Tales from San Francisco: live at Google I/O 2015

Voicu Klein
By Voicu Klein under Insights, News, Engineering 15 June 2015

Last year, we streamed Google's I/O conference direct to our old Soho office, but for 2015, we decided to get closer to the action. For some, that meant watching the I/O at Google Campus in London, while for a lucky few - like me - it meant San Francisco and the opportunity to experience Google I/O live and first hand.

And with that in mind, what did this year’s Google I/O conference hold in store for me?

Internet of Things: taking a look at Brillo and Weave

The Internet of Things (IoT) is still an emerging concept, and one of the biggest challenges ahead is trying to get a consistent set of standards for it. Brillo and Weave are Google’s bid to establish these.

Brillo is a low memory footprint operating system derived from Android, built to power up IoT devices - whether that’s house appliances, door locks or even farming equipment. However, smart devices are not so smart when they operate alone. This is where Weave comes in. Weave will be the ‘glue’ or universal language that is used to communicate with these devices.

While Brillo is expected in Q3 and Weave in Q4 of this year, sadly, as with much of the IoT ‘buzz’, the practical details aren’t easy to pin down or discover. Despite my mini-manhunt, I couldn’t find anyone who could provide more concrete info.

Android M

One of the key stats that stuck with me was that 8 out of 10 new devices are running Android. That’s huge - and a huge responsibility for Android engineers like myself.

Last year’s update (Lollipop) was the biggest upgrade to the Android system ever. Now, Google has changed its focus to reviewing what stays in the ecosystem and what has to go, revising old APIs that haven't been changed in a while.

Improving the battery life is one example of going back to basics. Project Volta was announced at last year’s I/O, and this year they have created the next iteration called Doze. The ultimate goal is to avoid battery loss when you're not using your device by putting applications in a deep sleep state - and it's working. Initial results tested on Nexus 9 show a 2x battery improvement while in standby.

Other improvements cover areas like permissions; deep linking; the text engine; launcher; backup facilities; fingerprint sensor; and last but not least, design libraries - which help to enable the comprehensive and consistent implementation of Material Design widgets.

Lollipop was great, but M will be even better. Following the usual Google schedule, we have already received the Android M preview system, which features some of the upgrades. There will be three major preview updates before a production version is released, and all of this looks set to happen before Q4 this year.

Android Pay

With Google Wallet passing its 4th birthday, this year Google is rounding out their payments offering. Android Pay allows to use your NFC device as a payment option in stores as well as in apps. Additionally, it provides an easy way for businesses to create loyalty programmes and reward customers. It also looks like partners for payments are making their move as well: here’s one from Visa Europe.

Now on Tap and deep neural networks

Unsurprisingly at TAB, we believe that context is everything. Knowing someone’s precise location, and what they are doing changes everything. That’s why Now on Tap is so exciting - it puts Google’s magic neural networks to work, predicting what you’re going to do next.

It’s a super important development because in a world where each app lives in it’s own little world, Google is focused on bringing these worlds together. It won’t matter where you are, you will be able to hold the Google Now button and get all the relevant information and actions based on what you’re doing right now.

If you want to play with deep neural networks, you can try it yourself. Go to your Google Photos and search any phrase you like - see the results yourself.

Google Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP)

ATAP is the magic factory behind new Google projects. Fortunately, I had the chance to take part in most of the demos in the Moscone Center, and ATAP really caught my attention. If you haven’t seen their presentation, I urge you to check it out. It was the sort of thing you really expect from Google: mindblowing, ground-breaking and inspirational.

Two of my favourite projects were Soli and Jacquard, as they provide new ways of interacting with your device.

Soli is a tiny radar which captures movement in its vicinity and is so small it can be incorporated in any wearable. It is even precise enough to capture gestures made with your hand. Suddenly, tapping and swiping the tiny touchscreen of your watch has just become old school.

The Jacquard Project takes a fabric and turns it into a touch sensor. Think about this as second generation wearables that can turn your jacket or jeans into a device you can interact with.

Or use it to unlock the door or call ambulance - take your pick, the options are limitless. Check out this video to see for yourself.

A couple of other ATAP initiatives also caught my attention. Project Vault, for example, introduces a nano device pretending to be an SD card. It is actually an independent high security storage device with its own processor, operating system and connectivity. This means it can store your most vital information as well as encrypt communication between devices, making it truly secure.

Another aspect of security is physical access to a device. Project Abacus is Google’s attempt to kill the password by combining user traits - voice patterns, how the user moved or how they type - and making them the unique, secure and personal means by which you can access your device.

Cardboard and Jump

Finally - we love a bit of Google cardboard here at TAB. Our colleague James made a blog post about it last year, and so it was really nice to see a follow-up at this year’s I/O. If you enjoyed watching your photospheres using Cardboard, you are going to absolutely love Jump.

Jump is an even more immersive experience, providing 360 degree video (courtesy of GoPro - see image below) with sufficient depth perception to make you feel like you are actually there. When giving Jump a whirl for the first time, I almost felt stupid in their playground area: I had to constantly remind my brain that it was just a simulation. Not bad for low cost virtual reality.

Conclusion

Google I/O is a wonderful experience, and the ‘Droid team here at TAB will be talking more about what is on the cards for Google this year. So keep an eye out for a follow-up blog post or two that will look a little more closely at the exciting new developments outlined here.