Even though Google started the whole mobile payment thing years ago with Google Wallet, it never really took off with the masses. Google’s newly announced Android Pay, however, might. Instead of relying on you to load the app and unlock it with a PIN, Android Pay lets you simply tap your phone on an NFC terminal to approve the purchase. In addition, Google is also allowing Android Pay to be integrated in apps like Lyft, Grubhub and Wish, so users can easily use that to pay for things. I just used Android Pay here at Google I/O, and I can say this: If it’s as easy to use in real life, then I suspect mobile payments are about to be a lot more ubiquitous.
Google had set up a Coke vending machine in the press area at I/O for the Android Pay demo, along with a couple of Nexus devices that were already preloaded with the software. To buy a Coke, all I had to do was tap a Nexus 6 to the terminal, and I saw an American Express card along with a MyCoke Rewards loyalty card appear on the screen. This, a Google spokesperson tells me, is because the phone is smart enough to know that I’m using Android Pay at a Coke vending machine.
It showed me how many rewards points I had, and I could then choose to either pay with points or the card. I opted for the former, confirmed the purchase, selected my choice and out came a 20-ounce bottle of Coke Zero from the dispenser. The spokesperson tells me that the same thing could work if you’re shopping at Walgreens or any other merchant with a rewards program — the phone will recognize where you are and offer up the appropriate points info. Android Pay should be compatible with any phone with Android 4.4 or higher, though Android M will offer up fingerprint authentication as well.
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I also used a Nexus 5 with Android Pay to make an in-app purchase. Next to the Coke machine was a “store” of sorts with a variety of Android gift items like t-shirts and mini-collectibles. Using an app called Wish, I was able to select what I wanted — an Android toy in this case — and then selected the “Buy with Android Pay” button. I go through the usual cart check out process, and I was done — no need to enter my card information or anything. The same would go for other apps like Lyft, Uber, and GrubHub.
The whole process strikes me as practically identical to that to Apple Pay. Even the appearance of the credit card wallet on the Android Pay interface looks very similar. In fact, just like Apple Pay, the transactions are sorted through something called tokenization, where a virtual account number is created and shared with merchants to manage payments.
But what about Google Wallet? Well if you already have a Wallet account, you can choose to transfer over all of your Wallet-linked cards to be used in Android Pay. Wallet itself isn’t going away either — you can still use that for peer-to-peer payments.
As for which merchants will support Android Pay? Well, a lot — over 700,000 retailers will be on board, including Macy’s, Whole Foods and Walgreens. Basically, any place that offers Apple Pay, will also be Android Pay compatible. That means that pretty soon, almost anyone with a relatively modern smartphone will be able to pay for things with their phone. Now to see if that actually happens.
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We’re coming down to the wire now: Google I/O 2015 is just a few days away, and we’ll be liveblogging and reporting from the ground as soon as the festivities begin. Don’t let its reputation as a developer bonanza fool you, though. There’s going to be no shortage of workshops and code review sessions, but I/O is also where Google takes time to update its vision of the future for the people who will ultimately help build it. Of course, it’s not all starry-eyed speeches and technical breakdowns — this is, after all, the sort of show that featured a live streaming Google Hangout with four dudes who jumped out of a zeppelin. We can’t account for whatever crazy, spectacular bits the folks in Mountain View might be working on, but we do have a taste of what to expect when the show starts in earnest this Thursday.
Android M cometh
Ah, yes, and the meat and potatoes of any Google I/O. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google has moved to a mostly annual release schedule for big Android updates (something VP of Android Engineering Hiroshi Lockheimer brought up again in an interview with Fast Company), which means we’ll get our first concrete sense of what Android M is like on Thursday morning. So far, the (rumored) changelog looks pretty promising. A recent Buzzfeed report suggests you’ll be able to get more mileage out of your fingerprints, for one — better support for biometric security has apparently been baked right into the OS, allowing users to log into apps with just a touch. This heightened focus on security and authentication also bodes well for some Android Pay announcements, too. First announced at MWC 2015, Google’s Android Pay platform aims to make it easier for app creators and stores to charge you for their wares via your Android phone. Senior vice president Sundar Pichai was awfully light on Pay details in Spain (maybe it was the never-ending lure of jamón), but that shouldn’t be the case in San Francisco.
Throw in some enhanced privacy controls that’ll let users more easily define what apps get to access what information and you’ve got yourself pretty thoughtful update. Beyond that, Android Police claims Android M’s development has seen Google trying to improve RAM management and battery life so your phone runs smoother and lasts longer on a single charge. Lollipop’s Project Volta was a crucial step in this direction, but really, we’ll take all the performance improvements we can get.
Google stepped out of its comfort zone by releasing a developer preview for Lollipop (née Android L) last year, and we strongly suspect they’ll do the same this year too. It’s basically a given that we’d be able to install whatever preview we’re given on the Nexus 6, but rumors of two new Nexus phones launching in 2015 have us hoping for a glimpse of some new hardware. The most recent spate of rumors suggest that we’ll get a pocket-friendly Nexus 5 sequel from LG with a 5.2-inch screen and a Snapdragon 808 chipset – same as in the mostly great LG G4 – as well as a 5.7-inch powerhouse from Huawei. No, really. LG’s a logical choice considering its close working relationship with the folks in Mountain View and Huawei has upped its Android game dramatically with devices like the P8 and Huawei Watch, but these things will almost certainly get their limelight at a standalone launch event.
The war for your wrist
Honestly, we’re not expecting a ton of movement on the Wear front this week. After all, the platform just got a substantial upgrade a few weeks back, bringing WiFi support and some love-’em-or-hate-’em navigation gestures to your fancy wrist-computers. Wear’s functionality might not see much in the way of upgrades, but I/O would be a great place for Google to announce iOS compatibility for its fleet of Android Wear watches. The feature’s been inching from rumor territory toward reality for months now — it was apparently almost done back in April — and we’ll be crossing our fingers all through the keynote for it.
Prepare to have your “socks blown off”
Just about anything Google’s Advanced Technologies and Products division does makes headlines, and the outfit’s getting a primo slot on I/O day 2 to spill its secrets. Expect at least a brief update on Project Ara as the modular phone makers inch ever closer to a test launch in Puerto Rico; if we’re lucky, we might even get a firm date for when those Ara-friendly food trucks take to the streets. We might not see many (or any) new Android Wear watches at I/O, but the ATAP team promises to show off a few new wearables on Friday, and if the tongue-in-cheek panel description is anything to go off, at least one of them is meant to get strapped to your lower extremities. In an age where smartwatches dominate the wearable conversation, is it finally time for a smart ankle watch? Erm, we’ll see. Also on deck is a new immersive Spotlight Story directed by Justin Lin (of Fast and Furious fame), that’s slated to debut “in full 360 with 3D soundsphere”.
Speaking of 3D…
Cardboard and Beyond
Last year, the I/O swag bag came with a curious slab of cardboard that looked like it fell out of an IKEA box. That was Google Cardboard, an experiment in cheapo VR experiences that just might get fleshed out further this year. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that the company is actively working to turn Android into a virtual reality operating system of sorts, and the I/O stage would be a fine place to put some speculation to rest. Let’s put pricey consumer VR headsets like those from Oculus and HTC aside — what better way to initiate the masses into alternate realms than with some awfully inexpensive gear?
Thing is (as Gizmodo points out), Cardboard might not actually be made of cardboard anymore, and Google might push past the low-cost tidbits of virtual reality we’ve seen so far. Yeah, yeah, that’s nice and vague, there’s no denying Google’s dedicated to digging into alternate views to reality. Remember Project Tango, which put 3D-sensing cameras into tablets to give developers a taste of bringing software experiences into the world immediately around us? And its hefty investment in Magic Leap, a company that wants desperately to blur the line between the real world and ones powered by silicon? Regardless of what actually gets outed on-stage, expect this to be the year Google starts taking VR really seriously.
Connecting all the things
Google has a thing for not letting old, improperly executed ideas die. Google TV might have sunken into obscurity ages ago, but Android TV picked up where it left off… and is struggling to find its footing. The Nexus Player was left us wanting when we first played with it and few OEMs have thrown their support behind the platform as a whole despite the neat tricks it brings to the table. There’s no way Google won’t spend time digging into the future of Android TV on-stage, and it’s got at least one shiny, mostly new gadget to point to: NVIDIA’s Shield TV. The sleek set-top box was first outed at the 2015 Game Developers’ Conference, where it promised to blend Google’s search chops and broad app ecosystem with NVIDIA’s own graphics cards (for game streaming from your local Steam box) and cloud service (for game streaming from a server far, far away). Google’s got plenty of workshops slated for Cast-friendly apps, too, underscoring just how important devices like the Chromecast are to its plans in the living room. We wouldn’t hold our breath for new Chromecast hardware, but we’re more than happy to be proven wrong on that one.
Speaking of old ideas, reports of a service to succeed the ill-fated Android @Home project have been swirling like crazy. The Information reported last week that Google’s so-called “Brillo” software is meant to power seriously low-power devices (with as little as 32MB of RAM) and act as a sort of backbone for Internet of Things device makers to lean on. By providing the foundation for these early creators to build on, Google has a solid shot at creating a common platform with the potential to explode as homes and the things in them grow inexorably more connected. If we’re really lucky, Google will make it easy for companies to bake its first-rate voice input and search features into their wares too, though we’ll have to wait a few days before we find out.
Then there’s Android Auto. Google pushed the in-car experience way hard at last year’s I/O, and since then we’ve seen it pop up in after-market head units from Pioneer and straight into new rides like the 2015 Hyundai Sonata. To say Android Auto is still in its early days is putting it pretty mildly — it doesn’t yet have the finesse and app support to make a seamless, obvious choice for most drivers — but expect Google to shed some light on how it’s doing and where else it’s going.
…And everything else
Some really important bits — like the future of Chrome, Chrome OS and how they’ll intersect — will certainly get their time on-stage, but the scuttlebutt surrounding them in the days and leading up to the show is usually pretty hushed. Expect to see Google push its flat, friendly Material Design even harder, too, as it’s long been said the look would eventually permeate the rest of its web properties. Remember, this is all just a taste of what Google’s got in store for us all this week. For more (you know you want it), just park it right there and keep your eyes peeled for all our dispatches from San Francisco starting this Thursday.
Filed under: Mobile
The Information reports that Google is working on a new Android-based operating system to run specifically on the emerging class of low-power devices, aka the Internet of Things. This new OS, dubbed “Brillo”, is supposedly quite petite and may require as little as 32 or 64 megabytes of RAM to run. This marks a significant departure for Google considering its latest Android build demanded at least 512MB of RAM. However there’s a lot to be gained by being the OS that drives out smart bulbs, thermostats and locks. Not only does it free OEMs from having to design their own IoT communications schemes, it should also strongly position the Mountain View-based company as the invisible backbone of tomorrow’s smart home. If this rumor is indeed true, Google will likely announce it at next week’s I/O developers conference. Stay tuned.
Source: The Information
At the end of Google’s keynote yesterday, Sundar Pichai announced that all I/O attendees would receive either an LG or Samsung Android Wear device, along with Moto 360 when it becomes available later this summer. But he also offered up an unexpected gift… the slide read #cardboard (yes, with the hashtag) and Pichai held up a small brown square, barely large enough to accommodate a thin book for shipping purposes — but Google had something else in mind. Once assembled, #cardboard serves as a head-mounted 3D viewer, using your own smartphone and a pair of integrated lenses to create the effect.
Functionally, it’s virtually identical to the PhoneStation we saw earlier this month at Computex, but unlike that yet-unreleased device, Cardboard is available now for I/O attendees. The rest of us can pick up a similar version from San Francisco-based DODOcase, which is making the kit available for $20, or $25 with an optional NFC tag, plus 4 bucks for shipping. The set, which ships within 4-6 weeks, will net you pre-cut cardboard, lenses, a magnet, a rubber band and velcro, which you can assemble together in five minutes. Just add your smartphone.
Google made tons of announcements at I/O Wednesday, but one of the most puzzling was right before the keynote ended when all attendees were told they were also receiving “Cardboard,” which no one understood until opening the box.
Cardboard is a virtual reality viewer made from a pre-cut cardboard, lenses, magnet, velcro, rubberband and NFC tag, which works with your smartphone and an Android app.
While the Oculus Rift is defining VR today, with this strange, yet interesting device, Google showed that it can actually be done quite cheaply, although this will probably never become a top competitor in the market.
If you weren’t at the conference, you can ether pay $100+ on Ebay for one of the kits from the conference, which we wouldn’t recommend, make one with things you can find in your home (Google offers full-instructions) or you can buy one for either $19.95 or $24.95 from DODOcase.
Over at their site, DODOcase said that they did the math and it costs over $45 for all the bits and pieces Google suggested and that doesn’t include shipping from four different vendors.
“Well lucky for you we are nerds who know a thing or two about making stuff and we want to help get VR goggles in your hands!”
DODOcase gathered all the pieces and pre-cut the cardboard so you can have a kit that can be assembled in “under 5 minutes.”
You have a choice of either the $19.95 model without the NFC tag or the $24.95 model with it. The NFC is optional and Google says that it is used to trigger the launch of the Cardboard Android app automatically, but if you didn’t have it, you can just launch the app before putting your phone inside the viewer.
With such a high demand, you should get your order in soon if you’re interested. You may not have it for about month to a month and a half.
For Android, smartphones and tablets are only the beginning. Google believes that there are so many other categories of hardware that could benefit from its mobile OS, so it announced that it’s building extensions of Android onto the TV, car and smartwatch. Each genre will require special hardware to be truly beneficial, but the former may have the greatest potential in terms of reach — after all, more people are looking for a solid television-watching experience than putting a “computer” on their wrist, and it’s going to be a long time before Android Auto goes mainstream.
Sadly, TV is also an area that Google has struggled with in the past (see Google TV), so it’s hoping that lightning will strike with its latest effort, called Android TV. We had a chance to check out the company’s first official piece of hardware, simply called the ADT-1. Since it’s a developer kit, you won’t be able to buy it — but that won’t be an issue once manufacturers begin selling their consumer-facing devices later this fall. Naturally, the version we checked out is considered pre-production, so a lot of things will likely change between now and its final release, but at least we have a good idea of what to expect from the experience.
The idea behind Android TV is pretty simple: It gives you an internet-powered smart TV with plenty of entertainment and gaming options. Media-streaming apps, Play Movies and TV support, gaming and second-screen/screen-mirroring functionality make the service incredibly tempting. The Android ecosystem is already pretty strong, and the company says it’s easy to adapt existing apps to make them compatible with the platform. With proper hardware and developer support, Android TV may have the legs it needs to stand on.
What can Android TV actually run on? According to Google, the OS will be available for smart TVs (Sony and Sharp have signed on to build televisions with the OS built in), media streamers (like a Roku), set-top boxes, cable boxes and micro consoles. The platform is ideal for any manufacturers that are interested in getting into the smart TV business, but don’t have the resources to develop their own ecosystem; it’s a good opportunity for smaller companies and startups to cook up Android TV hardware.
There are a few hardware requirements to ensure that Android TV doesn’t offer an inconsistent (or miserable) user experience: 2GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage, WiFi and/or Ethernet, Bluetooth 4, Play-ready DRM and Widevine level one. Companies are also recommended to add mics for voice input, and standardized controller button mapping. These guidelines make a lot of sense because the system needs to be powerful enough to handle graphics-intensive games, entertainment apps and handoffs between the TV and mobile devices via Google Cast — nobody wants a sluggish TV experience, so it’s crucial that Google gets this aspect of its product right. The experience also needs to be as universal as possible so users don’t have to worry about drastically different learning curves.
Sluggishness fortunately doesn’t show up, even on early hardware and firmware. With a Nexus 5 equipped with the Android L Developer Preview, we used a virtual controller to navigate through the TV’s UI, and the system didn’t skip a beat (or a frame, for that matter). We didn’t have to wait for anything that we pulled up, so there were no interruptions to our experience.
The card-based user interface is simple enough. Recently played movies and TV shows, as well as recommended titles, are neatly displayed on the top. Scroll down a level and you’ll see a listing of your apps, including access to Google Play Games and Play Movies. Below that, games. Finally, at the very bottom of the screen you’ll find all of your necessary display and network settings. As you might expect, most apps have setups that are very similar to each other; they use a dual-pane UI with more cards on the right and a large slide-out menu on the left.
As mentioned earlier, Android TV also comes with voice-input options. You can speak to it through your remote controller, and it doesn’t matter what kind of request you have — whether or not it’s related to entertainment, it’ll still answer you the same way it would in Google Now. On one request, you can ask it to pull up movies from 1984, and on the next you can tell it to convert gallons into cups. Mentioning Tom Selleck will not only bring up a queue of the actor’s movies, but it’ll also have an information card about the actor and a list of other people that are somehow connected to him.
The usual entertainment suspects already have apps on Android TV — Netflix, Songza, YouTube, PBS Kids, Showtime and more were featured in our demo — but there should be plenty more options from other third-party developers before the service is ready to go this fall. (As an aside, reps told us that Google TV v4 apps will be compatible with Android TV.) Unsurprisingly, we noticed a slight bias toward Play Store products, but it’s not over the top; we didn’t feel like we were watching a nonstop Google ad, and as more apps become widely available and easily accessible on the platform, those influences will likely be toned down even more.
For the most part, the gaming experience was pretty smooth. We didn’t see as much latency between the game controller and the screen as we expected. There were some games that looked as though they needed a bump in resolution support, as they looked fuzzier than we’d like, but most titles (Need for Speed: Most Wanted, for instance) appeared as sharp on TV as they do on a high-res phone or tablet.
Finally, we’ll briefly touch upon the NVIDIA Tegra 4-powered dev kit, because there isn’t much to it cosmetically. From the top and sides, it’s nothing but a thin set-top box about the same size as two hands, if not slightly smaller. It’s more visually interesting on the bottom because it features four pointy nodules that raise the box up from whatever surface it’s resting on. On the back you’ll find power, HDMI and Ethernet ports.
We can’t make a final judgment on Android TV just yet, and the company’s got a rough path ahead. While the association with the Android ecosystem will be a nice draw for prospective buyers, the platform will be nothing if manufacturers and developers don’t jump on board the bandwagon and produce high-quality hardware at competitive prices. To see how well that works out for all parties involved, we’ll have to wait until this fall to get a verdict.
LG believes it’s hip to be square, and it created a smartwatch to prove it. The G Watch was announced alongside Android Wear, Google’s new wearables platform, and the circular Moto 360 this March. After three months, LG and Google are finally ready to let me slip one on my wrist. The watch is going to be available for pre-order for $229 on the Play Store alongside the Samsung Gear Live (and Moto 360, once it comes out later this summer), and will ship out in both black and white to eager users on July 7th.
With a 1.65-inch display at a resolution of 280 x 280 and sizable bezel, the G Watch is a little bigger than the Pebble Steel, which is the smartwatch I’ve been using up until this point. It looks like it swallows up my wrist, so it’s not going to be a go-to fashion statement for everybody. Just like the Gear Live, LG chose to go with a square shape, rather than circular, mainly to ensure the user will enjoy as much screen real estate as possible. The product managers we talked to also left the door open for future Wear devices with other shapes, so there’s certainly a chance we’ll see more options down the road — especially if the G Watch is considered a success.
The display is covered with Gorilla Glass 3; the sides are constructed with stainless steel; and the back is polycarbonate to allow for attenuation and wireless charging (the watch comes with a charging pad that makes this possible). The straps are interchangeable because it uses a 22mm size, but the wristband that comes with the device is made of silicone and offered me a comfortable fit.
Underneath the back sits a 400mAh battery that LG claims is high-density and optimized for wearable use. When asked about battery life, reps told me that it should last 36 hours in always-on state, and even longer if you opt to turn the screen off — there’s a companion app that you can download onto your Android device, and it gives you a few settings. Additionally, the G Watch boasts an ambient mode when idle, which theoretically helps extend the life of the battery.
In terms of power performance, the 63g timepiece features a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, coupled with 512MB RAM and 4GB internal storage. I couldn’t fully test out the watch’s performance in real life because the watch itself was in a special demo mode that only gave me a few cards to play with, but I’ll give it a full whirl in my upcoming review.
Google thinks it’s finally time for smartwatches. Its Android Wear collaboration with LG goes on preorder today in 12 countries, including the US, Canada, UK, Germany, South Korea and Japan. The G Watch might only be a wearable, but inside beats the heart of a smartphone… processor. Behind the 1.65-inch (280 x 280) IPS display, there’s a substantial Snapdragon 400 chip — the same Qualcomm processor found inside the Galaxy S4 Mini. Below, we’ve got the whole spec rundown, although we’d really love to hear that all-important price tag.
LG is hyped about the voice recognition and Google Now integration. Speech-to-text will substitute for tapping texts out your smartphone screen, while sensors encompass a nine-axis gyro, accelerometer and compass — a few of those are probably going to come in handy for fitness apps. Storage weighs in at 4GB, with 512MB of memory for support, although we’re not quite sure what we’ll use those four gigs for, given that the Android Wear device doesn’t seem to record or store anything. There’s a 400mAh battery (making it bigger than Samsung’s Android Wear device) and it’s all IP67 dust and water resistant, hewn from stainless steel and paired with matching silicone bands — black for the Black Titan model and white for the White Gold one. If you’ve got a fancy leather band that’s aching for a taste of the future, however, any 22mm strap will work, and LG says it’s launching its own collection of bands in the near future.
Free-falling product demos and Rube Goldberg multimedia installations aside, there’s always a level of predictability to an opening day keynote. And Google I/O 2014 is no exception. Like clockwork, SVP Sundar Pichai took to the stage in San Francisco this morning to tick off the company’s latest accomplishments. He started off by touting one of the company’s biggest strengths: Android. According to Pichai, Google now has over 1 billion active users (that’s as of the last 30 days) on the OS.
Google’s apparently opted to track 30-day usage as opposed to year-over-year numbers as in the past. That said, last year, the company boasted 900 million Android activations, up from 400 million the year before. We likely won’t get a direct comparison due to the change in tracking, but even with the numbers we have, it’s clear Android is still the dominant mobile platform. During its WWDC 2014 keynote earlier this month, Apple’s Tim Cook announced the company had reached 800 million iOS devices to date, fewer than Google’s Android activation numbers from the year prior.
Continuing the theme of unconventional stat tracking, Pichai championed the strength of the platform saying Android users send 20 billion text messages each day and 93 million selfies. What’s more, those self-absorbed phone holders apparently take 1.5 trillion steps each day, and check their handsets a total of 100 billion times every 24 hours.
Although we’ll be liveblogging the opening keynote of Google’s annual developer conference in just about an hour, we don’t want to dismiss the fact that many of you like to follow along when a livestream is available. Google’s got you covered: keep a tab open at this page for live video footage of the keynote. We expect a lot of news this morning at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, and we’ll keep you posted on all of the latest announcements and developments as it happens.
[Image credit: Getty Images]