Google kicked off its annual I/O developer conference Thursday in San Francisco, showing off a new version of Android, a VR camera rig, numerous developer resources, and a lot more besides in an opening keynote that took up the better part of two hours.
Senior vice president of product Sundar Pichai emceed the event, which Google says attracted 6,000-plus developers and featured presentations from engineering vice president David Burke, engineering vice president Jen Fitzgerald, Android Wear director David Singleton, director of product management Aparna Chennapragada, among others.
Much of what had been rumored before the show did, indeed, appear on stage at the Moscone Center -- including the aforementioned new Android version, Google Photos, Android Pay and more. But there were conspicuous absences, as well -- Google didn't mention its enterprise-focused products like Android and Apps for Work, nor the rumored Project Fi wireless service, or the Project Ara modular smartphone.
Here's a quick rundown of what made it to the stage on Wednesday in San Francisco.
Arguably the biggest piece of news was the announcement of Android M, or Android 6.0, which was made available to developers today and will start to appear on user devices "later this year."
Android M isn't going to make too many big waves on its own -- it doesn't overhaul the interface design or radically change the way people interact with the device. But it does bring minor but helpful tweaks like granular app permission settings (which allow users to deny or approve specific permissions, like location tracking or Wi-Fi information, from each app), and Chrome custom tabs, which uses pre-loading and deep app integration to offer a more native-like mobile web experience.
As expected, Google rolled out a new mobile payment infrastructure called Android Pay at I/O 2015. It's similar to Apple Pay and Google's earlier attempt at mobile payments, Google Wallet, in that it's an NFC-based system where you wave your phone at a properly equipped point of sale, but it adds an open infrastructure and improved tap-to-pay capability.
Google says there are 700,000 stores in the U.S. that can accept Android Pay -- which sounds like a large-ish number, until you remember that that's only 18% of all American retailers, based on statistics from the National Retail Federation. Perhaps a payment war between Apple and Google will produce a renaissance through aggressive competition, but at the moment, mobile payment still isn't the show-stopper that tech companies seem to think it is.
It wasn't an announcement that sounded like it was going to make a great splash at the outset -- Google largely just removed the photo management features from Google Plus and made them into a stand-alone product. The kicker, however, was the news that Google Photos will offer an unlimited amount of storage for free, so long as your photos are 16MP or less and your videos are limited to 1080p (higher resolutions will be compressed to save space.)
The usual Google-flavored privacy qualms apply, of course, as does the frequently cited nostrum about free products generally signifying that you are the product, not the consumer. But the rash of speculation that this spells big trouble for services like Dropbox doesn't seem entirely nonsensical.
It's tough to avoid the impression that Google's very pleased with itself for coming up with Cardboard -- as a company known for its place on the blistering edge of high tech, the change of gears showing off a simple cardboard frame for using smartphones as VR devices is a big one.
The updated version (Cardboard was originally announced at Google I/O 2014) allows it to handle larger phones, of up to 6 inches in diagonal screen size and support for iPhones, to boot. Google showed off a video of a classroom of schoolchildren enjoying a virtual field trip via Cardboard during the event.
To go with the new virtual reality viewing devices, Google announced a nifty 16-unit system called Jump, which will enable users to create their own VR content and post it to YouTube. GoPro is making a version, which will go out to carefully selected users in July for a six-month pilot project.
It's certainly impressive, but it's also not something you'll be able to buy anytime soon, and the logistics of creating content via Jump and uploading it to YouTube are not entirely clear.
Google talked up its recent update of its Android Wear platform with new gesture controls, including the ability to scroll through menus with the flick of a wrist and draw emojis with a finger. Google also rolled out integration with Uber and several other companies, enabling users to do things like summon a ride with a quick voice command.
These are updates that were already present in the LG Urbane smartwatch, which was announced earlier this month, but Google was bullish on coming devices that will also boast the new feature set.
Brillo is a stripped-to-the-bare-bones version of Android designed to run on very low-powered devices. Together with its new machine-to-machine communications standard, dubbed Weave, Brillo represents a major Google push into the Internet of Things.
It knows you even more intimately now -- Google demonstrated some impressive new technological breakthroughs in its knowledge-graph/personal assistant/brain replacement Google Now, including natural language processing for easier voice interface and a feature called What's on Tap that displays information based on whatever it is the user is doing at the moment. (e.g. suggesting restaurants when you