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Google touts Android Auto, wearables

– Some 1 billion people are now using Android devices, Google said as the company kicked off its two-day developer conference Wednesday in San Francisco.

But the online search leader’s effort to broaden its focus beyond smartphones and tablets was on full display as the company unveiled far-reaching plans to push further into the living room, the family car and the TV set.

As part of a nearly three-hour opening presentation, Google gave more details about Android Wear, a version of the operating system customized for wearable gadgets such as smartwatches.

The company also introduced Android Auto, which has been tailored to work with cars.

Android TV, meanwhile, is optimized for TV-watching, aided by a recommendation system and voice searches for things like “Breaking Bad” or “Oscar-nominated movies from 2002.”

About 6,000 developers, bloggers and journalists flocked to the event. Following Google’s recent revelation that just 30 percent of its employees are women, the company touted that the number of women attending its conference grew to 20 percent this year from 8 percent a year earlier.

The event was interrupted at several points by protesters who were quickly escorted out.

Google has been the subject of disapproval for its use of shuttle buses to ferry its employees from San Francisco to its Mountain View headquarters. The buses have become a symbol of the divide between Silicon Valley’s tech millionaires and those left out of the latest boom.

Google’s I/O event – a rally of sorts designed to get developers excited about creating apps and devices for Google’s ecosystem – comes at a time of transition for the company, which makes most of its money from advertising thanks to its status as the world’s leader in online search.

The company is trying to adjust to an ongoing shift to smartphones and tablet computers from desktop and laptop PCs. Though mobile advertising is growing rapidly, advertising aimed at PC users still generates more money.

At the same time, Google is angling to stay at the forefront of innovation by taking gambles on new, sometimes unproven technologies that take years to pay off – if at all.

Driverless cars, Google Glass, smartwatches and thinking thermostats are just some of its more far-off bets.

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