Google's all-out Android attack

Google has unveiled new software for watches, cars and living rooms at its developers' conference as it seeks to spread its influence to new screens and areas of life.

Google has unveiled new software for watches, cars and living rooms as the world's largest online search company tries to spread its influence to new screens and areas of life.

The strategy Google laid out at a conference for thousands of developers seeks to capitalise on the popularity of its Android mobile operating system, which powers the majority of the world's smartphones and tablets. Now, Google hopes its various flavours of Android can knit together multiple devices.

"Wherever you go, you will run into Android, that's the goal," said Aleema Mawami, co-founder of app developer Streak and a former Google product manager.

Google's announcements come as it vies Apple to control the various smart devices in people's lives. In 2013, roughly four times as many Android smartphones were sold as Apple iPhones.

    Yet the conference also highlighted how Google and Apple are taking pages from each other's playbook as they court developers to build apps for the various devices powered by their software. Google is putting more emphasis on beautifying the design elements in Android, including new animations and 3D effects. Meanwhile, Apple at its own developer conference earlier this month opened up its traditionally closed ecosystem to give developers more control over how their apps work on devices like the iPhone and iPad.

    Google's ambitions are very large. Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, said more than one billion people now use Android devices every month. But he said Google wants to get smartphones in the hands of billions more, and he unveiled an initiative, Android One, to encourage the development of phones for less than $100 in developing countries.

    In a 2.5-hour keynote address, Mr Pichai and other executives introduced new flavours of Android for wearable devices, cars, televisions and smartphones.

    The plethora of new screens presents difficulties for software makers, who will have to redesign apps to work in disparate settings, said Phil Libin, chief executive of productivity software maker Evernote Corp.

    A Samsung Gear Live watch on display during the Google I/O conference. Getty Images.

    Developers are "going to have to think through the user interaction on each type of device very carefully," he said. "There's no magic that will make this happen."

    Even so, Google sought to show how its operating system will work across different devices. Laptops running its Chrome operating system will be able to run Android smartphone apps more easily, for example. Phones and smartwatches can be used to control Android TVs as well.

    Smartwatches are the first new device to hit the market, with Android-powered models from both Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics now available. For its part, Apple is expected to release its own smartwatch later this year.

    Android smartwatch wearers will be able to automatically unlock their Android smartphone without having to enter a password, thanks to sensors in the two devices that will recognise one another. The watches will also respond to voice commands, so wearers can send texts, take notes and perform other tasks in concert with their smartphones. When users dismiss text messages and other notes on their smartwatches, they will also disappear from their smartphones.

    More than three-quarters of smartphones shipped worldwide last year used Google's Android mobile operating system. Reuters.

    Android TV is Google's new operating system for the living room, which will run internet-connected TVs from companies including Sony, Sharp and TP Vision, and set-top boxes made by Razer, Asus and others.

    The devices, expected later this year, will be controlled from a viewer's Android smartphone, an Android smartwatch, or through voice commands.

    Voice control is also a major part of Android Auto, another new version of Android that Google announced for cars. Google hopes that will make it easier for drivers to use applications and services safely by keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

    The company said that 40 more auto makers have joined its Open Auto Alliance, an industry group it formed in January to promote connected-car technology. The first cars with Android Auto installed will be available this year, it added.

    Google is also trying to get Android devices used more by companies, which so far have been more welcoming to iPhones and iPads because they are perceived as easier to set up and secure. By contrast, Android devices are made by different manufacturers and sometimes use different versions of Google's operating system.

    Mr Pichai said Google is adding more security features, including some from Samsung, in the next version of Android, due out later this year.

    Google Docs, the company's productivity software, will be able to handle Microsoft Office programs, such as Word, Mr Pichai said. In the past, users had to convert a Word document to a Google version before they edited it.

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