Google kicked off its annual Google I/O developer keynote in a big way Wednesday by announcing a new version of the Android operating system, a new tablet, a media streamer, and Google+ updates, along with news on the company's Project Glass. Here's an overview of Google's announcements today.
To kick off the keynote, Google announced that its various hardware partners have sold over 400 million Android-based devices, and that over 1 million Android phones and tablets are activated every day. By comparison, at last year's Google I/O, the company said that 100 million Android devices had shipped up to that point.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
The next major update to Android, known as Jelly Bean, is an incremental improvement to Ice Cream Sandwich. It starts with Project Butter, which is Google's attempt to improve Android's performance. As part of Project Butter, animations for scrolling and swiping should now look smoother and less jittery than they did on prior versions of Android. It should recognize touchscreen input more quickly as well.
The biggest new feature consists of various improvements to search. Jelly Bean uses a new search interface--called "cards"--to make it easier to read and digest certain types of information. For example, if you search for the weather forecast, you'll get an attractive display that shows the weather conditions, temperature, and forecast in a manner that isn't all that dissimilar to how Apple's Siri feature displays such information.
Search cards can show all sorts of things--the weather forecast, answers to questions, image search results, and more--and it works with Android's voice search feature.
Other additions include improvements to the homescreen, an upgraded camera app, the ability to send photos and videos from one phone to another via Google Beam, and more. Jelly Bean will come to the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S smartphones, and to the Xoom tablet in mid-July.
Nexus 7 Tablet
The rumors were true: The Nexus 7 is a 7-inch Google-branded tablet built by Asus. It features a 1280-by-800-pixel display, a front-facing camera, and built-in NFC, as well as requisite Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. It's built around Nvidia's Tegra 3 chip, which has a quad-core processor and a 12-core graphics chip. The Nexus 7 weighs 340 grams, which is equivalent to about 0.75 pounds.
Software-wise, the Nexus 7 will ship with Jelly Bean, and it'll be centered heavily around the Google Play Store: When you turn it on, content from Google Play will be front and center, which makes it a little bit like the Kindle Fire. The Nexus 7 supports a full complement of media types: Video, magazines, music, books, you name it. In addition, the Nexus 7 will use the Android version of Google Chrome as its default browser instead of the standard Android Web browser. The Nexus 7 costs $199; it'll ship in mid-July, but you can order one starting today.
The Nexus Q is what Google calls "the first social streaming media player." This orb-shaped device, which is now available via the Google Play Store, works with your Android smartphone and tablet, along with Google Play, to stream music and videos to your HDTV, a sound system, or a pair of speakers. But unlike similar gadgets, such as the Apple TV, the Nexus Q lets you collaborate with friends via your Android phone or tablet to put together music and video playlists.
The Nexus Q ships in mid-July, and costs $299 for a 16GB model.
Google+ Tablet App and Events
Google announced a new app for Google+ for both Android and iOS. The app will let you do everything that you can do through the standard desktop-oriented Google+ site, including Google Hangouts (yay). The Google+ app is available today for Android phones and tablets; the iOS version is pending approval from Apple.
Also new are Google Events, which lets you schedule and plan events via Google+. You can use it to invite your guests, and it has a feature that lets you view photos from the event as the event is in progress.
Project Glass Demo
Google co-founder Sergey Brin interrupted the Google+ news to give a (rather lengthy) demo of Google's Project Glass, the company's futuristic head-mounted computer. As part of the demonstration, Google had five people jump out of a blimp while wearing Project Glass headgear and broadcasting their jump via a Google Hangout.
The Google Glass hardware itself comes with a camera, speaker, and microphone, and it includes a touchpad on the side so you can interact with it. Its guts include a compass, gyroscope, and accelerometers, and multiple radios for a data connection (presumably 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi, though we don't yet know for certain). Google didn't disclose how much it weighs, but does say that it weighs less than "many sunglasses."
Although Google Glass isn't available yet, U.S.-based developers attending Google I/O can preorder a prototype version today for $1500 that will ship sometime early next year.
For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.
At $199, Google's Nexus 7 may seem like a tempting tablet, but some potential buyers and analysts say that it lacks hardware features and is a feeble attempt to energize the Android OS in a market dominated by Apple.
Google on Wednesday announced the Nexus 7, which is now available at the Google Play online store for $199 for a model with 8GB of storage and $249 for a 16GB model. The tablet, made in collaboration with Asus, has a 7-inch screen and Google's latest Android 4.1 operating system code-named Jelly Bean.
Nexus 7 joins a crowded tablet market that includes the dominant iPad and a collection of devices based on the Android OS from Samsung, Lenovo, Asus, Acer and Toshiba. Analysts have said that Google is following Apple's lead and introducing the Nexus 7 so Android OS can grow in tablets by bringing hardware, software and services closer. Google offers apps, music, books, and movies through the Google Play store, but analysts say that Nexus 7 is more a competitive threat to Amazon.com's $199 Kindle Fire tablet, which is based on Android and closely bundles services, entertainment and cloud offerings.
Calling Google's announcement "out of character," Richard Shim, senior analyst at NPD DisplaySearch, said Nexus 7 makes the search giant a competitor in the hardware space, which will continue as products roll out from Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired for $12.5 billion [B].
Google's user base is not nearly as strong as Apple or Amazon, so it will take time to build a strong customer base, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research, in a research note sent via email.
The search giant also announced a version of its Chrome Web browser for iOS, and demonstrated it running on Apple's iPad and iPhone.The offline text editing is available now in Google Docs, and Google is working on offline editing for its spreadsheet and presentation applications, the company said in its day-two keynote at the conference.
The updates mean Google Docs users will be able to edit documents on a plane, for example, and then synch the changes to the cloud when they reconnect at the other end.
The offline capabilities will step up the competition between Google and Microsoft. Google emphasized that Docs is a viable product for the enterprise as well as consumers: Five million businesses are using its cloud applications, it said.
A Google Drive app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch will be available from the App store later Thursday, Google said. It's also developing a version for its own Chrome OS.
In the upcoming months, however, that's likely to increase even faster thanks to the browser's official arrival on Android and iOS.
Not only did Google roll out the first stable version its popular browser for the Android mobile platform this week--taking it out of beta at last--but on Thursday it unveiled a version for the iPhone and iPad as well.
Tweaked for Tablets
On the Android side, Chrome 18.0.1025123 includes “important stability and performance fixes since the last beta,” according to the official announcement from Group Product Manager Srikanth Rajagopalan. Also incorporated in the release are “some minor UI adjustments, especially for tablets,” Rajagopalan added.
Google Thursday announced improvements to its Chrome browser, improvements to Google Docs, and Chrome and Google Drive for iPhone and iPad, among other things on Day Two of the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco.
Google Drive Improvements
While today's announcements paled in comparison to those rolled out in yesterday's big show, a few of them will certainly be of interest to consumers.
One cool improvement to the product lets you work on word documents when you are not connected to the internet. The capability is available immediately for word documents, and later on for spreadsheets and presentations.
With Google TV generally flopping with consumers, Google is trying a second approach to getting space in your living room entertainment center with the Nexus Q streaming media player. The new device is one part Apple TV and one part Sonos music streamer rolled up in a highly designed orb-shaped package. The Nexus Q is generating some early excitement, but the device is going up against tough competition that includes Apple, Roku, and Microsoft's Xbox 360, as well as Sonos devices.
So how does the Nexus Q line up against the current living room superstars? Let's go to the feature rundown that follows the comparative chart below.
What The Nexus Q Does
Google's Nexus Q gives you access to all your cloud-based tunes stored in Google Music, Google's online music storage locker. You can also stream videos from YouTube and movies and television episodes from Google Play. The Nexus Q is controlled via any Android device running 2.3 Gingerbread or higher. The Nexus Q is priced at $300 and starts shipping in July.
Unlike competing platforms, the Nexus Q doesn't offer anything in the way of third-party app support. So no music from Spotify, Pandora, or Rdio. No live sports streaming via MLB.TV or NBA Game Time, no Hulu Plus (surprise, surprise), no Netflix, no HBO Go, nothing. This could change over time as most media streaming devices add more content as partnerships and interest in the platform develop. Then again, Google may be wary of adding too much to the Nexus Q to keep it from competing with Google TV.