Google I/O 2015: 7 things you should know about next-gen Android M

At Google I/O 2015 software giant have presented a whole bunch of new features and services. Let’s take a first look at customizable app permissions, Android Pay, Now on Tap and others.

Despite the fact that Google I/O is a developers conference, it always grabs the attention of journalists and consumers as well. The reason is simple: this is the time when Google shows it’s brand-new features, services and products that will be shaping our digital lives in the nearest future (well, if you’re an Android user, anway!). Let’s take a look at the most important of them from security angle.

1. Android M: customizable app permissions

The first big thing Google presented at San Francisco this year was Android M: where the M stands for… “M developer preview” at the moment. The final release is rather distant, and is most likely to happen in the fall. And the first new feature you should know is new fully customizable app permissions policy.

In current versions of Android you need to grant whole set of permissions when you install an app. And these apps are not that modest: many of them want access to your camera, microphone, list of contacts, SMS and so on. The only choice you have is to grant permissions or don’t install the app at all.

New Android M approach is that any permissions should be asked and granted (or rejected) on demand, not when you install the app. Moreover, there is a ‘permissions manager’ in Android M, where you can easily manage app permission and switch them on or off.  Even more: you’ll be able to look for some specific permission, say, camera access. And set this list precisely the way you like it — for instance, you’ll be able to switch off camera access for all apps.


This was good news. The great news is that new permissions policy won’t be limited to the news apps designed for Android M, it should work with the legacy apps as well. So, finally we will have freedom to choose, how big is the piece of our privacy we want to give away to apps developers. In a few words, it’s a great instrument for people who do care about their privacy and a new puzzle for people who don’t.


2. Android M: Now on Tap

Currently Google Now collects data from Google services you use: it grabs it from your Gmail, from your searches, from your location and so on. It tends to change very soon: one of the features introduced in Android M is Now on Tap. This feature will allow Google to grab the data from any apps and use it to give you hints and advices.

So, now it’s official: Google will get your data from 3rd party apps. On the bright side, the company will utilize this data to make your life more convenient. As it always does.

3. Google Photos

A long asked for feature that’s finally made it’s way to us is that Google Photos is no longer a part of Google+, but a standalone app.  It has lots of new features to store and organize all your photos in a handy way. Literally all your photos: cloud storage is free and unlimited for all images up to 16 mega-pixels and all videos up to 1080p.

Yep, Google wants you to store your whole life in company’s cloud. Powerful face recognition included (hey, they can recognize even infants!), as well as other fun things like geo-tagging and timestamps organization and so on.

5. Fingerprint sensors API

There’s already a number of Android smartphones with fingerprint sensors out there. But today any manufacturer who wants to implement this feature needs to do it on it’s own. With Android M it should be much easier to make fingerprint enabled gizmo’s, because next-gen version of Google’s mobile OS has built-in support for these sensors. As well as interfaces for fingerprint-based authentication in apps and services without actually giving your fingerprint to anyone except Google itself.

It is disputable, how secure the fingerprint protection is. But without questions it is way more secure than no password or PIN or whatever protection at all, which is still the most popular solution among common users.

5. Android Pay

Speaking about protection, what any user would really like to protect is his money. And it’s essential, since Google introduced it’s new mobile payments system called Android Pay. In a few words, it’s much like Apple Pay, but from Google. In real life it works via NFC only (unlike Samsung Pay which can be used with legacy POS terminals) and allows in-apps purchases as well.


Moreover, you can use Android Pay not only to store your credit or debit cards, but loyalty and bonus cards and coupons as well. Of course, you can use any of them to make a payment. And if you’re wondering what happened with Google Wallet, here’s the answer: it will remain, but only for person-to-person payments.


6. Google hands-free payments

And that’s not it about payments: Google have really crazy feature which the company currently is going to test in partnership with McDonalds and Papa Johns in San Francisco Bay Area. They call it ‘Hands-free payments’ and it works just like this: customers download an app, and when checking out at a store, they don’t need even to take out the phone. All they have to do is stand in front of the cash register and say ‘I’d like to pay with Google’.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear how exactly this feature works and what technologies are involved to secure the payment.

7. Brillo: the IoT software platform

Many words have been spoken about Internet of Things and how insecure it is. One of the reasons of this insecurity is that connected devices manufactures usually base their gizmo’s on some general purpose Linux-based software platforms which they poorly customize and rarely update afterwords.

Probably, Google is ready to offer a solution for this problem. It’s called Brillo and it is a software platform for IoT devices. The platform is based on Android with somewhat reduced features list and functionality tuned in the way which is more suitable for IoT devices.

There are at least two good news here: first of all, this is a tailor-made platform from one of the leading software company. Secondly, it most likely will get updates in time. Bad news is that if industry adopts this platform, we will miss good old times when we thought ‘ubiquitous’ about having Google in our phones and PCs.