Google I/O 2014: Google showcases Android OS, gives away 6,000 watches

Televisions, smartwatches, cars, smartphones and tablets -- Google showcased new versions of its Android operating system for all of the gadgets Wednesday.

In urging computer programmers at its Google I/O conference to develop apps for the systems, Google unveiled new design elements and more powerful software to power the apps. The tech giant also released Google Fit, a programming tool for developers to pull data into apps from sensors such as the Nike+ FuelBand.

About 6,000 developers, all of who will receive a free smartwatch, attended the event in San Francisco. In the last year, Google said, it has paid developers around the world $5 billion for purchases related to their apps.

At the center of Google’s emphasis on using apps to connect all sorts of devices together will be smartphones. Smartphones could control streaming video and game apps that would display on televisions through Android TV. Sony and Sharp televisions and streaming boxes (similar to Roku or Apple TV) built by several manufacturers will include Android TV in the coming months.

The TV-focused operating system follows up on Google’s successful Chromecast stick, which can be plugged into an HDMI port on a television to stream videos, music and websites. Google said it wasn’t abandoning Chromecast, announcing a feature Wednesday that allows devices to control Chromecast though a cellphone connection in addition to Wi-Fi. An update to Chromecast will allow a broader range of apps to be displayed on televisions.

Android Wear will allow smartwatch users to accept or reject phone calls, take notes and see other notifications without having to take out or unlock their phones. Developers can start building apps for Android Wear wearables on Wednesday using a complete version of the operating system, the company said.

David Singleton, a Google engineering director, used an LG G smartwatch connected to a smartphone to show how users could use the watch to order a car from the ride-sharing service Lyft. The LG G and Samsung Gear Live smartwatches go on sale Wednesday.

In cars, Android Auto, would use smartphones to power entertainment systems with an emphasis on navigation, communication and music apps.

Google spent much of its two-hour keynote address discussing its Android platform for smartphones and tablets. The “L” version of the operating system will include a “fresh and bold new” set of shadowed visuals and typography, Google said. More than 1 billion people use an Android-powered device each month, Sundar Pichai, the company’s senior vice president for Android, Chrome and apps, said Wednesday.

The speedier, new version of Android adds a series of animations, including ripple effects when someone taps a number on the phone-dialer app, swifter swipes between different features and shadows that offer perspective to the images on the flat screen. Despite the graphical and computing improvements, the operating system would be less draining on device batteries, Google said.

“This is PC-gaming graphics in your pocket,” said Dave Burke, a Google engineering director.

For those that spend countless minutes each day drawing patterns or entering PINs to unlock their devices, Google offered a reprieve. An Android L feature automatically unlocks a device when the owner is connected to a paired Bluetooth device or the phone is in a known “safe” location. In other cases, notifications can be responded to or dismissed from the lock screen itself, mirroring a feature recently announced by Apple for its iOS software.

Drawing some of the loudest applause from developers was a feature that allows notifications, such as an incoming phone call, to pop up on top of an open app and be dismissed by the user without having to lose a beat in the open app.

Smartphone apps will soon appear on Google’s line of laptops, known as Chromebooks. Google showed off how a Chromebook user could post to the video-sharing app Vine using the laptop’s camera.

Google made several announcements geared toward business customers Wednesday. The Android for Work feature will split devices into separate profiles for corporate and personal apps, and a suite of productivity apps such as Google Docs now have encryption of data in transit and storage.

The company also said it would be working with handset makers and cellphone service providers to release a trio of phones in India, each costing about $100. Pichai said inexpensive but high-quality phones, a line that will be known as Android One, are key to connecting an additional 1 billion people to Android devices.

Google's developers conference comes a few weeks after Apple's similar gathering, and as each company is stepping up efforts to persuade programmers to focus their time, energy and money on creating software that runs across its platform. Last week, Amazon also made its case to be seen as a platform for developers with the launch of its first smartphone. And, of course, Microsoft is still pushing the same message that it's the best option for developers who want to reach a giant audience.

Chris O'Brien on Twitter: @obrien

Paresh Dave on Twitter: @peard33

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