Google's annual I/O developer conference, when the company rolls out its plans for the year ahead and what developers, businesses and consumers can expect to see in the near future, is always an interesting time for mobile, but this year has seen more focus than ever before on expanding Google's mobile ecosystem and embracing new channels. Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of products at Google, called it "the moment of mobile".
Goodbye Google Wallet, Hello Android Pay
Perhaps the most notable announcement was the introduction of Android Pay, a new payments solution that will be native to the firm's mobile operating system. In addition to supporting NFC payments at point-of-sale, the system will enable merchants to integrate payments directly into their apps for selling physical goods and services, making use of the Android Pay API rather than third-party services like PayPal.
Google has lined up an impressive array of partnerships ahead of Android Pay's rollout, with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all pre-installing the solution on devices running Android 4.4 or later, and brands including Best Buy, Staples, Nike, McDonalds, Walgreens and Macys all supporting the service in the near-term.
The company's existing payment system, Google Wallet, will be reimagined as a peer-to-peer app for sending cash between friends, while Android Pay takes on the lion's share of transactions for goods and services.
Dial M for More Functionality
The keynote also saw the latest version of Android announced, Android M, which saw updates in six key areas. Apps will now ask for permissions in real-time, only asking to use something the first time the app tries to access it, rather than when it is first downloaded. The web experience for apps will be improved with Chrome Custom Tabs, that maintain the look and feel of apps while offering all of Chrome's functionality.
Linking between and within apps will be improved, and Android M will see fingerprint scan support introduced to Android phones, which will work in concert with Android Pay. Fingerprints can also be used to unlock the device and make Play store purchases, and an open API will be made available to developers.
A new 'Doze' power mode will enable batteries to last longer, with a Nexus 9 running twice as long on Android M than it did on Lollipop, while USB C support will be rolled out to Android devices in the future, enabling them to charge other devices.
Android On The Wrist and In The House
Android Wear updates focused on glanceability, with always-on functionality expanded to apps, gestures based on wrist motions, improved flow to the interface, and drawable emojis for quick replies.
Sundar Pichai also confirmed the release of Brillo, the rumoured operating system for Internet of Things devices that will help create a more coherent ecosystem for smart homes and businesses. Brillo is derived from Android, but built with minimal system requirements and support for Bluetooth Low Energy and wi-fi already built in.
As part of the development of Brillo, Google has also developed a standardised communications protocol for IoT devices called Weave, ensuring that any connected devices can understand the actions being taken by each other. Both Brillo and Weave are independent and cross-platform, enabling device makers to use either or both.
More Ad Control for Developers
For marketers and developers alike, Google has announced a new set of AdMob tools, aimed at helping improve targeting and serving of ads, with additional support for native ads and expanded mediation services ensuring that developers maximise their fill rates by supporting requests to multiple networks.
Google's Audience Builder Tool, which is still in beta, will improve user segmentation based on in-app behaviour, and enable developers to target based on this information, while a new service called AdMob Reservations will enable sales teams to take ad campaign bookings directly from advertisers, upload creative and manage campaigns for free.
In addition to generating ad revenue from their apps, Google announced tools to help developers gain more users, with Universal Ad Campaigns aimed at smaller developers new to advertising on Google. The product offers simplified app promotion that runes across search, Google Play, AdMob, YouTube and the Google Display Network, using Google's scale to its advantage.
Universal Ad Campaigns will be available within AdWords as well as directly within the Developer Console, while improved analytics will give developers better insights into where their traffic is coming from, and a series of media partnerships with ad networks include inMobi and Millennial Media will provide developers with more options.
Graduate from Google University
Among some of the other announcements were updates for Google Now, the digital personal assistant for Android devices, improving its speech recognition capabilities and focusing on the ability to pick up contextual clues from what's on screen and offer suggestions based on them.
Android One, the stripped down version of Android for devices in emerging markets, is being expanded to new countries, with services redesigned to allow for slower connectivity and more offline saving, including for YouTube and Google Maps.
New developer tools announced included a new version of Android Studio with improve speed, memory profile and full support for C and C++, while Cocoapods will become the default distribution method for SDKs. Google is also introducing Android Nanodegree, a six-month course developed with Udacity that walks your through the entirety of developing for Android for $200 (£130).
Google Cardboard, the company's cut-price VR and AR solution, is now larger (supporting screens up to 6"), simpler to put together and with an SDK that supports both Android and iOS, while a new solution called Expeditions will enable a single person to control a number of synchronised viewers for digital field trips and VR presentations.
In order to create these VR experiences, Google has created Jump, a cut-price camera rig designed to enable anyone to film an immersive VR video. Similar to Cardboard, Jump will require a device (or in this case, several), but Google has teamed with GoPro, who will be selling a Jump ready rig. The solution also includes the software needed to knit together the footage from 24 different cameras and transform it into a single VR experience.
Overall, the keynote emphasised just how key mobile is to Google's plans and the digital world as a whole, with almost no consideration given to desktop, and focus clearly on a future where connected devices fill our lives.