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5/29/2015
05:00 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google I/O 2015: 9 Things We Loved

Google Photos, for all its mass appeal, is less interesting than Google's more ambitious work. Get ready for touch-aware clothes and gesture-sensing devices.



(Image: Thomas Claburn)

(Image: Thomas Claburn)

Google lavished attention on Google Photos, the company's renovated cloud photo service and companion mobile app, during its I/O 2015 developer conference, held Thursday and Friday in San Francisco. But Google Photos, for all its mass appeal, is less interesting than Google's more ambitious work.

On Friday, Google's Advanced Technology and Projects Group held a session to discuss recent developments. One of these is Project Jacquard, an effort to create conductive fabric that can detect touch events. Judging by the sample displayed on Thursday, which tracked contact as if it were a touchscreen, and the demonstration on Friday, Google's engineers have succeeded. As a result, we may soon see truly comfortable wearable devices -- touch-enabled jackets that can, for example, interpret a swipe along a sleeve as a command to make a phone call.

Another intriguing research project is Project Soli, a radar sensor for mobile devices that can read a user's hand's shape and motions for gesture-based interaction. Later this year, Google plans to release a prototype board for developers.

Work on Project Ara, Google's attempt to reimagine the smartphone as a set of discrete hardware modules, continues. While it will be another year before we see the results of Google's research, the prospect of greater freedom in terms of design and function, of module programmability, and of vendor opportunity is too tantalizing to ignore.

Google also refreshed its Cardboard VR viewer, extended the Cardboard SDK to iOS, and launched two initiatives to make VR content relevant beyond gaming. Expeditions is a program to provide VR tours to students, so they can see far-off places related to their curriculum. Education could turn out to be a better vehicle to popularize VR than gaming.

A second VR effort, Jump, aims to jumpstart the creation of VR content by promoting the construction of 360-degree cameras, by providing the software to knit images into panoramas, and by distributing such content through YouTube.

If photos are your thing, you may find the new Google Photos compelling, now that it's separated from Google+. Google VP Bradley Horowitz called the service Gmail for photos, even as he stressed the company's effort to ensure privacy. Google Photos allows users to backup and store an unlimited number of photos (16MP or less) for free, so they can be accessed from desktop and mobile devices.

Google can afford to provide free storage because it compresses the images, though the company insists these backups are visually identical to high-resolution originals. Professionals who care about lossless file storage have the option to pay for the Google Drive storage space beyond the 15GB of free space provided at a monthly rate of $10 per TB.

The most disappointing aspect of the conference has been the degree to which Web technology has been relegated to the background. Aside from the release of Polymer 1.0, a JavaScript library for creating interface elements easily, the major announcements have been focused on Android. That's understandable given the popularity of mobile devices, but it's also disheartening because the Web belongs to everyone while Android, despite open elements, belongs to Google.

Here are nine things we loved about this year's Google I/O developer conference. Are there other Google tech advancements you find more compelling than these? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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