Amid the summertime marathon of developers conferences, Google certainly brought it on this week at I/O.
"It" wasn't new hardware; we didn't see much on that front. "It" was new features and cool, new ways for the Android mobile OS to improve your life.
Getting the most buzz is Android Wear, a new component of Android designed for wearable devices. The first examples of the software at play will be found in watches. This week we saw LG's G Watch and Samsung's Gear Live brought into the world, with Motorola's Moto 360 following not far behind.
All offer basically the same functionality, which at its core is just notifications. That is, letting you know when you get an email, who is calling you, and more or less why your phone just buzzed. (Though, crucially, you can tell your smartwatch to stop the phone buzzing while it's connected.)
That sounds like unimportant stuff, but the basic idea behind Android Wear -- and indeed behind a lot of what Google showed at this week's I/O developers conference -- is taking their services out of the phone while making them easier to use and easier to extract value from. You can get directions to somewhere without reaching for your phone or say: "Remind me when I get home to call Mom." It's simple stuff, basic stuff, stuff you could already do -- but now made even quicker and easier with an extra dose of contextual awareness.
It's the same basic idea in Android Auto, except brought to the car rather than your wrist. Here, though, the intent is as much about safety as it is about convenience. Using your phone while you drive is dangerous, so Android Auto lets you do much of the stuff you want -- get navigation, listen to text messages and hangouts, stream music -- and do it in a safer way. Most importantly: your phone is disabled while Android Auto is running.
There are a lot of parallels between Android Wear and Android Auto, and indeed the implementation details for developers are very similar across the two. Bringing things together is a big theme of a new version of Android we'll see this fall, called just "L" for now. Lollipop? Lindor? Hopefully not Lemon.
Android TV, meanwhile, is yet another attempt by Google to dominate television. This time, at least for now, Google is exclusively integrating with new TVs, with partners like Sony and Sharp signing on to bake the system into their sets. No retail Android TV set-top boxes were announced, but I'm sure they'll come. The big news here is that, finally, the system can run good 'ol Android apps, though developers do need to make some customizations before they're TV-eligible. If this takes off it could bring casual, mobile gaming to a whole new demographic.
And then there were things that were notable in their absence, or at least their absence of mention. Google+ didn't get a single nod in the keynote, nor did Google Glass. In fact, of the dozens of people onstage for the keynote, not one was wearing Glass. The Glass dev team at least had a presence on the show floor, but the focus certainly seems to be on Wear for the moment. And that makes sense. A $200 smartwatch is obviously much more palatable than a $1,500 headset that does basically the same thing. Also, people don't mind wearing a watch. Many do mind perching a computer on their nose.
That's just the sweetest of news from I/O. There were dozens more announcements (Android apps running on Chromebooks, more functionality for Chromecast, native Office editing in Google Drive). Nothing truly groundbreaking, but there were plenty of promising-looking projects and plenty of movement in what I would classify as the right direction.
Supreme Court rules against Aereo, may have killed it
Just before the Google I/O keynote got under way on Wednesday, the Supreme Court surprised us by handing down its decision in a case that could be the beginning of the end for Aereo. The company is an online streamer of live broadcast content and had been getting around copyright regulations by using tiny, individual antennas, one per subscriber. The idea was, you're really just leasing an antenna, and there's no duplication or sharing of broadcast content. It sounds good in theory, but the Supreme Court didn't agree, ordering Aereo to start paying copyright fees or pack up shop. Sorry to say, I fear it could be the latter.