Google just announced new features for the next version of Android and the most interesting one has little to do with the user interface: Properly equipped devices will be able to recharge other USB devices.
This is thanks to the new version of USB called USB Type-C. This next generation of USB is already found on several devices like the new Apple MacBook and the latest Google Pixel Chromebox. A USB-C cable end is slightly smaller than a microUSB cable, and in one variation, has this smaller port on both ends. The smaller, reversible cable can handle more power and greater data throughput.
Google is tapping USB Type-C’s bi-directional power ability to recharge other devices. A user will simply need to select the appropriate USB mode to switch between charging, recharging, or data transfer.
Android M rolls out in the Fall, but a timetable for USB Type-C enabled devices was not given although it seems very unlikely than any mainstream devices will hit before 2016.
Google’s Chromecast is a quiet little media secret agent turning the search giant into a big time home entertainment player. All told, users of Cast-enabled software have hit the little button to put their small-screen content up on the big screen a total of 1.5 billion times in the U.S. alone, and Chromecast floats other Google boats, too – users increase their YouTube viewing time by 45 percent on average once they start using the device, for instance.
Chromecast (and Cast-enabled devices, including the Nexus Player and the Nvidia Shield) is about to get more powerful, thanks to a handful of new features announced at I/O this year. These new abilities turn the streamer into a much more robust media device, making it easy to see how Cast could underpin the home theater or media room of the near future. Here’s what Chromecast developers and users can look forward to coming out of this year’s show:
Autoplay And Queuing
If there’s one thing that makes streaming TV more like traditional TV, it’s making sure the watching never stops. Netflix, for instance, lets you jump from one episode to the next, leading to serious marathon binges. Now Chromecast will enable the same feature, but for any content provider.
This means providing developers with the power to buffer a second video while a first is playing back, and to also create queues that mean a user doesn’t even have to offer up their own direct input to get things started and rolling. Users can, however, be given access to queue controls, letting them re-order clips or add their own as needed, which isn’t even something you can accomplish on Netflix as of right now.
So far, some early examples of this API in action include NBA Game Time and Red Bull TV, but it seems like a logical addition for any media app looking to inspire binge-style viewing habits in their users.
Game Manager APIs (Easy Multi-Device Multiplayer)
Using multiple devices to join in on Cast-enabled games is one of the more promising features Google has included in the tech, but thus far, not many developers have made use of the ability to use users’ individual smartphones as controllers for a shared TV-based gaming experience.
The new Game Manager APIs makes this process a lot easier to build on the developer side, meaning you can easily create multiplayer experiences that span both iOS and Android apps, as well as Cast-enabled devices. Catch Phrase is an early launch title, which is a classic party game and ideally suited for this kind of format.
“With the first wave of games that we had [with these features], we were seeing great adoption, so we thought about how we could make it even easier to develop,” explained Chromecast VP Rishi Chandra in an interview. “One of the things we found was that mobile gaming developers were all having to create the same set of experiences.”
Google set out to manage common features like a shared “board” for the TV, as well as session management for individual players and devices, and hence the Game Manager APIs came to life.
I’ve always felt that multiplayer gaming that uses the devices you already have, especially for casual titles, was a huge opportunity waiting to be unlocked. Development difficulties was one barrier, as was making sure that everyone could join in easily. Google’s new APIs should help with both parts of the process.
Remote Display APIs for iOS and Android
Gaming is one place where dual-screen interfaces make a lot of sense, and Remote Display APIs for both Android and iOS apps that work with Cast-enabled hardware is a key way Google is taking that even further. This lets you do things like show virtual steering wheel controls on your phone while watching the road on your TV, or even running tool windows and sliders on your mobile device while viewing edits live to a full-size photo render on the big screen.
Autodesk Pixlr does this with an early version of the APIs, and it really does start to suggest ways in which Cast might actually bring multi-display interface paradigms to mobile devices and apps. This could be a huge boon for productivity as well as creative apps, and provide a way for Android and iOS devices to more easily replace desktop apps in a wider range of situations.
At its I/O developer conference today, Google announced Android Pay, a new payments solution native to its mobile operating system.
In addition to making it easier to pay at a merchant’s point of sale via NFC, the new system lets merchants integrate payments directly into their apps for selling physical goods and services using an Android Pay API rather than integrating a third-party provider like Venmo or PayPal.
To give Android Pay a shot at success, Google negotiated partnerships with the three major U.S. cellular carriers: ATT, Verizon and T-Mobile. Those carriers will pre-install Android Pay on devices they sell running Android 4.4 “KitKat” or later with NFC built in. On devices running the new Android M operating system — which won’t be very many for some time, based on Android upgrade cycle history — users will also be able to quickly access and authorize Pay using native fingerprint support.
Google showed off some of the major retailers who will support Android Pay in the near-term:
The three fans of Google Wallet reading this will be happy to hear that the app will still be around, though re-imagined as a peer-to-peer app for sending cash around between friends, much like the services I mentioned above.
Google Launches Android M Preview With Fingerprint Scanner Support, Android Pay, Improved Permissions And Battery Life
As expected, Google today announced the developer preview release of the next version of Android at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco. With Android M (which will get its full name once it’s released to users), Google focuses mostly on fit and finish, but the company also added a number of new features to its mobile operating system.
It’s no surprise that Android M won’t feature any major new design elements. The last release, Android Lollipop, introduced Google’s Material Design language, after all, and there are still plenty of developers who haven’t even migrated their apps over.
As Google’s Director of Product Management Brian Rakowski told me earlier this week, the company has learned a lot since the team introduced Lollipop at last year’s I/O and quite a bit of that learning has found its way into Android M.
The preview release includes updated SDKs, system images for testing on the Android emulator and the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and the Nexus player. Google says it has fixed “thousands of bugs” in this release and that it will provide updated preview system images regularly during the preview program. The consumer launch is scheduled for fall.
In addition to Android M for phones, Google also today announced an update to Android Wear, as well as Android for the Internet of Things.
Here are some of the highlights of the new release:
Google Now On Tap
The highlights of the release include a new, more contextual variant of Google Now called Google Now On Tap that can give you more information about the things you are currently looking at in any given app on your phone or tablet. According to Google, this new service provides you with a contextual assistant that can help you get stuff done faster.
Here is how this works: say you are having a text chat with a friend in Hangouts about Mad Max and when you bring up Now On Tap by tapping and holding the home button on your phone (hence the ‘on tap’), Google will know what you’ve been talking about in the app and give you more info about it (in this case, that’s probably movie times, a list of actors in the movie, relevant apps, etc.).
While developers won’t have to do anything to enable this feature for their apps (it’s built-in at the OS level), they can help Google understand the context in their apps better by adding a bit of metadata to their apps.
We have a full post about this new feature here.
With Apple Pay looming large, the failure of Google Wallet as a mobile payments system was pretty apparent in the last few months. Now, with Android Pay, Google is taking a new stab at this market and this time, it’s cooperating with a number of vendors, including ATT, Verizon (soon to be the parent company of TechCrunch) and T-Mobile, who will pre-load Android Pay on their phones. Google says Pay should work with all phones that have an NFC chip and run Android KitKat forward.
The focus with Pay, Google says, is on simplicity, security and choice. The company also stresses that this is an open platform. Banking partners include American Express, Discover, Visa and MasterCard. Google has already worked with a number of app developers to integrate Pay into their apps, too.
Like Apple Pay, Android Pay will work for both in-app purchases and purchases in brick-and-mortar stores. Developers who want to support it can simply call the Pay API. Google says it wants to give developers as much choice as possible, down to who they want to use as they payment provider.
Users will be able to use Android’s usual unlock mechanisms to access Pay, as well as the new fingerprint scanner support in Android M. In apps, developers will be able to support the fingerprint scanner to quickly authenticate users for payments, too.
Google Wallet will continue to exist in parallel with Pay for the time being, but it’s focus will be on peer-to-peer payments now.
OS-Level Support For Fingerprint Scanners
As rumored, Android M will also feature support for fingerprint scanners. While some OEMs already built this into their devices, there has never been system-level support for this in Android. After looking at what OEMs were doing in this area — and surely Apple’s efforts around Touch ID — Google decided it was time to create a system-wide standard for this feature. As you would expect, users will be able to unlock the phone with their fingerprints and authorize payments.
Until now, users had to give apps permission to access their contacts, files, camera, photos or whatever else the app needed when they installed the app. Often, though, users may not even fully understand why an app would want access to their contacts, for example, and simply choose to abort the install process there. Too many apps, after all, tend to overreach when it comes to permissions.
Android M feature a completely revamped permissions process. Instead of asking users for all of their permissions in a single dialog when they install the app, Google will now move the process to when users run an app for the first time. And instead of asking for all permissions at once, developer can choose to ask them only when the app needs them. So a camera app may ask for camera, microphone and camera roll access right when you first launch it, but then it will ask for access to your contacts only once you want to share a photo or video. That way, developers can ask for permissions in the right context and users will understand why the app is asking for access to this info.
Developers who don’t update their apps will see that their apps will still use the old permissions model, but they will have to modify their apps to enable these more granular permissions. No matter whether developers update their apps or not, users will be able to change every aspect of their permissions in the Android settings menu.
Google tells me the Android team also worked hard on improving performance and memory usage across the board. The one feature the team is most proud of, though, is the new ‘doze’ mode that will help improve the battery life of devices that stay stationary for a while.
This new mode is different from Android current ‘battery saver’ mode, which is meant for when you are actually using the device. Rakowski tells me that the new mode is meant for when you put your tablet or phone away for a while. Google already powers most of the device’s hardware down at that point, but because many apps love to pull in new data every few minutes, the phone or tablet tends to wake up regularly to download your email, for example. Now, Android will manage this and slow down the syncing rate automatically. When you’re not using the device, you don’t really care how long it takes to download your emails, after all, and when you pick it back up, all your information will still be in sync
Rakowski tells me that this can increase the battery life of a Nexus 9 tablet by up to 50%, for example. Google also stressed the real-time alarms will still work as expected and high-priority messages will still arrive just like before.
Android M also makes it easier for developers to link between Android apps. Android, of course, has always allowed apps to register to natively handle certain URLs. The Android platform always had support for intents, but if you had a number of apps that used the same URL scheme, though, Android would have to pop up a disambiguation prompt (and in my experience, it often forget your choice). Now, developers can set what Google calls the “autoVerify” attribute in their app manifest that will ensure that users can be linked right into their native app with that prompt.
On the web front, Google also launched Chrome Custom Tabs. This means that when you tab on a web link in a native app, the web link will open in a custom tab that feels native to the app, even with custom buttons back into the app. The content is pre-fetched, so the web content will launch extremely fast.
Google tells me the team has also worked on bringing USB-C support to Android. Google says it is working with device manufacturers to bring devices with USB-C to users soon.
“With this release, we focused on product excellence, and polish to file down the rough edges that have been bothering us over the years — as well as things that we didn’t get done in time last year,” Rakowski said.
Other updates to Android M include easier word selection, a new sharing feature that highlights the people and apps you share with most often, simplified volume controls that allow you to control music, a unified settings menu, alarms and other volume setting more easily.
Developers who want to make use of the features in this new release will likely want to install the latest update of Android Studio (1.3) from the Canary release channel. This new version supports Android M, but it also introduces features like code editing and debugging for C and C++ code (something game developers, who tend to use these languages for their apps, have long asked for).
Google Now has long helped Android users get timely information about local traffic, movies that are playing locally and other information based on their commutes, browsing history and other data. With Android M, which Google announced today, the Now service is getting even smarter and more contextual. When you tap and hold the home button in Android M, Google will grab the information from the application you are using at that moment and Now will try to give you the right contextual information about what you are looking at in that app. Google Calls This ‘Google Now on Tap.’
As Google’s VP of Products Sundar Pichai noted in today’s keynote, this is really an extension of Google’s overall search strategy and the result of its efforts around machine learning and deep neural networks to help computers understand more about the world around them.
You can also invoke this feature by saying “Ok Google” at any time and then ask a question related to the app you are looking at, or by tapping on a word in an article you are reading, too.
Here is how this works in practice. Say you are playing a song in Spotify. Tapping and holding the home button will bring up more info about the song you are looking at. But you can also do a voice query and ask: “Who is the lead singer?” Google Now already knows what song is playing and using data from the Knowledge Graph project — it can (hopefully) answer your questions.
Similarly, this service can work its magic from Hangouts, for example. Say you are discussing “the new George Clooney movie” with a friend. Bringing up Now On Tap will give you more information about Tomorrowland, because Google knows that’s what you are talking about. Some of the information you can expect to see are movie times, reviews and maybe more information about the actors in the film. Because of Google’s App Indexing project, it can also recommend related applications (maybe IMDB or Flixster) and deep links into them (if you have them installed). If your friend had asked you to remember to buy tickets for the movie, Google Now would also have popped up a box to set a reminder for you.
Google Now on Tap uses a couple of built-in operating system-level features from Android M, so this service won’t come to older Android versions. The reason for this, Google Director of Product Management Aparna Chennapragada tells me, is that this is the only way to make sure that this service works with any application.
Developers won’t have to do anything to enable this feature in their apps. The platform API will simply handle all of this for them. If they want to, though, they can add some specific metadata to their apps to help Google figure out what exactly is happening in the app. This means a game developer could add information about what level you are on, for example, and Now on tap can then pop up relevant info about that level. Without the metadata, Google wouldn’t be able to easily get this information from the game, after all.
Chennapragada tells me that all of this happens on an opt-in basis. You have to enable this feature in Google Now and then the only time you exchange information with Google is when you actually do the ‘tab and hold’ gesture. No data is copied between your app and Google until you ask it to do so.
It’s about time. Chevy is going to start offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across its vehicle line. The rollout will start in a few weeks and eventually hit 14 Chevy models.
Apple and Google announced these systems in early 2014 and have since signed on most automakers. Chevy joins just Hyundai in providing a launch timetable, though. Owners of 2016 Hyundai Sonata can visit dealers now to get the software installed.
Starting first with the 2016 Chevy Cruze on June 24, buyers will be able to opt for the MyLink infotainment system with a seven-inch LCD screen. Later in the year, Chevy will release a MyLink system with 8-inch screen that initially will only offer Apple CarPlay. The seven-inch option will be available for the Chevy Spark, Cruze, Malibu, Camaro, Camaro Convertible, Silverado and Silverado HD. The 8-inch adds to the mix the Corvette, Corvette Convertible, Volt, Colorado, Tahoe and Suburban.
Chevrolet states these 14 models will account for 51 percent of the brand’s total global sales.
“I think we’ll have a promising add for the company and they’ll love it. It’s going to have to be coupled with the radio [choices],” said Barra, speaking at the Code conference today, but noted that customers wouldn’t necessarily need the highest option available. Barra also said that they would announce more models at Opal tomorrow.
Barra said that a Chevy car in the ‘teens’ price-wise would be available with the choice of CarPlay or Android Auto.
Barra says that we’ll see more change in the car industry in the next 5-10 years than we saw in the previous 50. “It’s on every facet,” Barra said.
“When you look at the integration of the vehicle in all aspects of driving…it’s hard to do that safely,” Barra said in a response to iterating quickly in an industry that has a longer development cycle. “But you have to be able to marry that with technology that’s being changed in months, not years.”
“For most of us, our smartphones are essential,” said Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors in a released statement. “Partnering with Apple and Google to offer CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility across the widest range of models in the industry is a great example of how Chevrolet continues to democratize technology that’s important to our customers.”
With Android Auto CarPlay, cars will get smarter and more personal. The systems sit on top of the auto maker’s own infotainment systems but serve up a completely different user interface when a compatible phone is connected — something a bit more familiar to Android and iPhone users. Both systems also provide a far more mature mapping solution and streaming media options than what are found in most cars. In the case of Android Auto, the system also serves as a sort of personalization system. Get into the car, sync a phone and in most vehicles the car will adjust to your settings. Everything from the mirror positions to radio presets to climate control will adjust properly.
This is just the start of the CarPlay and Android Auto roll-out. More automakers are expected to announce their launch plans shortly.
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