Takeaways from Google I/O 2014

Like many others, I was excited that this year’s Google I/O tickets would be distributed on a lottery basis. Also like many others, I was not lucky enough to win one of the lottery tickets.

So when I heard that Women Who Code had discounted tickets for women in tech, I signed up immediately. Apparently Google made a big effort this year to get more women to participate in the conference, and as a result the number of women attendees rose from 7 percent last year to 20 percent this year!

I started out the first day of the conference by standing in line for more than an hour. When 9 a.m. rolled around, everybody started getting antsy about missing part of the keynote, and it wasn’t until around 9:30 that I was finally able to get into the building and sit down.

The keynote focused on the new Android OS, L (which stands for Lollipop), and its new capabilities that will include a better design and user experience. Of course, there was also a lot of hype over the new Android smart watches. Another thing that I thought was pretty cool was Android’s new integration with cars, which aims to take a step toward safer driving in the 21st century.

Before the end of the keynote, we were informed that everybody would be receiving not one, but two new smart watches. The smart watches, however, were not the most interesting part of the giveaway. We were also given a piece of mystery cardboard that was made by engineers in their “20 percent Google time” – an allocated amount of time that Google employees have to work on whatever projects they want. After getting my piece of cardboard, I went over to the booth that was demoing its capabilities. Its main purpose was to give users an immersive interactive experience with apps such as Google Earth.

Outside of the main auditorium there were several other booths, mostly from startups that have incorporated different aspects of Google into their apps (Maps, ChromeCast, etc). I was able to check out a handful of them and was impressed with all technology that Google has to offer to developers.

One of my favorite booths was Big Web Quiz. It utilizes ChromeCast to let friends play quiz-based games on a big screen TV with their own handheld devices. I think the coolest part about the app is how it generates questions for players. I talked to one of the developers and learned that each question was formed by popular Google searches and information through the Google Knowledge Graph. As a result, questions have similar formats, but the answers are always different and players will never see the same question twice no matter how much they play.

For the rest of my time, I planned my schedule mostly around learning about the new L, developing for wearables and new features in Android Studio.

I was also very impressed by L. Making apps look great will definitely be easier for developers in the future, and users will get a better experience while interacting with their apps. However, since this new API was just introduced, it might be a while until we see all these new features as part of our phones. I still think L will be a good thing to keep in mind as I look to develop some of my own apps.

As for Android Studio, I was really happy to see all the improvements that Google has made since last year. It really seemed like they put themselves in the developers’ shoes to help us be more productive. Of course, the new version of Android Studio will also support tools for building Android wearables.

As I sat through the wearables demos and workshops, it seemed fairly easy to me to integrate wearable features into existing apps. However, I had a hard time coming up with good ideas to integrate features of the watch into apps. When would someone want to use the tiny screen on their watch instead of their phone? I still don’t have a good answer to that question yet.

One of the last sessions that Google had was a panel with the winners of the Bay Area Impact Challenge. It was refreshing to get a reminder of how technology can really help people, and to see some real faces telling their stories and aspirations.

Google I/O got me more excited about developing for Android as I got a taste for all the great things to come, and it was inspiring to be in an environment where everybody was passionate about the new technologies. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring!

Caren Chang

Caren Chang is a Software Engineer I on the QA Team at Tagged.

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