Editorial: I/O 2015 Keynote Keys Part Two: The Android Ecosystem

Having shared my knee-jerk reactions to Thursday’s I/O 2015 keynote with respect to the Android platform, I am now ready to discuss some of the same regarding the Android ecosystem as a whole. I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the apps Google just released and intends to release in the near future, along with a major revelation that goes way beyond being a simple app. Since the entire keynote is available to stream on demand, please feel free to peruse the video below in case you missed it.

Inbox by Google

I don’t have much to say here, except I’m glad it’s now available to the public at large (I can’t stand invite systems, though I suppose they’re a necessary evil, especially for beta testing).

Google Photos



This is the standalone photo-management app/service the blogosphere has long expected Google to announce, finally freed from the shackles of G+. In my opinion the greatest benefit of this new freedom is the ability to easily share photos and videos outside of G+ (it uses the standard Android sharing dialog).

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the revamped service is the free unlimited online storage (!) of photos up to 16MP (for a photo with a standard 16:9 aspect ratio, this works out to 5336×3000 pixels). Also, you can have unlimited storage of videos up to 1080p (!); pictures and videos at higher resolutions will count against your Google Drive storage.

On the other hand, the AI-driven semantic photo analysis Google employs for its new service may be its greatest aspect. This technology enables Google to automatically categorize your photos as people, places and things, such as cats, lakes and cities. The AI works to a limited degree of accuracy currently, grouping dogs together with cats for example. Still, it is continually “learning”and will soon become self-aware and usher in the Rise of the Machines be able to categorize your photos more accurately, saving you the trouble of tagging your photos manually.

Of course, this spells curtains for G+, unfortunately (not really).

Offline Maps

Of course, it is already possible to select an area to save for offline viewing in Google Maps, but later this year Google will make it possible to also get turn-by-turn directions, search and view business listings and reviews offline. This could be a huge boon to those of you taking long trips through areas of spotty mobile data coverage, or those of you who actually live in such areas.

HBO Now

It gets tiresome that major content publishers tend to release first for iOS and either wait for a long time to release for Android or never release it at all outside of Apple’s ecosystem. It’s especially annoying when they release for Android, but it’s a mere port of the iOS version that provides a poor experience on Android. Nevertheless, HBO’s new standalone subscription service (as in, no need for a cable provider for $14.99/month) will soon be setting up shop in the Play Store. Hopefully it won’t be a mere port of an iOS app.

Family Star 

Finally, Google has a “G-rated” category for family-friendly content in the Play Store. Let’s hope Google’s algorithms are effective and keep the “adult” content away from this section.

Google Now On Tap

While Google Now as we know it is technically an app, it will become much more than that by the time Android M is released to the public along with Google’s upcoming Nexus phones later this year. Yes, that’s “phones” with an “s” in case you haven’t been following the 2015 Nexus rumors. One of the things Now On Tap will be able to do is “read” whichever app is active when you long-press the home button and prompt you with context-driven actions. For example, if you’re listening to a song, long-pressing the home button could bring up Google search results related to the song, album or artist.

Of course, this explanation barely scratches the surface of what Now On Tap will bring to your device. It’ll also allow you to take actions with mere voice commands that you would otherwise have to open an app for. For example, you could order a ride from Uber with a voice command without having to open your Uber app. It’s the next phase of Google’s Project Majel, their ongoing effort to bring a complete Star Trek-style voice interface to your mobile computer. You can see an excellent description of Google’s project here.

The only caveat is you’ll have to wait for the final public release of Android M – it won’t be available for the Developer Preview (it’s probably an unfinished product anyway at this point).

While the biggest annual attention-grabbers among Big Media are the announcements about Android and new/updated apps, Google’s primary focus in its I/O conference is app developers. In a later article, I will discuss some of the major new services Google has in store for developers.

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