Google debuts smartwatches, Android software update, at I/O conference
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Google Inc. unveiled a new version of its Android software for smartphones and other devices as it battles Apple Inc. to be the foundation for mobile technology.
The new version of Android, the first major update of the mobile operating system since last year, will let developers easily implement features such as animations and will include more privacy tools, Google executives said at the company's annual developer gathering in San Francisco. The Web-search company also showed a new set-top box for televisions and new wearable devices underpinned by Android and rolled out software that will work in cars.
Google is looking beyond its traditional desktop Web-search business and is expanding its software into new devices as consumers increasingly gravitate to mobile computing. Competition is stiff, with Apple and others jockeying for a bigger share of the mobile market. Google's annual developer conference is key to its efforts to continually refresh Android and maintain support from software makers. The company is also spreading Android into new areas, including vehicles.
"We have been working very hard," Google's head of Android, Sundar Pichai, said at the event, adding that the system now has more than 1 billion active users. "This is one of the most comprehensive releases we have done." 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. An early version of the next Android software will be available to programmers tomorrow.
Crowded Market Rivals are also expanding software options for mobile phones and tablets. Earlier this month, Apple introduced new health and connected-home features for its iOS software powering the iPhone and iPad. Amazon.com Inc. last week unveiled the Fire Phone, adding its lineup of tablets and television hardware.
Google's new version of Android will include more privacy tools and a feature that lets people disable their smartphone if they get stolen. The new software will also let developers more easily put in animations, shadows and lighting so that users get a more real-life experience when they touch objects on a screen, said Google's Android design chief, Matias Duarte.
Emerging Markets To foster the growth of Android in emerging markets, which are some of the biggest growth areas for mobile devices, Google 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.
Google also showed new smartwatches at the event, with one from LG Electronics Inc. that had apps loaded onto it and that is immediately available through Google's Play online store. Some of the watches have capabilities that include using the gadget as a remote control for other devices. While Samsung Electronics Co. has been offering smartwatches with its Gear lineup, some of which are based on competing software called Tizen, Google will begin selling a new Samsung watch supporting Android Wear today, called Gear Live.
Google's push into wearable devices comes as Apple looks to move into the market. Several analysts have said Apple may unveil a smartwatch later this year.
TVs, Cars Google also unveiled plans to get Android into the living room. While the 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 Android software, Google said today. Sony Corp., Sharp Corp., LG Electronics and Asustek Computer Inc. will be among the partners for Android TV.
At today's event, Google also introduced Android Auto, its bid to get the software into cars. With Andy Brenner, a Google product manager, seated in a car on stage, the company said 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.