Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) recently unveiled Android M, the next version of its mobile operating system, at its eighth I/O developers conference in San Francisco. The OS is expected to launch in October to coincide with the release of the next Nexus device. Let's look at three new features that could alter Android's role in Google's mobile strategy.
1. Now on Tap
Now on Tap expands Google Now cards into first- and third-party apps. By holding down the Home key, users can scan a current app and pull up cards by scanning the content.
For example, if a friend asks you via email if you want to see a movie, Now on Tap can pull up a card with a summary and brief review of the film. Additional buttons will let you view the trailer on YouTube, check tweets about the film on Twitter, or read reviews on linked apps or websites. The service can also pull up information regarding people, businesses, restaurants, and other topics. To connect apps to this system, developers must implement App Indexing for Google Search in their apps.
This is a clear response to Facebook's growth across third-party apps and sites with single sign-ons that tether users to its News Feed. By connecting those apps to Google Now, Google can still gather valuable user data even if the apps are partially tied to Facebook.
2. Chrome Custom Tabs
Google has struggled with the rise of native apps, which companies often create to deliver push notifications. The more mobile users rely on native apps, the less data Google can gather via its Chrome browser. This problem is exacerbated by Facebook's single-sign-on strategy and the use of Amazon.com's app for product searches.
In the past, developers embedded a "WebView" in an app for users to view Web content. However, WebView wasn't connected to Chrome, where user data like passwords and settings were stored. To solve this problem, Google introduced Chrome Custom Tabs, which will let developers use a Chrome overlay on an active app instead.
This isn't the first time Google has tried to blur the lines between apps and Chrome. In March and April, it started allowing websites to deliver push notifications through Chrome, then lowered mobile search rankings for sites that weren't optimized for mobile devices. All these initiatives are aimed at promoting the use of mobile sites within Chrome over native apps.
3. Fingerprint support and mobile payments
Several Android devices, including Samsung's Galaxy S6, already feature fingerprint scanners. But with Android M, Google will introduce native fingerprint scanning APIs that can be integrated into a wide variety of apps.
This means entering passwords on mobile apps and sites could become a thing of the past. But just like Now on Tap and Chrome Custom Tabs, fingerprint scanning APIs are also another way for Google to tighten its grip on apps that could be straying into Facebook's ecosystem.
One of the main uses for native fingerprint scanning is Android Pay, the near-field communication service that is partially replacing Google Wallet. Google introduced Google Wallet in the U.S. in 2011, but the payment system never caught on due to Softcard, a competing platform backed by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, which blocked Wallet on most of their handsets.
Google acquired Softcard earlier this year, but Android Pay still faces intense competition from Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and CurrentC. Google announced that Android Pay will be accepted at 700,000 retailers, which is roughly the same number of retailers that accept Apple Pay. Samsung Pay reportedly works at over 30 million retail locations, while CurrentC is accepted at about 110,000.
The key takeaway
All these Android M upgrades are intended to strengthen Google's mobile defenses against the growing ecosystems being established by Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Samsung.
Google is leveraging Android, its greatest mobile strength, to tighten control over third-party apps running within its OS and websites that are viewed in Chrome. It's unclear if those tactics will hold its rivals at bay, but at least Google can gather fresh data from new sources without resorting to single sign-ons.