The Most Interesting Takeaways From Google I/O and Apple WWDC 2015

Ecosystems and platforms are turning out to be the next big thing in the world of technology. The means to making our smart devices more human and understand us, and offer a way to filter, cross-reference, and contextually analyze the torrents of information we throw at them every moment of every day. While companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo! have embraced a trojan-horse approach to providing a comprehensive suite of apps and services on Android and iOS, Google and Apple, the makers of the respective mobile operating systems themselves are no less behind, trying to consolidate and expand to every single realm to lock users into their own ecosystem. Has the time hence come to choose between Android and iOS? And will doing so prevent you from jumping to the other competing platform? Or will a new mobile ecosystem emerge? The last part, I seriously doubt though!

Since the release of Android L and iOS 8 last year, it has become abundantly clear that your smartphone preference more or less drives your choice of tablet (again Android or iOS), laptop (Chrome OS or Mac), TV (Android TV/Chromecast or Apple TV), car (Android Auto or Apple CarPlay), watch (Android Wear or Apple Watch), payments (Google Wallet* or Apple Pay) and even your fitness tracker (Google Fit or Apple Health). This year, both Google and Apple took it one step further, adding 'missing' features from each other and playing catchup. Which is good, healthy even. This is how technology progresses and should too, like if it were all a collaborative effort. But what's most fascinating here is that both Google and Apple are increasingly starting to resemble each other, a walled garden, growing more and more similar in their function and purpose (the software being the only obvious difference). The choice ultimately rests between one that's completely closed and one that's ostensibly open.

Android M - Barring a few trifling annoyances caused due to navigation and scroll bar inconsistencies, Material Design, the gorgeous design language advocated by Google and announced at last year's I/O, is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to Android, and the next version of the mobile OS comes with a ton of new features, the most prominent being iOS-like fine-tuned permissions manager (thanks God!), contextual improvements to its virtual personal assistant Google Now in the form of Now on Tap, better power management (through Doze), support for fingerprint sensor and USB Type-C port, saving web pages for offline use on Chrome (yes!) and offline Maps.

Google Photos - The moment has finally arrived where Google+ and Photos are no longer intertwined. It didn't make any sense in the first place. And I am glad it has finally happened. Available on web, Android and iOS, the app comes with auto-backup, advanced (but creepy) facial recognition and search features.

Android Pay* - It's no secret that Apple Pay has been a huge success, thanks to its ease of use, despite being introduced just last fall and Google Wallet being around for close to more than three years since its debut in 2011. Android Pay, the result of Google's acquisition of US carrier-backed mobile payments service Softcard early this year and its integration into Google Wallet, shows the search giant's renewed attempts to compete with Apple Pay, and for what it's worth, it will be fingerprint authenticated (if your Android device supports it).

Project Brillo & Project Silo - Google has had several projects over the last couple of years - Project Kennedy to unify all of its web offerings with a consistent design paradigm, Project Butter and Project Svelte to optimise Android, Project Volta to improve battery life on Android, Project Ara for its modular smartphones, Project Tango for mobile devices with support for depth sensing (now available for sale), and last but not least, Project Loon for balloon-powered internet access for the masses. The newly unveiled Project Brillo and Project Silo are the next baby steps towards Android dominion, the former providing an Android-based communications layer to let internet-powered smart devices (aka IoTs) talk to each other (akin to Apple's HomeKit), and the latter being a minuscule radar system that senses hand gestures on wearables and use those movements to control tiny-screen devices without having to touch them.

Google Hangouts - The current Hangouts app on Android is functional, that's about it. Otherwise it's pure garbage from a design point of view. A relic from Android's Ice Cream Sandwich days, a scar that mars the beauty that's Android L. I have already written about it several times before, but thankfully it seems like Google is preparing a Hangouts overhaul, complete with Material Design. Check out Android Police's exclusive preview here.

iOS 9 - Apple as its custom gave a glimpse into its upcoming version of iOS, finally adding features that (power) users were long anticipating - improved multitasking on iPads with split-screen functionality (cleverly available only on the latest iPad Air 2) and picture-in-picture mode (Apple's version of Samsung's Pop-up Play), transit directions in Apple Maps (even Street View as well), improved Notes app, a rebranded Passbook app (now called Wallet), iCloud Drive app, a low power mode to improve battery life and overall taking up less space than before (made possible by a feature called App Thinning).

Proactive Personal Assistant - The one feature that is aimed squarely at Google, and to hit the search giant where it hurts - search. That Apple was entering search business was known for some time, but what's interesting is how this new app looks and functions similar to Google Now and its comparatively less popular sibling Cortana in dishing out answers 'proactively' and in context. It mimics Google Now to such an extent that it's now accessible as a swipe to the left from the home screen. Whatever be the case, Google has every reason to be terrified. With Mozilla Firefox now setting Yahoo! as the default search engine and DuckDuckGo's 600% increase in daily search queries in the wake of Edward Snowden revelations over the last two years, Apple's full-fledged foray into search would be the last thing that Google wants.

Apple News - When Facebook introduced Instant Articles just a month back, little would it have realised that Apple had something similar in its own mind. Gone is the useless Newsstand app (and so would any other third party news app from your home screen), taking its place is a new Flipboard-like fancy news reader, bringing in content from a variety of news sources in a brand new Apple News Format.

Apple Music - Apple's long overdue music streaming service, largely seen as a way to counteract declining iTunes digital music downloads, is a one stop shop for your music needs, ranging from discovering new music through trusted human curators, to connecting to various music artists you love, to finally your traditional iTunes purchases, all coming together in one place. What's more, there's an Android app coming too. Colour me surprised!

More pre-installed bloat - iOS 9 is all about incremental improvements, but unfortunately it's also about an incremental increase in the number of pre-installed apps, for the latest version of iOS 9 Beta comes with two additional apps - Find My Friends and Find My iPhone. While the latter might be useful, I'm still trying to wrap my head around Apple's continuing efforts to bundle its iOS devices with a bunch of apps that are mostly useless (like Tips) or inferior to its third-party alternatives. I understand the logic, after all Google does the same with Nexus/Android phones, and living within the Apple ecosystem makes it far easier given the tight integration. Proactive Siri, for example, will be more useful in providing you with contextual information if your data resides on Apple's apps, and less so if it's present elsewhere like... Google. Is this Apple's new way of slowly pulling us further into its walled garden?

User privacy as a selling point - One curious aspect that makes Apple's newly unveiled features like Proactive Siri, smarter Spotlight search along with last year's TouchID different from Google's is that it all happens on the user's device. None of this is tied back to your Apple ID, unlike Google, which relies on you feeding it with copious amounts of data to predict your next step. By sacrificing some of the "big data", Apple in short has strategically positioned itself as a secure gadget maker. That's not all, after adding privacy-oriented DuckDuckGo as one of the search engine options in iOS 8, Apple has now made it even more difficult for others to unlock your phones by implementing a six-digit passcode on lockscreens.

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