Google envisions Android everywhere at I/O conference

Google has kicked off its 2014 I/O developer conference. In this morning's keynote, the company shared some big numbers for Android and an even bigger vision for where the platform will go next.

One billion plus: that's the number of active Android users worldwide in the past 30 days, according to Sundar Pichai, Google's Senior Vice President of Chrome and Apps, and it's pretty amazing to consider.

The company isn't content with just one billion users, though. Pichai said Google is thinking about the next billion smartphone customers, as well, and he detailed a platform for emerging markets called Android One. As its foundation, the program provides a set of reference phones that OEMs can build and roll out quickly. At the software layer, One phones will run stock Android, but manufacturers and carriers can add tweaks of their own through Google Play services. Most importantly, these devices will be inexpensive. The One device that Pichai showed is expected to cost less than $100.

Android itself is getting a major update later this year, too. Google showed off this update, which for the moment is called L Developer Preview. LDP features over 5,000 new APIs and perhaps the biggest user interface overhaul that the OS has seen yet. Matias Duarte, Google's VP of design, demonstrated Material Design, the new UI toolkit for Android apps. Duarte emphasized a focus on depth, perspective effects, shadows, and touch responsiveness with the new UI, which is said to be "delightful." From what I could see, Material Design guidelines appear to bring a much-needed focus on continuity throughout the Android UI, with common control, animation, and font face elements used across all of the demo apps. To encourage adoption of the new standards, Google is publishing a set of guidelines for developers, which are available here.

Several Material Design apps. Source: Google's 360p live stream.

L Developer Preview isn't just a new coat of paint, though. The new Android release can use the presence of familiar Chromebooks, Android Wear smart watches, paired Bluetooth devices, and even a user's voice to decide when to prompt for a pattern or passcode unlock. The notification shade is now integrated into the lockscreen, and Android will observe your behavior to prioritize notifications better.

Under the hood, Android is getting a new runtime environment, fittingly named ART, for Android Runtime. ART replaces the Dalvik VM that previously ran Android's Java bytecode. The reason for this change? Performance. According to a graph of several benchmarks that Google presented, ART is somewhat faster than Dalvik in most tasks. ART also implements a new garbage collection routine, which should reduce UI stutter and lag.

Want to try all of this new software out? You won't have to wait long. According to Google, the L Developer Preview will be made available tomorrow morning for Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 owners.

Stay tuned for further I/O coverage, where we'll discuss Google's plans for Android on wearables, in the car, on your laptop, and in the living room.

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