In 2006, Andy Rubin — who created Google’s Android software program — confirmed an early demo of his cellular working system to Hiroshi Lockheimer, then a 31-year-old school dropout he hoped to rent at Google. It was two years earlier than Android’s official debut, and that first demo was crude.
It was on a candybar of a telephone, the HTC Tornado, with a small display and a bodily keypad.
“It didn’t look anything like Android does today,” Lockheimer, now Android’s chief, tells me in a convention room with a glass wall overlooking Google’s campus in Mountain View, California. “It was nowhere near [version] 1.0 … but it just felt so tantalizing.”
Android has since turn into the most well-liked cellular OS on the planet. On Wednesday, at Google’s annual I/O developer convention, the corporate introduced Android now runs on 2 billion units, up from 1.four billion in 2015. (By comparability, Apple’s iOS software program runs on practically 1.7 billion iPhones and iPads.)
Android is not simply on telephones. It’s additionally in vehicles, watches, TVs and, within the age of internet-connected every little thing, random units like safety cameras, fridges and routers.
That’s why Google is touting new figures about every of its Android offshoots. Android Autos, its in-car dashboard software program, runs on 300 fashions, together with vehicles from Volvo and Audi. Android Wear, software program tailor-made for wearable tech, is in nearly 50 watches, from manufacturers like Movado and Emporio Armani. Android TV boasts 1 million activations each two months and has greater than three,000 TV apps. And Android Things, Google’s platform for the burgeoning “internet of things” has “thousands” of builders in 60 international locations.
Spreading the gospel of Android is essential for Lockheimer and Google CEO Sundar Pichai as a result of the OS is the gateway drug to the corporate’s companies, together with Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube and its iconic search engine. To broaden Android’s scope, Google set its sights on every little thing — from staking a spot in your front room to reaching folks in distant international locations, the place complete populations are simply coming on-line.
But even with Android’s polished resume, Lockheimer has an issue — particularly as Google and Apple maintain jostling for supremacy. Asked what the 10th anniversary of the iPhone means to him, he says, “Nothing. It’s great to have really capable competitors.” That milestone would not matter as a result of, he says, “Every year we’re competing with Apple.”
I purchase that partially as a result of it is not about getting Android on telephones. Google already dominates in that division. Almost 9 out of each 10 smartphones shipped worldwide run on Android.
The drawback is getting the most recent model of Android in folks’s palms. Literally.
If you’ve gotten an Android telephone, it is a mathematical probability you are utilizing an outdated model of the software program. Only about 7 percent of all Android customers at present have the latest model, known as Nougat, put in on their units. A whopping 82 % of Android house owners are on three older variations: Marshmallow, Lollipop and KitKat. The oldest of these, KitKat, was launched in 2013. (By comparability, Apple’s most up-to-date model of its cellular software program, iOS 10, has discovered its manner onto 79 percent of all iPhones and iPads.)
For the uninitiated, Google’s received a candy tooth when it comes to naming main Android releases. They’re in alphabetical order, and all have a confectionary namesake (KitKat is Lockheimer’s favourite sweet). Now Google is sharing new details about the next version, which for now’s nicknamed “Android O.” The aim: Getting extra folks to undertake the software program so it would not find yourself being extra like “Android Ohhh yeah I remember when they announced it, but what happened?”
Part of Google’s plan is one thing known as Project Treble, which tries to clear away among the roadblocks between shoppers and new variations of Android.
“Treble is literally the deepest surgery we’ve done on Android to date,” says David Burke, vice chairman of engineering for Android. “It’s a pretty profound change.”
To perceive the answer, you first have to perceive the issue. Android suffers from a pesky situation the business calls “fragmentation.” (Bear with me. This goes to get just a little wonky.)
Though Google develops the software program, it is up to machine makers and wi-fi carriers to log off on it earlier than it will get to you. That’s as a result of they normally add their very own apps and prospers then have to check every little thing earlier than placing it on telephones and different devices.
But even earlier than the software program will get to handset makers corresponding to Samsung and LG, or carriers corresponding to Verizon and AT&T, it makes a pit cease with chipmakers.
One of the targets of Project Treble is these chipmakers, which embrace corporations like Qualcomm. The chipmakers customise bits of Android code to be sure that the software program works nicely with their processors. This could be difficult as a result of the code is interspersed all through Android’s framework.
At least, it used to be. With Project Treble, Google separated out the actual code that chipmakers care about to make it simpler for them to discover every little thing in a single place. That ought to reduce the period of time it takes for updates to circulate down the pipeline from chipmakers to machine makers.
“The goal here is, can we cut down the number of months it takes from when there’s a new version of Android to the time it gets to users?” says Burke. “Ultimately it’s trying to make it easier — grease the wheels of the whole ecosystem.”
Still, it is not a silver bullet. While Project Treble addresses the primary a part of the pipeline, handset makers and carriers can nonetheless take as a lot time as they need earlier than pushing out Android updates. That’s as a result of producers won’t discover it worthwhile to replace your telephone, says Jan Dawson, principal analyst at JackDaw Research. If you get fed up together with your outdated software program, you might find yourself shopping for an entire new telephone. “They have mixed incentives,” he says.
Lockheimer thinks Projet Treble is a giant deal, however he additionally takes a tempered view of its impression. “It doesn’t mean automatic updates are going to happen,” he says. “It’s still work. And someone needs to do that work.”
With Android O, being formally launched later this summer season, Google targeted on the “fundamentals,” Lockheimer tells me. That’s issues like velocity, efficiency and battery life. Google calls these “vitals,” which is particularly apt given all its discuss “deep surgery” for Android.
One factor Google did to preserve your telephone’s battery life is restrict what builders can do with apps working within the background. As an instance, it is put extra restrictions on what an app can do with location companies or launching into particular duties.
“If you’re battery goes out at 4 p.m., it doesn’t matter what features your phone has,” says Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson, director of product administration for Android.
Google stated it labored carefully with app builders to strike a stability between what was good for the app and what was good for customers.
The firm can also be introducing a brand new function on Wednesday known as Google Play Protect, which can let folks see how Google makes use of machine studying to scan apps to be sure that they will not hurt your telephone with viruses or malware.
But Google is attempting to repair extra than simply the plumbing. Android O will exhibit a bunch of latest options to the 7,200 builders anticipated to attend I/O over the following three days.
There’s a brand new sensible copy-and-paste function that appears notably fascinating. When you spotlight textual content in an article or textual content message, as an illustration, Android will mechanically detect if it is an deal with or a correct noun. If it is an deal with, the software program will spotlight your entire deal with, so you do not have to. And as a substitute of merely suggesting actions corresponding to “copy” or “select all,” it could recommend a map. If you choose a telephone quantity, anticipate to see the telephone dialer.
Google can also be bringing autofill options to Android, related to how they work on browsers. If you enter your login info in an app, your telephone will ask if you would like to save your password or username. The subsequent time you strive logging into an app, you will be given the selection to autofill the data. (The textual content field will flip yellow, simply like it does on Google’s Chrome browser.)
Another function is picture-in-picture, which had been out there for Android TV however not on telephones. It’s not only for movies. Burke says the corporate can also be engaged on a model for Google Maps. That means you possibly can see a small map on the nook of your display if you would like to swap apps to, say, play a music or lookup a restaurant on Yelp.
Living room desires
“Can we turn off those lights?”
We’re in a tiny room at Google’s sprawling headquarters that has been arrange to look like a front room. There’s a TV, a sofa, a espresso desk and a few flooring lamps. As CNET’s video crew units up for a shot, one in every of our cameramen worries the room is just too vivid. When he asks to kill the lights, Sascha Prueter, director of Android TV, says, “Actually, that’s a good demo.”
“Turn out the lights,” he says, talking right into a online game controller. The lights exit. The crew cheers.
It’s a part of the the, Google’s software program for powering set-top packing containers and different TV units, together with the Nvidia Shield, which Prueter is utilizing for the demo.
It could appear just a little odd to ask your TV to flip off the lights, however the firm desires interactions like this to turn into second nature to you. Pichai unveiled Google’s digital helper, known as the Assistant, ultimately yr’s I/O. It’s designed to compete with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. The Assistant can do issues like play songs, provide you with flight info or inform you the climate.
With the Assistant on Android TV, you will have the ability to verify on issues like an internet-connected safety digicam or use your voice to seek for a specific actor on YouTube.
The consumer interface for Android TV is getting a revamp too. Content might be entrance and heart now, when you beforehand had to open up an app first. You’ll additionally see a preview or snippet of a present or film as you are scrolling by way of an inventory of choices and relaxation the selector over a specific title.
This is barely the newest section within the firm’s assault in your front room. Google already has its Chromecasts for streaming video and audio, Google Wi-Fi routers for creating a powerful residence community and Google Home, a wise speaker with the Assistant inbuilt. Home is supposed to tackle the Amazon Echo, which was a shock hit when it was launched two years in the past.
Your house is quick turning into one of many fiercest battlegrounds in Silicon Valley. Besides the brawl between Google and Amazon, Apple affords its Homekit software program for iOS and is rumored to be readying its personal sensible speaker. Microsoft simply announced it will build Cortana into audio system with the assistance of out of doors machine makers.
And whereas Facebook hasn’t introduced any plans to enter the market, CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent all of final yr building his own digital butler, named Jarvis.
Adding the Assistant to Android TV is one other Trojan horse for Google’s digital helper. Prueter stated the corporate is even engaged on variations of the service that work when the TV is off. That manner, you may purchase a Google Home in your kitchen, however use your Android TV in the lounge.
If Google will get its manner, you will ultimately have a number of units in your house, all geared up with the Assistant. It may get complicated — and annoying — in the event you attempt to speak to one machine by saying the “OK Google” command after which set off each different Assistant-enabled machine.
Google is engaged on a repair for that drawback, nevertheless it’s not prepared but. Prueter says software program might be ready to deduce which machine you are speaking to by measuring issues like voice readability and distance.
Go, Android, Go
Google additionally has huge plans in rising markets to assist it lengthen Android’s attain. With a brand new initiative, internally nicknamed Android Go, it is working to make the cellular software program cater to folks with entry-level telephones.
That’s not the primary time it is tried to enchantment to the broader market. Two years in the past, it had an analogous effort known as Android One. But that targeted on the machine as a substitute of the software program. Android One initially launched in international locations together with India, Indonesia and the Philippines, the place Google partnered with native producers to construct high quality telephones that had been additionally reasonably priced.
But the main target has since shifted to deal with points corresponding to ensuring Android telephones get common safety updates, says Sameer Samat, vice chairman of product administration for Android and Google Play. And this system focuses on your entire vary of the market now, not simply the low finish.
“While hardware is half the story, the software also has to be tuned for the needs of users that have limited data connectivity,” Samat says.
Most of the individuals who will use Android Go will in all probability be on pay as you go knowledge plans. So the software program has a dashboard entrance and heart the place you possibly can monitor all the information you have used and see what you continue to have out there. It additionally has a particular model of the Google Play retailer that prominently options apps that work higher with entry-level telephones.
Of every little thing Android is saying this yr, Lockheimer says Android Go is his favourite due to what it represents: Bringing computing to everybody.
“To introduce a lot of new people to smartphones in a good way is something that’s pretty exciting,” he says.
Kind of like when he first noticed Android on that cumbersome telephone 11 years in the past.
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