Google shows off systems for Android Auto, wearables

06/25/2014 4:27 PM

06/25/2014 4:28 PM

Some 1 billion people are now using Android devices, Google said as the company kicked off its two-day developer conference Wednesday in San Francisco.

The online search leader’s effort to broaden its focus beyond smartphones and tablets was on full display as the company unveiled far-reaching plans to push further into the living room, the family car and the TV set.

As part of a nearly three-hour opening presentation, Google gave more details about Android Wear, a version of the operating system customized for wearable gadgets such as smartwatches. The company also introduced Android Auto, which has been tailored to work with cars. Android TV, meanwhile, is optimized for TV-watching, aided by a recommendation system and voice searches for things like “Breaking Bad” or “Oscar-nominated movies from 2002.”

About 6,000 developers, bloggers and journalists flocked to the event. Following Google’s recent revelation which showed that just 30 percent of its employees are women, the company touted that the number of women attending its conference grew to 20 percent this year from 8 percent a year earlier.

Google’s I/O event — a rally of sorts designed to get developers excited about creating apps and devices for Google’s ecosystem — comes at a time of transition for the company, which makes most of its money from advertising thanks to its status as the world’s leader in online search. The company is trying to adjust to an ongoing shift to smartphones and tablet computers from desktop and laptop PCs. Though mobile advertising is growing rapidly, advertising aimed at PC users still generates more money.

At the same time, Google is angling to stay at the forefront of innovation by taking gambles on new, sometimes unproven technologies that take years to pay off — if at all. Driverless cars, Google Glass, smartwatches and thinking thermostats are just some of its more far-off bets.

On the home front, Google’s Nest Labs — which makes network-connected thermostats and smoke detectors — announced earlier this week that it has created a program that allows outside developers, from tiny startups to large companies such as Whirlpool and Mercedes-Benz, to fashion software and “new experiences” for its products.

Integration with Mercedes-Benz, for example, might mean that a car can notify a Nest thermostat when it’s getting close to home, so the device can have the home’s temperature adjusted to the driver’s liking before he or she arrives.

Nest’s founder, Tony Fadell, is an Apple veteran who helped design the iPod and the iPhone. Google bought the company earlier this year for $3.2 billion.

Opening the Nest platform to outside developers will allow Google to move into the emerging market for connected, smart home devices. Experts expect that this so-called “Internet of Things” phenomenon will change the way people use technology in much the same way that smartphones have changed life since the introduction of Apple’s iPhone seven years ago.

In March, Google released “Android Wear,” a version of its operating system tailored to computerized wristwatches and other wearable devices. Although there are already several smartwatches on the market, the devices are more popular with gadget geeks and fitness fanatics than regular consumers. But Google could help change that with Android Wear. Android, after all, is already the world’s most popular smartphone operating system.

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