the overall design aesthetic," Blau says. "Google hopes this focus on an improved cross-platform experience will mean more users will choose, and then adopt, the Android ecosystem."
Above All, Google I/O About Developers
For all the consumer-facing news, Blau says that the real focus of Google I/O is keeping Android application and Web developers happy. "Google desperately needs developers to be loyal to their platform, from cloud to code to analytics to lots of new platform services," he says. The volume of new APIs and services for developers announced at I/O should keep developers busy for a long time, he adds.
As for businesses, Hammond says the new Google Cloud DataFlow has much potential for firms with big data needs. "Quickly standing up streaming data pipelines for predictive analytics can really be a challenge," he says, because seconds matter when analyzing in-flight, streaming data.
Cloud DataFlow "makes it much easier for developers to set up this sort of monitoring and real-time analysis of incoming data at scale," Hammond says. "Anything that makes it easier will prove attractive to the business I work with."