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June 25, 2014

Android Everywhere

In a few years, Android has become the dominant mobile OS. Still, Google has a lot of challenges ahead. Android is very popular when it comes to mobile phones, has started to become popular in the tablet space and that's about it. Google TV failed, the home automation project wasn't successful and Google bought Nest, wearables are still new, cars are uncharted territory.

Google's challenge was to replicate Android's success and make Android the OS that powers all of your smart devices. To do this, Google had to come up with a new design language that works well on any Android device from a smart watch to a smart TV. It's called Material Design and it's inspired by paper and ink, by surfaces and their tactile attributes, by light and movement. Material Design is Google's unified design language for mobile apps and web apps, so it's not limited to the next Android release.

"A single underlying design system organizes interaction and space. Each device reflects a different view of the same underlying system. Each view is tailored to the size and interaction appropriate for that device. Colors. iconography, hierarchy, and spatial relationship remain constant."

The next version of Android is only available as a developer preview called "Android L". Google will reveal the name when Android L will be released in a few months. So what's new in Android L? ART, the new Android runtime that brings improved performance, 64-bit support, better battery life (Project Volta) and a new battery saver mode, Bluetooth 4.1 support, Android Extension Pack with support for desktop-level graphics performance, lockscreen notifications, do not disturb, enterprise features based on Samsung Knox, color space correction and a lot more.

Android Wear has a SDK and it powers the first 3 Android smart watches: LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live (available today on Google Play) and Moto 360. Android Wear uses a simple card-based interface, it integrates with other Android devices and allows you to see your notifications and to interact with the apps from another Android device (for example, play music on your phone). If you dismiss a notification on your watch, it will also be dismissed on your phone.

Android Auto allows you to integrate your Android phone with your car. "Android Auto was designed with safety in mind. With a simple and intuitive interface, integrated steering wheel controls, and powerful new voice actions, it's designed to minimize distraction so you can stay focused on the road." Connect your phone to your car and use the custom-tailored interfaces for apps like Google Maps, Play Music, Google Search and more.

Android Auto is coming later this year for new cars from automakers like Ford, Fiat, Honda, Mazda, Volkswagen, Audi, Renault, Opel, Chevrolet and more.

Android TV lets you run Android apps on your TV. It supports Google Cast, so it includes Chromecast functionality. Android TV should power smart TVs and set top boxes, just like Google TV. So what's different this time? Chromecast brought content providers on board, Android TV is easier to use and optimized for entertainment devices, not for computing devices.

In an interesting twist, Chromebooks will be able to run Android apps and integrate with Android devices. This addresses the lack of native apps for Chrome OS and brings the Google Play ecosystem to the desktop. I'm sure that this feature will also be added to Chrome for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Android has a huge user base: 1 billion active users. It makes sense for these users to buy products that work well with their existing devices. Unfortunately, cars and TVs are replaced less often than phones and tablets, their software is rarely updated and there are so many models that it's hard to test apps and provide a great experience. Disruptive products like Chromecast are better because they're cheaper, easier to update and improve.

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