Google's I/O Developer Conference: More of the Same, But From Google This Time

Google campus
Ole Spata/DPA/Landov 

The company unveiled a smattering of offerings, mostly intended to compete with much of the same from other tech giants.

Google revealed a host of updates around its Android operating system, mostly targeting developers, at its 2014 I/O event Thursday in San Francisco. Among the platform updates were new capabilities extending Android’s app environment to cars and TV sets, giving app-based music services new avenues to distribute music via additional devices.

At the event, Android director of engineering Patrick Brady introduced Android Auto, an in-car technology meant to compete with Apple’s CarPlay. The system allows drivers to launch apps (including Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, Songza, iHeartRadio, and Google’s own subscription service Play Music All Access) using voice commands and the car’s own controls. It still requires that drivers have an Android phone in the vehicle, which communicates with the connected car’s video screen.

The company also demonstrated voice-enabled maps and in-car voice-messaging services. Google developed the system via the Open Automobile Alliance, formed early this year in concert with automakers. It opened up a software development kit for new apps as well.

“We looked at what people do with their phones in the car today, and these things stood out to us: navigation, communication, music and other forms of streaming media,” Brady said during the presentation. “Android Auto puts these front and center, so you don’t have to go hunting through a grid of icons to find the apps that are most important to you when you’re in the car.” In the case of Play Music, Brady and a colleague demonstrated its “simple, glanceable” controls on the car’s touchscreen, designed for easy access with minimal distraction from driving.

Google also showed off Android TV, an extension of its existing operating system that’s designed to compete with Apple TV, Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV streaming media players. Rather than introduce its own new device, Google has instead designed an app-based system that will be built into TVs and third-party set-top boxes shipping in the next few months.

Android engineering director Dave Burke stressed that developers will be able to design simultaneously for phones, tablets, and TVs using the same software development kit, opening up avenues for numerous apps to be transferred to TVs. Phones and other devices -- including wearables -- can be used as remote controls as well.

It wasn’t immediately clear which music apps are ready for Android TV now, although iHeartRadio and TuneIn were visible during Burke’s demo, alongside the Google Play store. Separately, product manager Rishi Chandra’s update on the Google Cast platform, which allows Chrome apps to be transferred to TVs using a Chromecast dongle, showed that Rdio, Pandora, Vevo, and Google’s own YouTube and Google Play Music are all now Cast-ready apps.