New Google goodies in super-show

By Barbara Ortutay

The latest smartwatches using Android software were on show at Google's conference. Photo / AP
The latest smartwatches using Android software were on show at Google's conference. Photo / AP

About a billion people are using Android devices, Google said at the start of its two-day developer conference yesterday in San Francisco.

But the online search leader's effort to broaden its focus beyond smartphones and tablets was on full display as it unveiled far-reaching plans to push further into the living room, the family car and the TV set.

As part of a nearly three-hour opening presentation, Google gave more details about Android Wear, a version of the operating system customised for wearable gadgets such as smartwatches.

The company also introduced Android Auto, which has been tailored to work with cars. Android TV, meanwhile, is optimised for TV-watching, aided by a recommendation system and voice searches.

About 6000 developers, bloggers and journalists were at the event.

Yesterday's three-hour address was interrupted at several points by protesters who were quickly escorted out. Google has been the subject of disapproval for its use of shuttle buses to ferry employees to its Mountain View headquarters.

The buses have become a symbol of the divide between Silicon Valley's tech millionaires and those left out of the boom.

Nonetheless, Google loyalty was apparent among conference attendees, many of whom wore Google Glass, sported Google shirts and collected Android-themed freebies.

Google's event -- a rally designed to get developers excited about creating apps and devices for Google's ecosystem -- comes at a time of transition for the company, which makes most of its money from advertising as the world's leader in online search.

The company is trying to adjust to a shift to smartphones and tablet computers from desktop and laptop PCs. Though mobile advertising is growing rapidly, advertising aimed at PC users still generates more money.

At the same time, Google is angling to stay at the forefront of innovation by gambling on new, sometimes unproven technology that takes years to pay off -- if at all. Driverless cars, Google Glass, smartwatches and thinking thermostats are some of the bets.

On the home front, Google's Nest Labs -- which makes network-connected thermostats and smoke detectors -- announced this week that it has created a programme that enables outside developers, from tiny startups to large companies such as Whirlpool and Mercedes-Benz, to fashion software and "new experiences" for its products.

Integration with Mercedes-Benz, for example, might mean a car can notify a Nest thermostat when it's close to home, so the device can have the home's temperature adjusted to the driver's liking before he or she arrives.

Opening the Nest platform to outside developers enables Google to move into the emerging market for connected, smart home devices. Experts believe this "internet of things" phenomenon will change the way people use technology in much the same way that smartphones have changed life.

In March, Google released Android Wear, a version of its operating system tailored to computerised wristwatches and other wearable devices. Although several smartwatches are on the market, they are more popular with gadget geeks and fitness fanatics than regular consumers. But Google could help change that with Android Wear. Android, after all, is already the world's most popular smartphone operating system.

Intent on reaching the billions of people who don't have a smartphone or even internet access, Google also unveiled an initiative called Android One, designed to help manufacturers build low-cost smartphones for emerging markets such as India.

The company also showed off features of the next version of Android, which goes by the temporary code name Android L.

It's been designed to work on all devices running the operating system, so a user can check email on a smartwatch, answer the message on a smartphone and then delete it on a computer, for example.

Android L will also look different, include more animation, colours and a feature called "material design", which lets developers add shadows and seams to give a phone's screen the appearance of depth.

Showtime
• 6000 developers, bloggers and journalists attend two-day developer conference.
• Google gave details about Android Wear, a version of the operating system customised for wearable gadgets such as smartwatches.
• It introduced Android Auto, tailored to work with cars.
• Android TV is optimised for TV-watching, aided by a recommendation system and voice searches.

- AP

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