The annual Google(NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL)I/O developers conference gives the company a very public stage to roll out the latest updates to its Android operating system in front of an adoring audience.
Like similar conferences held by Apple and Microsoft, I/O has become a mix of education and celebration. The developers are there to learn, but the events -- especially major happenings such as the keynote speech -- have a rock concert-like atmosphere. It is a unique world in which company executives are cheered like major stars, and the big names are greeted as if Bruce Springsteen had stepped on stage.
I/O was no different this year, and the keynote was a veritable hit parade of announcements that were met with hearty applause from the crowd. Various Google executives ran through a number of changes, improvements, and new features for the Android operating system, starting with Senior Vice President of Products Sundar Pichai.
Before kicking off his speech, Pichai noted that in addition to the sold out crowd watching him live in San Francisco, millions of people were watching online and in over 460 simulcast locations in 90 countries. It was a crowd hungry for Android news, and it would not be disappointed.
Google wants Android for everyone
Pichai opened his remarks by pointing out that eight of 10 smartphones shipped worldwide last year ran Android. Google achieved this volume, because the operating system appeals to users at the top end of the market and to entry-level customers who need basic devices.
"There are over 4,000 distinct devices with Android, and the range of what we see is what we really embrace," Pichai said. "In fact, when we say 'be together, not the same' that is precisely what we mean. We want to make sure we leave no one behind. We want to provide Android for users the way they like it, so it works for them."
Android going beyond mobile
While Android started as a mobile OS, Google announced plans at the 2014 I/O conference to evolve it beyond that platform. Pichai updated the audience on continued progress, noting Google now has seven models of Android wearables with "many more to come." The executive also said Google has partnerships for Android Auto -- another 2014 announcement -- with over 35 car manufacturers.
Pichai called the growth of Android TV "pretty breathtaking" -- he noted that a number of companies are making TVs with the platform built in and that over 17 million Chromecast devices have been sold.
Android M is about quality
Every year at I/O, Google talks about its new version of Android. Last year, "L" was focused on expanding the OS to the platforms mentioned above. For 2015, vesion "M" is centered on quality.
"For M, we have really focused on polish and quality," Pichai said. "We have literally solved thousands of bugs and more importantly, talked through every detail to make it better."
The user experience is improved
Brought on stage by Pichai, Google Vice President Dave Burke said one of the key goals of the new platform was improved user experience. He noted that some of the improvements folded into the update came from third-party developers -- something that is only possible, because Android is an open-source platform, unlike rivals Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS.
"One of the things Android users really tell us they love is the ability to customize and control the behavior of their phone," he said.
Burke said M is bringing that functionality to app permissions. In that area, users will have "meaningful control of the data they care about." That means people will be able to decide what they see and what permissions they allow. To do that, Google simplified the overall set of possible permissions to include easy-to-understand situations such as whether an app can have access to your location, your camera, your contacts, and more.
Another major change designed to enhance user experience is that apps will ask for permission the first time you attempt to use a feature, not upon install. Users are also able to easily change (or revoke) their permissions at any time by accessing the setup area in the app. That makes it possible to permit certain functionality only when you want it.
"It's faster to get users up and running in your app," Burke said. "It's a much more intuitive model for users."