May 27th, 2016 Google I/O 2016
Google held its annual developer’s conference last week and we’ve been digesting a few of the big announcements. Google IO showcases Google’s vision for the future of its software, technologies and products. Consumer favourite this year seems to be Google Home, their answer to Amazon Echo. Home aims to become an integral part of your household, bringing together a combination of Google Now, the newly announced Google Assistant features and IOT connectivity.
But the event’s target audience are the developers, designers and companies working on its platforms, so here are the things we’re most excited about as an agency.
Arguably the biggest potential disrupter announced this year is the ability to run apps on Android devices without first having to install the application through the Play Store. Available on phones running Kit-Kat and above, users can install small fully functioning sections of an application directly from a URL or NFC point.
One example demonstrated the journey of paying for a parking meter. The user taps a NFC enabled parking meter, Google Play installs a small module, only downloading necessary code, enabling them to pay the parking fee through Google Pay, without ever installing an app. The user is free to install the full app, or continue as if it was never present on the device. One time use apps could be an interesting experiment for retailers looking to reduce the pain of queuing and paying at the tills.
Hopefully the improved experience of searching for and installing apps will encourage users to try out more applications. Also, development time has the possibility of being reduced due to the fact that mobile web sites might not be essential (at least for the Android and Chrome OS platforms), as URL’s can point to specific modules from the app.
PlayStore on Chrome
Meanwhile, a huge change to the Chrome OS system has the potential to increase app installs and reach. The Chrome team announced that the full Play Store will soon be available on Chromebooks, instantly increasing the appeal of a Chrome OS device, which noticeably lacks popular applications like Skype and Office.
Apps will be available in 3 different resolutions, and will take advantage of Android N’s new multitasking support, as well as having full notifications functionality. Recently Chrome OS overtook Mac OS sales in the US, which while mainly due to the education market, could translate to new installs on previously released apps. Looking further into the future, perhaps the Chrome browser itself may eventually be able to run apps, enabling Windows and Mac systems to run native Android applications. In the meantime, life has certainly become simpler for companies looking to create apps for the Chromebook platform.
Early developer previews of the new operating system have been available for a couple of months now, so we already had an idea of how the next version of Android will look, but a few interesting announcements came as a surprise. The biggest functional change is multitasking support. Apps can now run side by side, a widely requested feature, which has been available previously with certain apps on Samsung devices. Quick switching between apps is another welcome addition, along with improvements to accessibility options and APIs which allow developers to enable quick replying to notifications.
Android Wear 2.0
Huge updates to the Wearable platform were also announced. The next generation of Android Wear focuses on its strengths of messaging and fitness. Having conversations becomes easier with the addition of a full on-screen keyboard, auto-scrolling handwriting recognition and smart reply. An improved Google Fit API gives developers access to more detailed movement data, enabling us to build apps that can detect when a user is running, cycling or working out amongst other activities.
Devices will soon be able to connect directly to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or networks, instead of having to tether to a phone, which is an important step towards independence from mobile. We’ll also see major improvements to the look of Wear. Google has also released Material design specifications tailored to the Wear platform. These additions to Android Wear are important as the platform becomes more mature. While Wear are still not must have devices, I’m sure we’ll see wider adoption following these platform updates.
Another platform in its early stages, but with huge potential is virtual reality. The first high end consumer devices have recently launched, so this was the perfect time for Google to announce their plans for Mobile VR. Baked into the next version of Android, Daydream aims to make VR experiences available to anyone with an Android phone which that the ‘Daydream ready’ specifications. Virtual reality versions of YouTube, Play Movies and Photos will be available as well as a virtual Play Store showcasing the best VR apps and games.
While we’re yet to see how much of an impact on society and entertainment VR has, we are already seeing wide adoption to the relatively new technology. The BBC recently announced they are working on VR documentaries, while the New York Times have already released projects like ‘The Displaced’, a 360 degree documentary showing the life and struggles of young refugees. We’re likely to see huge growth and it’s worth keeping an eye out for development opportunities. There’s a huge potential market which spans many industries, virtual stores, travel destinations and brand experiences could become commonplace in the next few years.
The next event on our calendar is WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference. A few things to look out for include new versions of the iOS, Mac and Apple TV operating systems, Siri becoming more advanced and open to developers, and the long awaited arrival of Apple’s HomeKit app for controlling smart accessories around the home. Of course, we’re also hoping for a few surprises.