You couldn’t miss the giant Android statues at the entrance to the Shoreline Amphitheatre at Google I/O.
While they served their purpose as a nifty spot for selfies, they inadvertently were a reminder about how critical Android is to Google’s future success. But it’s the more tangible signs of the work with Android N and Chrome that point to where Google is going with helping you get work done and even play.
Speaking of “play,” you also can’t ignore that Google Play is coming to Chrome OS. You have a few months, or maybe longer, before there are any major changes to either Android or Chrome OS, but being aware of what’s coming down the line will help you from getting caught off guard.
THE ‘N’ STANDS FOR NO MALWARE
The biggest knock against Android over the years has been security. It really came to a head with Stagefright, a nasty MMS vulnerability that impacted almost everyone with an Android phone.
Since then, Google has begun pushing out monthly updates, though of course you’re at the mercy of your phone manufacturer and carrier to get them (unless you have a Nexus device, of course). Google’s Adrian Ludwig went into detail at I/O about a number of different security measures that should make N far more impenetrable to those with mischievous intentions.
The OS will automatically download system updates in the background, just like Chrome OS. Then when the user restarts their device, the updates will install automatically. The problem for Google is that too many people just ignore the update notifications, which only fosters the potential for security issues.
Additionally, file-based encryption gives more granular control over what data to encrypt. There are several other under-the-hood changes that Google promises will make Android N the most secure version of its operating system yet.
GET READY FOR INSTANT APPS
The most promising and fascinating development is what Google is calling Android Instant Apps. It allows your device to download just the sections of an app needed to run after clicking a link: no more being prompted to “download our app!”
Apps like Buzzfeed will be able to load up content instantly.
But it’s another tool against fragmentation, which is the bane of the existence to every Android user who is still stuck a generation back. In fact a Googler who was demonstrating the feature at one of the booths was, just like the onstage demo, using a Nexus 5 running KitKat. The idea was to show how far the backwards compatibility extended.
Google is also taking tighter control over this, having learned the lesson of the free-wheeling ways of the original Android Market. Developers who want in must work on their apps with Google and get them ready before the program launches later this year.
KEEP IT IN A CONTAINER
So the Google Play Store and its hefty portfolio of Android apps are coming to the Google Play Store. It’s a little different than the merger we expected, which was pointing toward Android swallowing up Chrome.
Yes, Microsoft Office will now work better on Chromebooks thanks to support for the Google Play Store.
Instead, Google cleverly has a version of the Android framework running in a container. It’s similar to virtualization, with the exception being that the Android apps can still access other parts of Chrome’s operating system. Better yet this framework is updated directly by Google, just like Nexus devices. It appears Google is committed to ensuring that Chrome OS doesn’t become the fragmented mess that Android is.
AND A FEW DROPS OF FUN
It’s not all work for Android and Chrome. The Googlers who showed off the Play Store integration made sure to detail what this would mean for gaming: yes, you’ll be able to play Clash of Clans or other favorite Android titles on a compatible Chromebook.
Chromebooks are about to get some serious time killers.
It won’t help you get work done, but it gives Chromebooks a quick way to catch up to the fun factor of Macs and PCs, which both offer plenty of gaming options (hardcore gamers always proclaim the superiority of the PC, but plenty of good titles are on the Mac).
When I was watching a lot of this play out at Google I/O, I remember thinking, “OK, Google just invented...Windows.” They were demonstrating capabilities that have existed on OS X and Windows for two decades. But the promise of Android and Chrome together is quickness, better security, and the whole package available in lots of hardware options. Now we wait to see if Google can deliver.