Google didn't blow people away with its Wednesday morning keynote at the Google I/O developer conference. No new version of Android, no talk of Google Glass, no skydiving Fred Armisen (bummer). Instead, Google gave developers a host of new goodies and announced new features and services that seemed impressive, even if they didn't knock people's socks off. Get a look at the big stories to come out of this year's keynote.
A new look for Google Play
During Wednesday's keynote, engineering director Chris Yerga spoke briefly about a redesign for the Google Play Store. The most obvious change is a host of updates to the store's visual appearance, but there are also a number of improvements under the surface. Google Play will now give suggestions based on your personal preferences, chosen by Google's algorithms. It’s a quick way to get a glance of something you might like if you’re just browsing the store.
Not only that, but the top charts section will spotlight apps that are designed for tablets, a much-anticipated and much-requested addition to the store. Also, Google announced Google Play for Education, a curated version of the Play store specifically for schools and other educational institutions coming this fall. This version of the store will only feature apps handpicked by a group of editors, so unfavorable apps won’t sneak in by accident.
Location-based APIs mean new features in future apps
A massive pile of new features for Google+
Google+ has been slow to catch on, but Google hasn't given up on its social network. The company announced a total of 41 (!) new features, including a new look, automatic hashtags, a new Hangouts app, and more.
Instead of a typical reverse-chronological news feed, the new Google+ will feature a multi-column stream to present text updates, photos, and videos that doesn't look all that dissimilar from Pinterest. In the keynote, Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president of engineering, likened traditional newsfeeds to a " a long list of things that have been shared with you, like a never-ending newspaper." No word on whether Gundotra has ever noticed that a newspaper uses columns of text and photos to deliver news instead of a long stream of blurbs.
Also new are automatic hashtags: Google+ will scan items you post to Google+ and try to assign relevant tags to them. In a demo, Gundotra used the example of a photo of the Eiffel Tower posted without any text description that Google+ was able to identify based on landmark recognition and metadata.
Finally, Google announced a new app for Google Hangouts that comes in versions for Android, Chrome and iOS, as well as in Web app form for Chrome OS. The app isn't just for videoconferencing, either; you can send text messages and images as well. The app is free to download and use.
With three new location-based features, Google is about to give app developers even more tools to work with when creating apps that use your device's GPS functionality. First up are tweaks that reduce power consumption for when you use apps that utilize the cellular radio, Wi-Fi, or GPS. Support for geofencing lets developers create apps that carry out specific tasks when you arrive at a certain location. For example, a calendar app could remind you of an errand you need to run as you leave work for the day.
Last, developers can use the accelerometer inside a device to determine how you're traveling—whether by walking, car or other methods. A maps app, for instance, could detect if you're walking or on a car, and provide walking or driving directions to your destination, accordingly.
Cloud gaming goodies for Android
Cloud gaming has come to Android devices. The new Google Play Games services APIs make it easier for developers to incorporate a number of cloud-based features into their games. A new cloud-sync feature that developers can incorporate into their games means that if you stop playing a game on one device, you can seamlessly pick up where you left off on another.
Google Play Games will also bring with it the popular achievement features found from other gaming platforms. Developers can also use Google’s APIs to create a cross-platform gaming experience, allowing iOS and Android users to play with one another. Google+ will also allow for easier notification of game invites, leaderboards, and matchmaking for your circles.
A Galaxy S4 with tasty, tasty stock Android
Like the Samsung Galaxy S4 but hate Samsung's software additions? You'll love the stock Android version of the Galaxy S4. This version of Samsung's flagship smartphone comes pre-loaded with the latest stock version of Android—that is, without the extra bells and whistles that Samsung added on—and an unlocked bootloader for all the hardware hackers out there.
This version of the phone will run on AT&T and T-Mobile networks and comes with 16GB of storage. But freedom from overlays and Samsung's add-ons won't come cheap—it'll cost $649, and you'll have to wait until June 26 to buy one.
Google Play Music All Access is 'radio without rules'
Spotify and Rdio have company. The awkwardly named Google Play Music All Access is a new music streaming service that lets you stream millions of songs (though Google provided no further specifics) for a $10 monthly subscription fee. You can use the service via your Web browser or using a dedicated Android app; the service will open in the US only for now, but Google says it will open in other countries "soon."
Google calls its new service "radio without rules," though terms and conditions will almost assuredly apply.
If you want to give it a go before you commit to paying the monthly fee, Google will offer a 30-day free trial; if you sign up for the trial by June 8, though, you'll be able to keep using the service beyond the trial period for $8 per month.
Chrome gets better, faster, stronger; Daft Punk not involved
If you use Chrome—what Google referred to as “the most popular browser used in the world”—you’ll be delighted by some of its improvements, which are meant to boost Chrome’s mobile experience and to make the browser feel more unified across devices and platforms.
One particularly welcome change is a simplified mobile shopping experience through Chrome. Chrome can now synchronize your payment and shipping information across devices, which brings shopping down to three easy steps: check out, review the information Chrome offers up, and then submit.
Chrome now includes support for a number of new Web technologies that, if adopted by developers, could mean a faster Web browsing experience. WebP is Google’s image format alternative to JPEG, which can cut image file sizes by a third. VP9 is a new video encoding codec that requires just half the bandwidth of the more popular and ubiquitous H.264 codec, which could save bandwidth for mobile customers. YouTube will roll out VP9 support later this year, according to Google.
Speaking of Google+, the service will now offer a number of new photography tools that could make it easier to edit and share the photos you publish to your Google+ profile. For one, Google will offer 15GB of storage for your full-quality photos (up from the 5GB available now).
A new "Highlight" feature will automatically scan through your uploaded photos and showcase what it thinks are your best shots (blurry shots and photos of annoyed-looking spouses, be gone!). Also new is an Auto Enhance tool that will correct white balance and red-eye issues, among others.
Lastly, Auto Awesome can combine multiple images into a new photo or series of photos. For example, you can tell it to take a series of photos and turn it into an animation, or you can use it to stitch together photos into a panorama. The company says you can expect these new features to roll out sometime Wednesday evening.
Google search updates
There were also several announcements related to search on Wednesday, delivered by Google’s Senior Vice President Amit Singhal. Google plans to ramp up its knowledge graph technology, which helps to connect you with other information you might find useful while you’re searching. Searching for the population of Poland, for instance, might lead to Google displaying the populations of nearby countries in the sidebar.
Google Now learns some new tricks
Google Now got a minor update as well: You will soon be able to get public transit schedules through Google Now, ask it to suggest a new book to read or a new TV show to watch, or ask it to remind you that you need to move your car on street-sweeping day. Hooray! Also, Google Now reminders can take advantage of location data, so if you need it to remind you to check something when you get to work in the morning, it can send you a reminder when you read your office.
Talking to your device will also become easier and won’t require you to launch any app at all—simply say “Okay Google,” and begin speaking your query. Google will bundle in features like conversational questions, where you can ask the location of a place, then how to get there. Google will know you’re asking about the place you just requested the location of.
Map nerds rejoice—a new Google Maps is coming
Not to be forgotten, Google Maps will soon get a significant update, confirming rumors that surfaced last week. The most obvious change is a new look: The new Google Maps eschews the sidebar for an attractive map view that takes up your entire browser window. It uses vector-based maps instead of the traditional tile of map images that Google has traditionally used. You can also look at rotatable 3D views of places—similar to the Flyover view in Apple's Maps app in iOS 6.
The new Google Maps features restaurant reviews from Zagat, and is designed to make it easier to find points of interest near you. Google I/O attendees were granted access to the preview of the new Maps tool; the rest of us will have to sign up for an invitation.
Google’s Senior Vice President Amit Singhal used his time at the 2013 I/O podium to announce “the end of search as we know it.” While some of the search enhancements he announced won’t actually mark the end of search, they do point to cool new ways to interact with information.
Anticipation and answers
Google’s knowledge graph technology organizes information by its relationship to other bits of information. Google plans on kicking its knowledge graph up a notch going forward. According to Singhal, Google’s Knowledge Graph now contains more than 750 million entries and “as it grows, it becomes more powerful each day.”
For example, when I Googled the population of Poland, it anticipated I might want the population of other nearby countries and placed the population counts for Germany, Russia, and the Ukraine in the sidebar. Additionally, Google will use the data to create visual graphs with all the comparable data and trendlines—somewhat like how Wolfram Alpha organizes data.
“A perfect map of the world is foundational to delivering exactly what you want, when you want, and where you want it.” With those words from senior VP Amit Singhal, Google ushered in a brand new experience for Google Maps, both on the desktop and on mobile devices.
Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Maps took the stage on Wednesday during the Google I/O keynote to discuss Google’s popular mapping system. He reviewed the history of Google Maps, discussing the failures of early versions—such as not including much of the world in its initial launch—to more recent improvements. In particular, he pointed out that Goole maps now covers 200 countries—the latest is North Korea, built largely on people in the country submitting their own data via Google’s Map Maker tool.
McClendon stressed the importance of data to Google Maps, pointing out that the company has some of the largest and most thorough data sets available. In particular, he pointed out that the company has 40 million precise geocodes of local businesses, 50 billion kilometers of turn-by-turn directions, more than 1 million transit stops, and 50 countries of Street View data.
That was the first—and perhaps least pointed—of the shots against competitor Apple, whose Maps relaunch notably ran into problems last year. But despite its lead, Google isn’t standing still on Maps: The company showed off a completely new experience for one of its most popular services.
The more Google shows off its improvements to Search and Maps at I/O Wednesday, the more evident it is that the company’s services are skewing toward the experience found in Google Now, the predictive service that sends personalized, individually tailored information you need to your phone as you need it. The future, you might say, is in the Cards.
But while other Google services are increasingly mirroring the Google Now experience, Google Now itself received a very modest refresh Wednesday. New cards for public transportation schedules are incoming, as are cards recommending books, TV shows, music, and video games that the Googletron thinks you’ll like—yoinking personalized data from Google Play, no doubt—the most notable addition is the upcoming ability to add reminders to Google Now.
Google Now’s reminder service will take advantage of Google’s beefed-up voice search capabilities to let you seamlessly create reminders that Google Now will serve to you when and where you need them. The “where” strongly suggests that the reminders will tap into the new Geofencing API that also debuted on Wednesday.
What, you want an example? Here you go: You could tell Google to remind you to call Sergey Brin next Friday at 4 p.m., and the following Friday, Google Now will pop up a notification on your phone prompting you to give Brin a dial.
As part of the overhaul of its Hangout feature, Google has launched new photography functionality designed to take the labor out of on-the-spot shooting and editing in the cloud. The new features will roll out this evening.
The fresh features enhance photos with three major points: Highlighting the best and most important photos, enhancing your shots, and applying special effects. Altogether, this spells backup, highlight, enhance, and "awesome" in the cloud.
Google+ has gotten a lot of traction with photographers, and photo sharing is increasingly the heart of the social web, so it's not surprising that Google is concentrating on this. The service now supports full image resultion for large digital camera images. Cloud backup for standard-sized photos up to 2048-by-2048 is infinite, while the backup available full-sized pictures at larger resolutions has tripled, from 5GB to 15GB because, "Some memories are not meant to be downsized." (That 15GB of cloud storage space is shared with your Gmail messages and general Drive storage, however.)
The Highlight feature takes the hundreds of images you shot on vacation and curates them, showcasing only the best of the lot. Its algorithm chooses the best images by eliminating blur, poor exposure, duplicates, and recognizing famous landmarks and smiling people. It also recognizes family and other important people in your life.
Google has struggled to win over Facebook users—and really, nearly everyone—with its social network, Google+. A completely redesigned Google+ launched on Wednesday at Google I/O with features that could make Google+ a more fierce Facebook competitor.
The Google+ overhaul includes a fancy, multi-column stream (not a news feed, a stream) with cards that you can click to flip over and find related content. In a potentially creepy move, Google will now auto-hashtag your Google+ posts with relevant tags, even if you post a photo with no description. An example demoed during Wednesday’s I/O keynote involved a photo of the Eiffel Tower that Google knew to tag as #eiffeltower because of landmark recognition and metadata.
The good news: You can turn this feature off, or delete tags that Google gets wrong. But the company is pushing for more depth in its social network—less emphasis on a stream of information and more of a push toward discovering relevant content.
“It’s very easy to see a long list of things that have been shared with you, like a never-ending newspaper,” said Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president of engineering.
Google called its Chrome browser “the most popular browser used in the world” during Wednesday’s Google I/O keynote. And the company used that occasion to present updates to Chrome on both desktop and mobile, as well as new developer tools for Chrome.
While Chrome OS was mentioned, Sundar Pichai—Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome, and Apps—said that Google would have more news to share on that operating system later this year. That said, he did describe the platform as “an ecosystem play,” and gave every Google I/O keynote attendee a free Chromebook Pixel.
Turning back to the browser, Pichai said that Chrome now has 750 million active monthly users—an increase of 300 million users from last year. Much of that growth is happening on phones and tablets: Chrome works on both Android and iOS, and Pinchai stressed that its goal is to “move the mobile Web forward.”
Samsung and Google have given diehard Droid fans a love letter, in the form of a phone. At Wednesday’s Google I/O keynote, Google executives showed off a carrier unlocked Galaxy S4 running the stock version of Android, rather than Samsung’s skinned TouchWiz interface. Call it the Google Galaxy S4 Nexus, if you want.
Android updates will become available as swiftly as they do on Android devices. The phone even ships with an unlocked bootloader for all you CyanogenMod fans. Geeks couldn’t ask for anything better—and other manufacturers, already having their lunches handed to them by Samsung, couldn’t have feared anything more.
Other than the software running on the phone, the Nexus-like version closely mirrors its TouchWiz-sporting cousin. Don’t expect much in the way of new hardware. Android head Hugo Barra said the phone will be sold with 16GB of memory. It also will be able to work on the T-Mobile and AT&T mobile networks, complete with LTE support.
Now for the bad part: This legendary phone rocks a suitably epic price tag, costing a full $649 when it hits the Play Store on June 26—a price tag that brought more than a few groans from the otherwise enthusiastic keynote crowd. But hey, on the plus side, you won’t be locked into a contract.
At Google I/O today, engineering director Chris Yerga took the stage to briefly speak about the Google Play update that debuted early this morning.
The new Play Store home screen will soon become a treasure trove of personalized recommendations. Google plans start populating your Play Store's splash screen with hand-picked (or at least algorithm-picked) book, app, and movie suggestions.
Perhaps more importantly, a new section in the Play Store's Top Charts will highlight apps built specifically for Android tablets. That's a key addition for the ecosystem; the lack of solid tablet app discovery is a frequent complaint about the Play Store, as many Android apps are built for phone interfaces and don't scale well to larger screens.
Expect to see the new mobile Play interface revealed in April to expand to the Web soon, as well. Yay color and uniformity!
Google I/O is a developer-centric conference, so it’s perhaps no surprise that one of the leading topics at Wednesday’s keynote event was new application programming interfaces, or APIs.
Hugo Barra, the vice president of Android product management, took the stage at Moscone Center to detail several new frameworks to soon be available for developers on Google’s mobile platform. With these new Google Play services, developers can use the same APIs that Google takes advantage of in its own apps.
First up were three new location-based APIs. Fused Location combines data from a device’s cellular radio, GPS, and Wi-Fi to provide more uniform location features in apps. In particular, Barra stressed, the API for these often very power-hungry features is exceptionally efficient—it uses less than 1 percent of battery per hour.
The second new location-based API is geofencing, a feature that will be familiar to users of iOS. A geofence allows you to set up a geographical area, then trigger events when users enter or leave it; apps can maintain up to 100 active geofences per app.
[Google CEO Larry Page appeared at the end of Wednesday's Google I/O 2013 keynote, making a long statement and then answering audience questions. Here's our complete transcript, compiled by the nimble fingers of Jason Snell and Amber Bouman. Check back later for deep-dive analysis of what Page said.]
I’m really excited to be here. First I want to start with a story. I was very, very lucky growing up, and I was thinking about this as we were preparing for Google I/O. My dad was really interested in technology. And I was just remembering, he actually drove me and my family all the way across the country to go to a robotics conference, and then we got there, and he thought it was so important that his young son go to the conference—one of the few times I’ve seen him really argue with someone, to get someone in who was underage—successfully, into the conference, and that was me.
And one of the themes I just wanted to talk to you about is how important it is for developers here in the room and watching to really focus on technology and get more people involved in it. And also thinking about my dad. His degree, he was lucky enough to get a degree in communication sciences. And you might ask, what the heck is communication sciences? Thats what they called computer science when computers were a passing fad. Sounds kind of funny now, right? I bet that there was a time when that was true.
And I think everyone today is excited about technology. You know, we don’t have to worry about that so much anymore. And I think Android and things like that are being adopted much faster than anything else in the past. I look at the rate of adoption of those things, on any basis, are much, much faster. And it’s incredible. I pull out my smartphone, it’s amazing what we have in the smartphones. We have almost every sensor we’ve ever come up with. You know, I recently got a scale, and it measures air quality, and it uploads it to the Internet. I’m sure those things will end up in your smartphone, right? That’s amazing. And your phone can talk to anyone in the world, almost anywhere in the world.
For a couple of hours during Wednesday’s Google I/O keynote, I was surprised that Larry Page had opened up about his voice problems the day before, because there had been no sign of Google’s CEO on stage. But then he appeared, and held court at Moscone West for 45 minutes. (You can read a complete transcript of Page’s remarks.)
First he delivered a rambling speech, then he (surprisingly) answered some audience questions. It was a lengthy final act of what had already been a long, somewhat scattered presentation—but it provided some interesting insights into the thoughts of the man at the helm of one of the world’s most important companies.
Page is, fundamentally, a person who's incredibly optimistic about technology’s ability to change the world. But that optimism is tempered with a frustration about today’s technology industry. More than once he used the word “sad” to describe his feelings (yes, the inevitable Twitter parody account followed). He also complained about negative media coverage of Google while also throwing a few elbows of his own.
Unlike some other tech CEOs we could mention, Page isn’t someone who came into the tech industry as a marketer looking for money. He’s a technology enthusiast at heart, and it still shows. “I think everyone today is excited about technology,” he said. “I look at the rate of adoption of [technology]… And it’s incredible.”