In amongst the demonstrations of smart fabrics and platforms for supporting the Internet of Things at this year's event, were one or two announcements that really could make a difference to the way that everyday people lead their everyday digital lives.
The first is offline access to Google Maps. It's still in the development stage, but according to Google's VP for engineering and product management, Jen Fitzpatrick, it should be ready before the end of the year. There is already an Easter Egg in the iOS and Android app that will let users download maps so that when they hit an internet connection black spot, they can still see where they're going, but this will take things to another level. Designed primarily for the ‘next 1 billion', i.e., those in emerging markets where data costs are huge, it will also be a boon for holidaymakers who will be able to put their smartphones in airplane mode but still see maps, reviews and, eventually turn-by-turn navigation.
Google might have been the first to try to turn the smartphone into a credit card competitor, but Google Wallet fizzled. Its second attempt however, Android Pay, is a quantum leap forward -- it will support major credit cards, fingerprint authentication and will work online as well as in physical stores. When it goes live it will work in 700,000 US stores and will also be baked into a host of Android apps for simplifying shopping without increasing risks.
The next version of Google's smartphone and tablet operating system will put permissions and security front and center. An app will have to notify the user that it wants to or needs to access something -- the contacts book, location or microphone, for instance -- in the moment, rather than as a long list of permissions at the point of installation. However, the biggest improvement will be to battery life. Google says it has found a way of reducing the strain on power when a device is in sleep mode. Unfortunately, this is academic as unless a consumer has a Nexus device, he or she has no idea if or when they will be getting the next operating system upgrade.
We already share over 1.8 billion images a day and they need to be stored somewhere. Google's standalone photos app may soon be the number-one destination. The company claims that storage will be unlimited for photos and videos alike and that there will be some very impressive search features. Best of all, it plays nicely with the social networks that the company used to see as its competitors -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.