Android Announcements from Google I/O 2011

This week Google is hosting their developer conference, Google I/O, where they’re announcing a number of cool new things coming up for Android. Here’s what’s in store…

The Keynote

If you’ve got a spare hour, check out the keynote presentation from Day One — it’s all about Android!

Otherwise, read our summary below.

Music and Movies

Back in January we reported on the rumors of a Google Music service. It’s now in open beta:

Much like Amazon Cloud Player, it allows you to store your tracks and playlists in the cloud so that you can listen to them wherever you are — but, again like Amazon Cloud Player, it’s currently only available in the USA.

It’s also now possible to rent movies from the Android Market, for as little as $1.99. At the moment it’s only available in the browser and on the Xoom, but it should be rolling out to Android 2.2 phones within the next few weeks.

Honeycomb 3.1

The newest version of the Android tablet OS adds support for a huge number of external devices. Honeycomb apps can now support:

  1. Mice, joysticks, and gamepads
  2. Accessories like musical instruments and exercise equipment
  3. USB peripherals like cameras and microphones

There’s more to it, but most of what’s new is only interesting to developers rather than end-users. See the official announcement post for more.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, and now Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 2.4).

Android 2.4: Ice Cream Sandwich

Due for release in Q4 2011, Ice Cream Sandwich will merge the tablet and phone versions of Android into a single OS. This means it will have the support for external devices listed above, as well as a couple of cool new features: Zero-click sharing and a holographic interface.

Zero-click sharing is like a cross between Bump and Chrome to Phone. Rather than pressing a button to share something on your phone with a friend, you can just tap your phones together — or even wave them at each other — and thanks to the magic of NFC the data will fly through the air from one phone to the other.

You could use this to swap contact details with someone, instead of the usual what’s-your-number-okay-hold-on-I’ll-just-ring-it-then-you-can-save-mine, or to send them an article so they don’t read over your shoulder. The technology can be built in to stickers, too, and then placed on other objects, so one day you may be able to tap your phone on an album in a music shop and hear a sample through your headphones.

As for the holographic interface… I haven’t seen any images yet! Let me know if you find any; I’m curious to see what that looks like.

Android @ Home

Finally, Google announced their new project to control your home — or, more accurately, to let you control it. Android @ Home will let Android apps control light bulbs and various home appliances. It goes beyond simply turning your alarm clock off; you’ll be able to sync your music with your home sound system using Google Music.

No, it’s not a new idea (geeks have been hooking their homes up to computers for years), but Google might just be able to make this go mainstream. Android light bulbs should be on sale by the end of this year. Now there’s a sentence I never expected to write.

Where’s This Leading?

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the Atrix, and how it was part of a general Android trend of spreading out to be an OS for more than just phones and tablets. At Google I/O we’ve seen this trend continue, with the extra device connectivity, Android @ Home, and the NFC features. Google have also announced a new project, Android Open Accessory, which aims to help developers start building new hardware accessories that will work with Android devices.

Yet, at the same time, Google are clearly trying hard to minimize fragmentation; Ice Cream Sandwich will run on both tablets and phones, and Google have announced a partnership with the major phone carriers and handset manufacturers to keep all devices up-to-date with the latest version of Android wherever possible.

Android is going to be everywhere.