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Google Android software spreads beyond smartphones

AFP-JIJI

Google said Wednesday it would bring cars, watches and televisions into its Android empire.

The technology titan laid out a sweeping vision for the operating system at the opening of a sold-out developers conference, in a keynote presentation streamed online to millions of people across the world.

“We are beginning to evolve our platforms beyond mobile,” Android and Chrome teams chief Sundar Pichai said of how Google’s twin operating systems are being adapted to work with one another and with new types of computing hardware.

Google’s goal, Pichai said, is to have its software serve as a foundation for applications, services or digital content delivered seamlessly across the increasingly diverse array of Internet-linked screens in people’s lives.

A new LG G smart watch and a freshly announced Gear Live smart watch by Samsung that both work with the Android Wear platform were to go on sale at the online shop Google Play Wednesday, Pichai said.

On-stage demonstrations included ordering a pizza in seconds, fielding reminders and messages, and using voice commands on smart watches.

Google said an eagerly awaited Moto smart watch will join the Android Wear lineup later this year.

“These are the first three watches, but there are more on the way,” Pichai said.

Android Auto software tailored for cars, synchronizing smartphones with in-dashboard screens and controls, is being shared with automakers and vehicles “should be rolling off lots” by the end of this year, Google said.

Android Auto brings apps like Google Maps and Spotify music service to “an interface built for driving,” according to a freshly formed coalition of technology and car companies called the Open Automotive Alliance.

“The connected car era has arrived,” Audi AG electronics development head Ricky Hudi said in an alliance release.

“With it comes the expectation that the data and functions provided by smartphone apps will seamlessly bridge to Audi information and entertainment environments as the ‘fourth screen’ in our customers’ lives.”

Google also announced another shot at smart televisions with Android TV software for what are typically the biggest screens in homes.

Google is giving televisions “the same level of attention that phones and tablets have enjoyed” when it comes to Android-powered capabilities, said Android engineering director Dave Burke.

Android smartphones, complete with voice command features, could be used to direct searches on television screens, an on-stage demonstration showed.

Android games from the Google Play shop could also be played on televisions.

“The Google empire is trying to grow,” Gartner consumer technology research director Brian Blau said on the sidelines of the San Francisco keynote presentation.

“Google is trying to be more like Apple; create more consistent experiences with devices that work together.”

Handset or tablet makers are free to customize free Android software to suit hardware and set themselves apart from rivals, but this has resulted in popular applications working on some gadgets and not others in a situation referred to as “fragmentation.”

Apple, on the other hand, so tightly controls the software powering its popular iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices that developers can more easily target broad audiences.

Improving how well popular services or applications work across the growing array of Android-powered devices should also entice users to “lock in” to the Google-backed platform the way Apple devotees remain loyal to the Cupertino, California company’s gear, according to Blau.

“Lots of variations of Android make developers work harder to support all those devices,” the analyst said.

“A consistent experience will help Google in the long run.”