Google I/O 2014, the short version

Android TV interface
Android TV is Google's latest attempt to invade the front room

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27 June 2014 | 0

TV

Google TV seemed like a great idea in 2010. A way to search the Internet and manage your viewing habits at the same time, it was basically second screening only with one screen. Google had the backing of Intel, Logitech and Sony but US networks NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS made sure their online offerings were not available through Google TV, nor was catch-up service Hulu.

As different manufacturers picked up Android for bespoke Smart TV platforms the Google TV brand stalled. The release of the Chromecast, a device that receives streaming media from a PC, has kept the platform current but Google wants to do better and will be rebranding Google TV to Android TV.

Shown as a proof of concept at I/O, Android TV uses a revamped user interface and uses voice control. This time around Google can fill the content gap with material from the Play store and apps from on-demand services like Netflix.

Google claims the platform is smart enough to display search results on title and by more specialised information like ‘Oscar winning films from 2011’ and it will sync with other Android devices so you can pick up in bed what you started watching in the sitting room.

Android TV will have dedicated apps through Play and compatible TVs by Sharp and Sony, and set-top boxes by Razer and Asus. We’ll see some devices coming in 2015.

One partner you won’t see adopting Android TV is LG, which is working on a webOS platform.

Wearables

Despite leading the current phase of smartwatches, Samsung hasn’t scored a hit with either its first or second generation Gears. News that it was looking at developing watches using its own Tizen operating system pointed to a new direction for the South Korean giant only for it to reveal the Galaxy Gear Live. LG’s G Watch was also in the house and Motorola’s Moto 360 has been promised for later this summer. These devices will be running Android Wear, an OS designed for sending information back and forth between devices. The principle is the same as for Android Auto – and many of the functions are the same – but Wear comes with its own set of challenges, specifically how to manage calls, messages and voice search on a wrist-mounted display.

Gesture control will feature prominently on Wear as will healthcare trackers. Developers were treated to two watches during the conference, which should be plenty of encouragement to get working. A word of caution, Wear is not compatible with older versions of Android.

And what was missing

Another big move Google made in January was the acquisition of smart thermostat maker Nest for $3.2 billion. Instead of killing the brand Nest has been working away to expand its home automation offering, culminating in the acquisition of Web-enabled home security camera company Dropcam this month for $555 million. That’s a lot of money investment in home automation but it didn’t feature in I/O. Either there’s a home variant of Android L to come or Nest is going to be a semi-autonomous division. Well, it worked so well with Motorola Mobility, what could possible to wrong?

Google+ didn’t get a mention at I/O. With boss Vic Gundotra leaving in April no one has been appointed to take his role, pointing to a divvying up of Google+ from a social network to an identity management platform tying together every Google service, removing the need for registering several accounts to use Gmail, Google Drive, Blogger, YouTube etc. Don’t expect it to be a functioning Facebook competitor in 12 months.

Missing, for slightly different reasons, was Google Glass. Unlike Google+, Glass has had plenty of publicity over the past year, culminating in a comedic evisceration on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, a line of designer frames from Diane Von Furstenberg, and an upgrade to 2Gb RAM. Glass also got a UK release, priced at £1,000. Glass isn’t going anywhere but the message from I/O is that it’s still not ready for mass consumption.

Finally, the last generation of Nexus devices, the HTC Nexus 8 (aka ‘Volantis’) tablet was a no-show. If it’s coming at all we’re betting it will be with a fully fit Android L. That gives us plenty to look forward to.

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