My Google I/O 2014 Hopes and Predictions

Google I/O 2014

Google I/O is just around the corner, so it’s time for my one post of the year (who knows, maybe I’ll buck the trend and become a bit more active). Last years predictions were pretty inaccurate, and these may be just as bad, but hey, speculation is fun, and it like I said last year, it’s more of a wishlist than anything else. So, let’s dive right in.

Android Wear

First up, a topic that’s already been confirmed. We’ll likely get further details on the LG G Watch, and maybe the Moto 360. Android Wear (or at least what’s been released to developers so far) is pretty basic, being little more than a card representation of your notification shade, with some extra APIs for interacting with those notifications on the watch. It’s a lot like Google Glass, some might even say identical. I think it makes sense for Google Glass to transition to running Android Wear, and for the Google Glass APIs to be deprecated in favour of Android Wear’s. Android Wear is significantly simpler, and can even work without an internet connection, unlike Glass. It just doesn’t make sense to maintain both in my eyes.

I hope Google elaborate on what OEMs can customise in Wear for their wearables, and who owns the updates. Personally I’d like to see them having minimal customisation opportunities, and for Google to handle updates. We might get that from LG and Motorola for their first devices, essentially making them Google Play Edition devices, but I’d be a bit surprised if Google took that much control over the software for future devices.

Not much else that can be said about Android Wear. I just look forward to the launch, and if the price is right, I’ll certainly be an early adopter.

Android TV

Goodbye Google TV, hello brand spanking new Android TV. Google TV hasn’t had a good life, always living as a sort of unloved step-child of Google, even with competition from Google in the form of Chromecast. Google said at I/O last year that they were finally going to merge the Google TV fork into the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), and now, a year later, perhaps it’s finally time. Android TV and its Pano UI have already been leaked, and the UI looks pretty polished. There’s nothing on the sessions agenda for Google/Android TV however, and there isn’t really anything it will properly fit into, so there’s a chance it might not make an appearance. I’m not sure if Google have a record of adding new sessions after the keynote, so we’ll see how this Panos out… Sorry…

If they DO reveal it though, I expect that the focus will be on two things - media, and games. They will need the likes of Netflix and Hulu, among other VoD services on board to succeed. The ability to act as a Chromecast was already announced by Google last year, but I suspect they may provide some extra APIs on top of the experience. I have a smart Blu-ray player, which of course has Netflix support. The interesting thing, is that in Netflix on my phone, it shows up as a cast device. When I cast to it, I can still use my Blu-ray remote to play, pause, stop, and so on. Seems like a good idea for Google to include support like this in Android. Cast a Netflix video to Android TV, then take over control with the remote instead of fiddling with your phone.

On the games front, it would be hard to argue about buying a game on my phone, playing it for a bit, then coming home and picking up where I left off on my Android TV. With Google Play Games, this is possible. Perhaps I’d actually play the GTA games I bought and played for about 2 minutes. Android TV could be poised to be the low cost indie box, and succeed where Ouya failed. The buy once, play everywhere experience could be key to that.

Oh, and Google, if you do reveal Android TV, please please please announce flagship hardware, with day one worldwide availability through the Play Store and retail partners. If you sell Chromecast in a country, you have no excuse not to sell Android TV devices.

Android in the Car

Not much is known about Android in the Car, or Open Automotive Alliance to give it it’s proper name, but I hope Google talk more about it at I/O this year. I hope Google either use MirrorLink or develop their own open standard for Android in the Car. The idea of choosing my car based on my phone or vice versa is ridiculous, so I really want to see all the major players agree on a single way forward. I’m sure there’ll be aftermarket units available, but I’m not even sure if I can fit an aftermarket unit into my car. I’ve searched and can’t find any information on it. Microsoft have already said they’re going to use MirrorLink, but Apple are using their own technology. If Google go with MirrorLink, perhaps Apple will consider having it as an option for Carplay, but I’m not too hopeful.

It’ll probably be a while before I’ll be running Android in my car, but if I can, you can be sure I will.

Android @ Home

Another year, another hope that Android @ Home will finally become something. Even though I don’t own a house where I could fit home automation equipment, I just want this to happen. Google’s purchase of Nest might have added focus to Android @ Home, so fingers crossed!

Quantum Paper

This is a relatively recent leak. Or really, the details are relatively recent. There has been leaks of Gmail and Google Calendar UIs that seem to follow this rumoured new UI framework called Quantum Paper. Quantum Paper will apparently not be tied to Android, but will instead allow you to build consistent UIs across Android, the web, and even iOS. As Android Police point out, the components that have leaked, along with the screenshots leaked with Project Hera (which I’ll cover later), all match Google’s existing web framework, Polymer. If Google allow me to write my UIs with Polymer or Polymer-like syntax, I’ll be happy. Having developed both Windows Phone and Android apps, I can say it’s so much easier to do on Windows Phone. Hopefully Quantum Paper will bridge that gap (or maybe even surpass Windows Phone).

I figure this will likely be something outside of the Android OS. The obvious location for it would be the Android Support library, but I’d like to see Google add it to Google Play Services instead. Depending on the size of the framework, it could be quite costly to include in every app that uses it. Put it in Google Play Services and now you can reduce the size of your apps with the trade-off increasing the size of Google Play Services.

Speaking of Google Play Services…

Google Play Services

Last year at I/O, we had the announcement of Google Play Games, Android’s answer to iOS’s Game Center. The most interesting thing about Play Games though is that Google made it available for all Android devices from 2.2 (assuming your device had Google Apps). They did this by adding to Google Play Service, a set of services available only to devices authorised by Google to run Google Apps. Google have done this in the past with the Google Maps API, which they added in December 2012.

This year, Google will likely again add new APIs through Play Services. What they’ll add is a bit of a mystery. There’s the rumoured health and fitness APIs, which make a lot more sense to add to Play Services than to the OS. Perhaps if Google do actually finally revive Android @ Home, they could add that, but beyond those, I’m not sure what they’ll add. But I’m excited to find out. Founder of Android Police, Artem Russakovskii hinted to me that they have some information they’re compiling into a story at the moment, but no post since.

Android 4.5/5.0

I’m pretty confident we’ll see a new iteration of Android at I/O, but I’m not convinced it’ll be a 5.0 release. The maturity and flexibility of Android shifts the focus from the Android OS to Google’s Play Services. That said, there will likely be a need for new APIs based on some of the leaks that have cropped up over the last few months. Adding new APIs also gives Google the opportunity to reduce the amount of framework changes needed by OEMs to provide users with their custom experience by allowing them to just make their customisations as apps that use these APIs.

Alongside this, I want Google to provide beta and/or developer channels for the Nexus and Google Play edition range of phones. The interest is certainly there from both developers and enthusiasts. Part of what makes new iOS and Windows Phone public releases exciting is the apps that will be updated to utilise new functionality already updated and ready for release when the OTA goes live. Pretty much any Android developer will tell you how they hate testing in an emulator. Having a device running a pre-release version of the OS will allow them to fully test new functionality, and provide bug reports to Google before public release. This is long overdue in my eyes, and I really hope Google realise that and do something about it.

Anyway, onto the API changes I envisage.

Changes to notifications

We’ve seen leaks that indicate that Google want to provide a Google experience on Nexus and Google Play edition devices. One of the Google-ified features in these leaks is notifications. Android Police’s sleek reconstruction of what they’ve been shown shows a very Google Now-esque design to notifications, with content split into two sections, with lower priority notifications being demoted to a second screen that you need to swipe to.

This makes perfect sense. I don’t need to see that Tasker and AcDisplay are running every time I look at my notifications. I want to see actionable notifications and little more. Persistent and low priority notifications, such as weather and commute times from Google Now, can be hidden away until wanted. It also fits well into the Android Wear plans. As mentioned above, Android wear relies on notifications for data and actions. Many apps that will want to add data to Android Wear likely won’t want to clutter up your notification tray, so by having a separate section for these kind of notifications, Android Wear and your notification tray can work in harmony without annoying the user.

The sectioned notification tray may be a core part of Android 4.5/5.0 when it launches, but the Google-y design will most certainly not. For this, Google could modify the OS like every other OEM, but that’s not Google’s style. No, they want to be able to update this whenever they want, and they want to decouple it from the OS. Android already has APIs for accessing notifications, which works very well with certain apps. AcDisplay does a great job of showing notification content and actions with a different experience to the notification tray. I think Google could be clever here, and allow developers to create their own notification tray replacements, much like they can with the launcher or SMS app. Google could leverage the same APIs as everyone else to create their custom notification experience, and update it through the Play Store, separate from the OS. A knock-on effect of this is that if OEMs do the same, they now have less to update in Android itself when the next update rolls out. Google could do the same with lock screens too to further decouple the OS.

Multitasking changes

Along with the notification tray customisation, we’ve seen mockups of a new launcher. The launcher incorporates multitasking, but seems to eschew widgets in favour of an iOS-like app grid to the right of the multitasking interface. As with all rumours and leaks, there’s no guarantee that the finished product will be the same. I can’t see Google dropping widgets, and if they make me organise all my apps manually like in iOS, I’ll be pretty pissed. I like my A-Z grid. The new launcher in its currently known form just seems like too much of a change from what users know and love. I highly doubt this mockup will become reality, but I do hope Google figure out how to do this without alienating users too much, because I love the idea of incorporating multitasking into the home screen ever since my Palm Pre 2.

As with the notification experience, I’d imagine Google would add APIs for accessing multitasking data and roll out the new experience through Play Store, maybe even gradually to ween users in.

Project Hera

I’m gonna be totally honest, I have no idea what Project Hera is, or what it aims to accomplish. So I’m not even going to speculate on this. If you want to try make sense of it, check out Android Police’s article on it.

Android Silver

Android Silver is interesting, although I hate the name. This seems to be Google’s attempt at getting OEMs to customise less and less. It seems like Google want all manufacturers to operate like Motorola, which sounds very positive to me. I own a Moto G, and shortly after the Google Play edition was announced, I converted mine. But I’ve since reflashed the Motorola ROM. As it turns out, Motorola’s ROM actually offers a better experience on a nearly stock interface. On top of that, it was very quick to get Android 4.4, and has overall been a pleasure to use. Get all major partners on board, and HTC, Samsung, Sony and LG could be slimming down the bloat on their flagships, and providing quicker updates. Both positives in my books.

There is another possibility. It could be a push on Google Play edition devices. The HTC One (M8) Google Play edition isn’t like other Play edition devices. It has HTC’s TV app for using the built-in IR blaster, along with the photo editor app for utilising that second camera on the back. It even includes support for HTC’s DotView case, and gestures you can use to unlock the phone when the screen is off. This sounds like the “Android with no or very limited customizations” quoted by Android Police. If this is the case, we could see Google Play edition devices sit alongside the fully customised phones in phone stores. Perhaps they’ll even have official paths to convert between TouchWiz/Sense/etc. and Google Play/Android Silver. One can dream, but I really, really, really hope this dream comes true.

Windows and Windows Phone 8.1

Come on Google, stop pretending that Windows and Windows Phone don’t exist. Please?