Google I/O review: ATAP – a small band of pirates, all the Android, and storage wars

Google I/O review: ATAP – a small band of pirates, all the Android, and storage wars
Another Google I/O developer conference is in the books and while any point is arguable, it was a success all-around. We have observed discussions about whether Google has started to play it too safe, or take a more nuanced approach in some areas where we have previously been used to seeing moonshot activities.

It is actually a bit of all of the above, but not in the way you may think. Sure, 2013’s Google I/O greeted us with an ad-hoc presentation followed by Q&A with Google CEO Larry Page, and the year prior, Google had people jumping out of planes to introduce Google Glass. Last year was more reserved, but was really the year of Android being blown wide open, with the introduction of Android Auto, Android Wear, and the Google Glass Explorer program was in full swing.

This year, Google had everything in its place, it was a bit more orderly, but it was not dull by any means. Android was everywhere, Chrome OS took a hiatus, and instead of Google blowing everything wide open, it left that work to the Advanced Technologies and Projects team, ATAP.

ATAP


Google’s Advanced Technologies and Projects group is headed by Regina Dugan. She joined Google when Motorola was acquired, and prior to joining Motorola, she headed up the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA, the entity that really invented the internet). In the past two years along, this self-described band of pirates has partnered with more than 500 other technology integrators, universities, non-profits, governments, and startups.

The spotlight was all ATAP’s on the second day of the conference, ostensibly a second keynote address for Google I/O. There we were introduced to Project Soli, and Project Jacquard, two remarkable technologies that are coming sooner than we think. We were also given quick glances at Project Vault, and Project Ara.

Project Vault


What makes Project Vault so interesting is the form factor, a secure, driverless, OS agnostic, isolated storage microSD card. Google has been shepherding people away from user-replaceable flash storage for years. “Consumer grade” flash storage is not highly regarded in much of the ultra-geek sector, so to see a project under development that leverages flash, and a system on such a form factor is quite remarkable.

Project Vault is still in its early stages, but there is a hardware development kit available and it looks like a promising idea. It is one of the “smallest” physical ideas, but it is potentially one of the most significant announcements at Google I/O 2015.

Project Ara


We have been waiting quite patiently to see the modular component smartphone take a more prominent role, and indeed it did. However, Project Ara very much remains a development effort, not an official Google product.

That said, during the ATAP presentation, we watched Google engineer Rafa Camargo assemble a Project Ara modular smartphone, and turn it on. Then, having left the camera module out, he tried to activate the camera. The platform was smart enough to say that function was not possible, then he added the camera and took a picture.

Project Ara is a really big idea, and yes, some of us thought the “modular smartphone” would be here sooner, but it is not ready yet. ATAP is working on it though.

Project Tango


While Google’s research into technology that can navigate the physical world in real time did not take the stage during the ATAP presentation, Project Tango was on display and available for demonstrations with developers.

The hardware behind Project Tango is a development kit that consists of a 7-inch tablet equipped with a series of sensors that can track depth and motion. At over $500 and powered by the same Tegra K1 processor as can be found on the Nexus 9, it is not an ideal consumer product (even though you can probably get one), like we said before, we still want one.

Google Photos


We have already shared detailed insights about the new Google Photos. It is an impressive step not only for how we collect and sort our massive digital photo libraries, it also fires the first volley in what some in the industry call the “race to zero,” zero being the cost for unlimited storage of photos and videos.

That puts enormous pressure on Microsoft, Dropbox, Box, iCloud, and all the rest of the smaller cloud-storage services. Of course storage has a hard cost of next to nothing compared to 10 or 15 years ago, but that is not really why Google is opening up all that space.

Google wants all that imagery to feed its machine learning algorithms that help everything from navigation and the self-driving car, to recognizing our relatives for our own collections. Those algorithms will help targeting ads better too. The benefits outweigh the costs incurred by running data centers that will house all that media.

Of course, not all of Google’s storage is free, native resolution and other “stored” items count against whatever quota of storage you might have, but storage is soon going to cost nothing across the board.

Android


Android in general was the star of Google I/O overall. Android M, Android Auto, Android for the Internet of Things, also known as Brillo, and updates to Android Wear. Brillo was the new arrival, Android Auto is now available in some vehicles, and the rest were noticeable, and arguably responsible updates. Check out our preview of Android M.

Now on Tap and Android Pay were the two big pieces of Android M, and while Google Wallet was first on the scene, the Android ecosystem as a whole needed something that could be more easily adopted. After acquiring the technology of Softcard, Android Pay became a more feasible solution. Google Now's next step in being able to gain a contextual awareness of how we want to use it from a given app, email, or website, is something we are excited to see.

Glass is dead, long live Glass


Remember the news about Cecilia Abadie? She is the Glass Explorer that got a ticket in California for driving while wearing Glass. That ticket got thrown out in court, but she made the news again when a United Airlines flight attendant asked her to remove Glass while seated on the plane, under the pretense that it was a security concern with the camera. She took her Glasswear off, and then immediately then took a picture with her smartphone.

A director with APX Labs, Cecilia was at Google I/O, and was one of the few we saw wearing Glass at the conference. We got to connect with her and talk about her continued work with Glass. As we shared when the Glass Explorer program was “graduated,” Google continues to work with its development and enterprise partners to evolve Glasswear for business use-cases, an area that Cecilia and APX Labs are actively involved.

#WomenTechmakers


Cecilia has attended Google I/O several times, but once thing that was clear with this year’s conference was Google wanted to bring more visibility for women in the technology space. Google also hosted a special dinner for its women attendees.

Through its Women Techmakers initiative, there were notably more women on-site this year (for the first time we can remember, there were occasional lines outside the ladies’ water closets). A big group of them gathered at the conclusion of I/O to take a few pictures with one of the event photographers.

Everything else


This year’s Google I/O was more a more festive environment. There was even a 300-Android device “chorus” which sang a number of different well known classics as attendees would submit their “androidified” persona to be part of the ensemble. 

Just about everything that had a plausible rumor to it beforehand, had some presence at Google I/O 2015. There was literally something for everyone to do (or not, there were plenty of places to nap too).

What set this year’s Google I/O apart from previous events was that instead of trying to throw everything at the wall and finding out what would stick, Google showcased meaningful, and tangible improvements in core areas, and let its gang of pirates talk about the future Mountain View hopes to plunder in the months and years ahead.

Google aptly showed off some great moonshot ideas without being trapped by them, and it still delivered on small, but important advances for a company that continues to push the envelope.



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