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From Android M to Google Photos to the updates to Google Play, here are the most important announcements at Google I/O 2015.
What's new with Google
Google I/O, the search giant's annual developer conference, kicked off yesterday with a number of big announcements. Here are some of the more interesting and impactful items we learned about Google's upcoming software initiatives.
Google announced Android 6.0 is coming later this year. Tentatively dubbed Android M – we're sure a candy-themed name like Milky Way is likely to be announced soon – the next iteration of Android promises to improve overall speed, performance, and polish, while introducing a number of interesting features.
Some of the more notable new features include native support for fingerprint sensors, which means we might begin to see lower-to-mid-level Android devices implementing biometric hardware soon. Android M also features something Google calls Doze. Doze aims to improve overall battery life by killing background processes when the system notices that they're not in use.
Google Wallet never quite became the bona fide hit Google hoped it would be, and so instead we have Android Pay. Seemingly modeled after Apple Pay, which Apple rolled out with the iPhone 6 last year, Android Pay will let any Android smartphone running KitKat or higher make wireless payments directly from their device.
HBO Now coming to Android
TV lovers have reason to be happy with this one. Following an initial exclusive rollout on Apple TV, HBO's standalone subscription service is finally coming to Android, though a specific release date was not mentioned.
Priced at $14.99, HBO Now lets consumers sign up for HBO even without a corresponding cable subscription.
Given that many users have hundreds of photos on their device, being able to store, browse, and edit large collections of photos is more important than ever. To that end, Google on Thursday unveiled Google Photos. Though there are a number of new and interesting features, the monster feature, without question, is that Google Photos offers users unlimited storage of both videos and photos for free. This is an absolutely incredible value proposition, especially given that the individual sizes of smartphone photos continues to increase alongside incremental improvements in picture quality. Even better, Google Photos will be platform-agnostic, meaning that you'll be able to download it on your iPhone or Windows Phone device.
With the Internet of Things slated to be the next big thing in tech, Google is jumping in head first with Project Brillo, a platform it boasts will be the "underlying operating system for the Internet of Things." The Brillo software will be able to run on low-power devices and communicate with other Brillo-enabled devices nearby.
What's particularly cool about Brillo is that devices will presumably be able to understand context. For instance, with Brillo underlying all of a home's smart objects, locking your front door when you leave might automatically shut the oven off. Brillo also understands voice commands.
Google Now on Tap
Google Now is already incredible at what it does, but it's now poised to get even better with a new feature Google calls 'Now on Tap.' The new feature effectively adds contextual awareness to your device. The following example was used during the presentation: Say you're listening to a Skrillex song on your Android device. If you fire up Google Now and ask "What's his real name?", the software is smart enough to understand that you're asking about Skrillex's name specifically.
The underlying purpose of 'Now on Tap' is to bring users answers proactively, something made possible by the search giant's huge investment and research in machine learning.
Google Maps offline mode
Google announced that the next iteration of Google Maps will finally include offline search. While this will be helpful for all users, the feature is especially aimed at developing countries where internet connections are either a) spotty or b) expensive (or both).
What's more, even turn-by-turn directions will be accessible in offline mode. The next-gen version of Google Maps will launch later in the year.
Google Play becomes family-friendly
Though Google Play, in some respects, is something of a free-for-all, Google's storefront is about to become more family-friendly. Google Play will soon include a discovery tool that will make it easy for parents to quickly determine which apps, songs, and videos are appropriate for children. This is particularly helpful because, as Google noted during the I/O keynote, one third of Android users have children below the age of 12.
Google Play becomes more developer-friendly
Seeing as how Google I/O is a developer conference, there was a lot of time devoted to mobile apps. Of particular interest is that Google will now let developers wield more control over their Google Play app page. What this means is that developers leverage Google's analytical software to determine which pricing schemes or icon colors work best.
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