SAN FRANCISCO — Google opened up its I/O developers conference by announcing that it’s taking Android in two new directions: into developing markets, and into the virtual depth of the screen.
The first initiative, Android One, aims to make smartphones more than a First World problem. Although Android now has more than a billion 30-day active users, Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai said, in markets like India “less than 10 percent of the population have access to smartphones.”
With Android One, Google is providing detailed recipes for manufacturers to follow to build “high-quality affordable smartphones.” For example, one such model for the Indian market will feature dual SIM card slots (a common feature in other markets but absent in the U.S.), a 4.5-inch screen, a memory-card slot, an FM radio — and a price under $100.
And Android One phones will feature stock Android software that gets updated on Google’s schedule, not a manufacturer’s or a wireless carrier’s. I wonder if there will be a black market for them in the U.S.?
Android One phones, in a slide from Google I/O. (Getty Images)
The next version of Android — coming sometime this fall, so far known only as “L,” will in turn feature a “material design” interface that aims to add a sense of depth and motion to everyday interactions. Said Design Vice President Matias Duarte in what seemed in part a critique of the “flat” design Apple adopted with iOS 7: “Those seams and shadows provide meaning about what you can touch and move.”
L’s version of the Chrome browser will further blur the boundary between the Web and apps. Search results can open directly into installed apps, and the recent-apps menu will break out individual tabs.
Notifications in L will move deeper into the lock screen, allowing you to deal with them faster. What if you’re among the minority to have a passcode or pattern lock on the screen? L will allow you to disable the screen lock if the phone sees it’s in a designated location or is next to a trusted Bluetooth device like a smartwatch.
That screen-lock bypass borrows from long-standing third-party apps, and two other key features in L take inspiration from other companies’ efforts.
A slide from Google I/O shows actionable notifications on the lock screen. (BGR)
First, L’s battery-life improvements include a battery-saver mode, something like in recent Samsung and HTC phones, which you can invoke yourself or have the phone do automatically. Presenter Dave Burke, a director of engineering, alluded to the surprise appearance of a protester in the hall: “It’s really great if you’re about to embark on a long hike, or maybe a long protest.”
Second, L will add “factory reset protection” to ensure that a lost or stolen phone can’t be wiped and reset — a kill-switch feature to match the one in iOS 7 that seems to have driven down iPhone thefts in New York, San Francisco, and London.