The omnipresent OS is set to wrestle its way into areas other than your phone and how!
The joke that Android has 50 different shades was originally based on the fact that the Android OS for phones had way too much fragmentation, versions and differences. Fortunately, Google has done enough to make sure that those 50 (or even more) shades merge into one soon. The new '50 Shades of Android' tag is to do with how this already omnipotent and omnipresent OS will now dominate and wrestle its way into other areas than just your phone. And that is no joke!
The I/O Domination: At the latest Google I/O, it was Android all the way. Usually, this is the event where Google showcases and updates on all its portfolio of products, its Moonshot (tech innovations that aren't just evolutionary but take a huge leap forward) initiatives, Google Glass-level products, new search technology, new Google devices and many other things that they are doing worldwide. Not this time. It was Android and only Android and how it was going to make a direct pitch to enter into areas it has never played in before. This was Google spelling out the very obvious fact that its quest to own the world through Android was now clearly underway.
L for Lust: The beginning was fairly understated with a public unveiling of its next version of Android OS for phones. They've code-named it Android L and it takes a pretty big leap forward as it's a total reboot in aesthetics and functionality. Material Design is a standardisation that gives any object on screen a certain depth, animation as well as better texture and real button-like feel. Added on are better battery life features built in at OS level, an automatic unlock when you bring your phone near another unlock-enabled device like a smartwatch, plus there's a new Android for work version that makes working with Microsoft Office a whole lot easier. Android L is something to look forward to.
Android Wear is here: The best way to describe this is to think of it as a shrunken version of the Android OS on your phone with only those features that a smartwatch can actually use. The big deal here is Voice Control as the watch is constantly listening for the phrase 'OK Google' and any voice command that follows. And you don't really have to speak into your smartwatch as the range is about 12 to 15 inches. It works even if the ambience around you is noisy. Notifications from your phone are robust and work like Google Now-style notification cards that pop up on the screen. There is a scrollable menu for voice notes, reminders and a variety of watch face styles. It's great to see Google get into this market but I'm still unconvinced about the need for a smartwatch that is just a phone accessory, plus the fact that the first devices (from LG and Samsung) announced with Android Wear will have a one day battery-life, makes this a complete non-starter.
Android on your TV too: Yes, they already have Google TV but that didn't do too well. This is a different approach altogether. This is pretty much a way to get stock Android onto your TV: apps, games from Play store and messaging and mail apps on a big screen. As an add on, you can stream movies and shows from the Web as well as from local sources. Voice commands work well and you can speak into the remote control. Analysis of what you watch and recommendations are a critical feature. This is a good way to get all TVs standardised, but will TV manufacturers bite and give away control? I doubt it!
Android in your Car: This isn't as big a leap forward as it may sound. Just like Android TV, Android Auto also takes the Android OS and ports it to your car with some car-centric features. The part that is still a little clunky is that your car system will need to be connected to your Android smartphone to get all its features working. Maps, Google Now commands, music, movies, shows, voice control, games, automatic voice read outs of notifications and messages will then work on a big screen on the dashboard. This is a big deal as getting a car with a navigation system is almost impossible in small cars and the big ones need you to spend some big money. If they can make the system self-sufficient and not dependent on your phone, then this could be a real revolution. Right now it's a little ho-hum.
Three Screens: Google also made sure that it caught up with Apple in terms of making your phone, tablet and notebook work seamlessly with each other. Chromebooks will now be able to receive notifications and run applications from Android smartphones and tablets. Work from one and complete on another, incoming calls notified on your laptop and a whole lot of other things. The big problem, very few people use Chromebooks.
Android One: This is the big muscle play by Google and it starts right here in India. State-of the-art, top-of-the-line phones with big specs, great features, good looks, fantastic ergonomics and a price point of `5,999. And this very big play starts with companies like Spice, Karbon and Micromax. This is huge and a game changer and I'm going to dedicate a future column to this, including how it affects all other players. Watch this space.
A Prediction Repeatedth: Google wants Android everywhere and while the first attempts may have a few misfires there is no doubting the fact that they persevere, throw big money and hard work at it and eventually get it right. In 2008, when Android was almost unknown and had no market share - I had written a prediction. I'm going to repeat it today: The Android Cometh and there is No-One to Stopeth it!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
From HT Brunch, July 6
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