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Google I/O 2015 recap: Android M, Android Pay, Maps and Chrome updates, VR and more

After unveiling a couple of then odd-looking Chromebooks at I/O 2011, the road-opening first-gen Nexus 7 a year later and short-lived Google Play Edition device program pioneer Galaxy S4 during the 2013 developer-centric San Francisco conference, El Goog turned the page in 2014 and kept the event’s focus on software.

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Similarly, day one of Google I/O 2015 didn’t bring any new Nexus family members to the table, Android Wear smartwatches, Android One handhelds or even Android TV set-top boxes. Granted, the forum hasn’t technically wrapped up yet, and there could still be surprises and product announcements in store.

But clearly, Big G already put essentially all its cards on the table, and we’re perfectly fine with waiting for 2015 Nexus 5 or 6 editions or a second-gen Moto 360. The Nexus Player 2? Given how boring its predecessor was, we’d rather hear more about Android M, Pay or Google Cardboard.

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Without further ado ergo, here’s everything showcased at I/O 2015 on the software front… in short:

Android M

What, you didn’t really expect the new mobile OS iteration’s desert name to be confirmed or at least decidedly hinted at? It’s a surprise, and before they disclose it, Google’s execs and marketing professionals are going to have some fun with us.

We anticipate a slew of false signs and confirmations (like the recent Macadamia Nut Cookie codename reveal), and in the end, the moniker may well be as random as KitKat. Perhaps Mars to add another pile of publicity money to the Nestle profits.

Android M

The commercial ETA also remains up in the air, but with a dev preview out now and a couple of extra betas scheduled for the ensuing few months, our best guess is… September. Maybe October, highly unlikely November, even if that’s when Lollipop turns one.

As far as tweaks and enhancements go, these are largely user experience-focused, not so much cosmetic. Which is great news, since Android 5.1 looks outstanding, but fails to impress in stability or energy efficiency areas.

Battery life improvements are a key M target, with “Doze” set to shut down background apps when sensing you’re away from your phone. Smart and practical, why didn’t Google think of that sooner? The same goes for app permissions, which are less intrusive, easier to access and understand, automatic 24-hour data backup functions and seamless web link app association.

Android M-2

Then there’s native fingerprint recognition, rumored more than once lately as a changelog highlight, and paving the way for the first touch to unlock-compatible Nexus gadget. Also, heaps of finger sensor-rocking handhelds manufactured by not just Samsung or HTC, sans proprietary software customization.

Another guaranteed “next big thing” in mobile tech is reversible USB Type-C connectivity, which Android M inherently supports, while easy on-the-go payments take a big step forward and bid farewell to clunky Google Wallet.

Android Pay

American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Bank of America, CapitalOne, Citi. Plus, BestBuy, Coca-Cola, Bloomingdale’s, GameStop, McDonald’s, Macy’s, ToysRUs, Staples, Office Depot, Subway and Pepsi. Those are only a few of Google’s partners in its fight against Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

Android Pay

Decent start, not to mention “over 700,000 store locations from your favorite brands across the US” should soon accept fast, secure, one-tap checkout Android Pay purchases. Also, over 1,000 Android apps, including Groupon, Newegg, Lyft, GrubHub, Domino’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, B&H, Chipotle and Eat24.

The way the service will work is extremely easy to guess and grasp, so let’s just hope no bugs or security malfunctions enter the equation.

Offline everything

You know how YouTube vids can be saved and viewed even when not connected to the Internet in some countries? The feature will apparently be extended before long, and let Android 4.4 and up users remotely store clips to their phones for up to 48 hours.

But Google Chrome and Maps get even cooler offline support, with the former allowing for webpage saving and full access with the network down or out of reach.

Offline maps

Suffering from sluggish cyberspace connectivity and taking ages to load up the most basic WWW search? Network Quality Estimator is here to save the day, optimizing your traffic and showing inferior online detail to suit your speeds and bring the essential information on hand by consuming fewer bytes.

Meanwhile, GMaps can at last offer turn-by-turn navigation without eating away precious broadband data or in areas with weak signal, at the same time showing reviews of places nearby and other important travel information offline.

Google Photos

Pulled apart from Google+ (wise call) to do its own thing as a standalone mobile and desktop program, this is pure and simple unlimited cloud storage for pics and vids. Oh, and did we mention it’s completely free of charge, no limits or strings attached?

Google Photos

Of course, it’ll compress your highest-quality home content, “only” supporting up to 16 MP images and 1,080p video, but I think we can all agree that’s mighty impressive nonetheless.

Virtual reality

The experimental Google Cardboard VR platform is still, well, highly experimental and primarily targeted at devs wishing to lend the fledgling market’s evolution a hand. But it’s (slowly) progressing, and now works with iOS in addition to Android. Also, it fits any phone up to 6 inches in diagonal like a glove and thus acknowledges the prevalence of phablets. At its core however, it remains a cheap, rudimentary paper kit.

Google Jump

A lot more complex and fancier, Jump is a futuristic VR platform aiming to capture “perfect 360 video” with “3D in every direction.” The Jump rig uses no less than 16 GoPro action cameras with frame-level synchronization. Aaand that’s pretty much all we know about this thing, which to be honest, sounds like expensive vaporware to us.

Android Wear 5.1.1

Normally, this kind of radical feature-packed update to a fast-rising “ecosystem” would have gained way more exposure and opened the announcement roundup instead of featuring so close to the recap’s end.

Android Wear Wi-Fi

But not only has Google detailed it before, it’s also rolling out OTA to a number of smartwatches already. On some, it enables standalone Wi-Fi, while others “merely” get always-on apps, wrist gestures, hand drawn Emoji recognition and a bunch of minor visual tweaks.

Internet of Things

Confused as to IoT’s implications for your “smart connected” future? Google makes everything easy to understand (and get psyched about), with Project Brillo and Weave. The former, “derived” from Android but obviously stripped down to the fundamentals, will be the actual “underlying OS for the internet of things”… someday… maybe.

Brillo

The latter is the cross platform communication system allowing, say, your now dumb doorbell and oven to sync up and exchange important information. For example, a smart oven powered by Brillo and Weave could automatically shut down when you leave your house and lock the door behind you. In 10 or 20 years, perhaps, even though developer previews of both these IoT software tools are slated for “late 2015” debuts.

Whew, that’s officially a wrap and now we’ll let all the ways Google wants to change the world sink in. Sheesh, and Android Auto and driverless cars actually took a back seat this I/O. What’s next, sentient AI beings?