Google unveils ambitious Android expansion

Google says Android Auto is streamlined to keep people’s eyes off the screen, allowing them to access maps, phone contacts, and playlists with a tap of a button or voice control.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Google says Android Auto is streamlined to keep people’s eyes off the screen, allowing them to access maps, phone contacts, and playlists with a tap of a button or voice control.

SAN FRANCISCO — Google wants to be everywhere: in your home, your car and even on your wrist.

That vision became increasingly clear at the search giant’s annual conference for software developers Wednesday. The company unveiled plans to expand Android, its mobile operating system, for new categories such as automobiles and wearable computers.

The announcements came in the aftermath of the company’s acquisition of Nest Labs, the thermostat maker, for $3.2 billion, which gave Google a speedy entry into Internet-connected home appliances.


Google said the latest version of Android for smartphones and tablets, called Android L, would include a new design. Similar to Apple and Microsoft, Google adopted a “flat” design with more vibrant colors and added effects like shadows and animations. For example, when a user taps the screen, a small water ripple appears on the tapped area.

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Android L also includes new features, such as smarter authentication and antitheft software. If a user is wearing a smartwatch paired with the device, he can unlock the phone without entering a passcode; when the watch is removed, the phone will require a passcode again. Google also said Android L, which will be available in the fall, would include a “kill switch” for rendering a device unusable if it were stolen.

Google’s annual software developers’ conference, called Google I/O, has become an important venue for the company to woo app makers to build software for its Android software system, which powers more than 1 billion devices worldwide.

Rallying the troops of app developers is increasingly vital for Google as competition heats up with rivals such as Apple and Samsung Electronics, which are also eager to make a shift into the next generation of computing.

Google also shared its ambition to push Android deeper into areas beyond mobile devices, revealing details on Android Wear, a special version of Android tailored for wearable computers such as smartwatches, which it introduced earlier this year.


Google said Android Wear was customized to show immediately useful information, such as message notifications, the status of a package shipment, or the traffic status for a commute.

The smartwatch system is controlled by speaking or by swiping the touch screen.

When a user is traveling, the watch system will continue to bring up relevant contextual information based on his location, including the local bus schedule or the weather.

Google said two smartwatches including Android Wear — Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G watch — would be available in its online retail store, Play, on Wednesday.

Google revealed a version of Android customized for cars, called Android Auto. Google said it streamlined the design of the system to keep people’s eyes off the screen and more on the road. It emphasizes access to maps, phone contacts, and playlists, allowing users to easily access those features with the tap of a button or voice control. The car system will pair with a user’s smartphone.


For television, Google announced Android TV. Users can speak commands into a smartwatch to search for programs to view and Google will find the programs if they are available for purchase in its online Play store.