Google Inc. (GOOG:US) is on a mission to make its Android mobile software ubiquitous.
In a series of announcements yesterday at its annual developer conference, Google unveiled a new version of the software for handsets and tablets and showed it in use in smartwatches, cars and a new television service. That puts Android, already the world’s top operating system for smartphones, not only into gadgets that people carry with them wherever they go, but also increasingly into their living rooms, onto their bodies and in how they transport themselves.
Google wants to provide a “seamless experience across all these connected devices,” Android chief Sundar Pichai said at yesterday’s event in San Francisco. “We’re making everything contextually aware. We want to know when you’re at home, with your kids.”
The Web-search giant is expanding Android as an underlying software foundation as it ramps up against Apple Inc. (AAPL:US), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN:US) and others to be a digital gatekeeper to consumers. The more that Google can connect devices, vehicles and other items with its software, the more likely it is that consumers will stick with the company for all their needs.
Rivals like Apple as well as Amazon are also pushing to tie more services and devices together. Earlier this month, Apple showed how its iOS software for the iPad and iPhone and its Mac operating system are increasingly working together, with a customer able to answer a call to an iPhone on his or her iMac. Apple is also looking to get into smartwatches to broaden its product ecosystem. Last week, Amazon introduced Fire Phone, a smartphone that is closely connected to the Web retailer’s online store and library of movies plus other content.
Google is looking to add new features as well, including 3-D technologies for mobile phones and tablets. The effort, called Project Tango, will be included in a device from LG Electronics Inc. next year, Johnny Lee, technical project lead for the group at Google, said at the i/o conference today. The technologies can help users easily render 3-D images of a home and also offer new opportunities for games and other applications, he said.
“With Apple already in the TV and car space and rumored to be attacking wearables, Google doesn’t want developers to have any excuse to choose Apple’s ecosystem over Android,” Carl Howe, an analyst with the Yankee Group, wrote in an e-mail. “Therefore, Google wants to ensure that it is in all those places too.”
Smartphones based on Android, which Google gives to hardware manufacturers for free, made up 78 percent of the global industry in 2013, up from 66 percent in 2012, according to Gartner Inc. The No. 2 player was Apple’s iPhone, which had 16 percent, down from 19 percent.
Yet Google’s strategy of putting Android everywhere is risky, Howe said. A race for ubiquity doesn’t mean Google will necessarily create the best products in each category, he said. Given that Google makes no revenue from the software, “it could easily lose money by winning,” he added.
The new version of Android, dubbed L and available to developers today, will let them easily implement features such as animations and will include more privacy tools, Google executives said. It also has a feature that lets people disable their smartphones if they get stolen.
“We have been working very hard,” Pichai said, adding that Android now has more than 1 billion active users. “This is one of the most comprehensive releases we have done.”
That inclusive approach extended into a battery of new gadgets and areas where Android will play. Google announced new smartwatches at the event, with one from LG Electronics that had apps loaded onto it and that is available through Google’s Play online store. Some of the watches have capabilities that enable it to be used as a remote control for other devices. Samsung Electronics Co. (005930), which has been offering smartwatches with its Gear lineup -- some of which are based on competing software called Tizen -- also has a new Android-based watch called Gear Live.
Google also unveiled plans to get the software into the living room through an effort called Android TV. While the Mountain View, California-based company has already introduced software for televisions and the Chromecast dongle for streaming Web content to TVs, more devices will debut later this year featuring the software, Google said. Sony Corp., Sharp Corp., LG and Asustek Computer Inc. will be among the partners for Android TV.
Google also rolled out Android Auto, a bid to get more of its software into cars. The effort follows the January rollout of the Open Automotive Alliance, a partnership with carmakers focused on Android. Android Auto will bring digital tools and media into vehicles, with capabilities for tailored maps. Developers will be able to use a software development kit to create apps for cars, the company said. Some cars will begin including Android Auto by the end of the year.
Android will also work more easily with Chrome OS, another Google operating system used in inexpensive laptop-like devices called Chromebooks. Google unveiled new tools to tie the two together, including deeper integration with Android apps from smartphones so that it’s simpler to access a program such as note-taking service Evernote on a Chromebook.
To foster the growth of Android in emerging markets, which are some of the biggest growth areas for mobile devices, Google also rolled out an initiative called Android One to develop low-cost smartphones, beginning with three manufacturers in India. Pichai referenced an Android One device that costs less than $100 as an example.
“We are working with carriers in these markets to provide affordable carrier packages with these devices,” Pichai said at the event.
In addition, Google said it has a new set of tools to help developers build apps for its popular Gmail program. The new offering gives “fine-grained” control to a user’s mailbox.
Google’s push to get Android everywhere still faces hurdles with developers, who need to be persuaded to create programs for the sprawl of initiatives.
“I don’t run out and jump into any of this stuff because I need to see that there’s going to be a market around it,” said Todd Moore, whose three-person development studio, Tmsoft LLC, makes a popular sleep-aid app called White Noise. “Most developers are cautious when a new platform or new app store is created because we want to wait and see if there’s going to be widespread adoption before we put forth effort.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Womack in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mark Milian in San Francisco at email@example.com
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