Google I/O 2012
Google put on quite a show during its keynote at the Google I/O developer conference, with the Nexus 7 tablet, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the Nexus Q media streamer, a Google Glass demo, and a new app for Google+. Whew! Here's an overview of all the announcements, plus highlights from the keynote.
Let's start with the Nexus 7.
Introducing the Nexus 7 Tablet
The biggest news out of Google I/O may have been the introduction of the Nexus 7 tablet, a 7-inch tablet manufactured by Asus and sold by Google. It goes on sale in July, and is aimed squarely at other affordable 7-inch tablets like the Kindle Fire.
Nexus 7 Pricing
The most impressive part of the Nexus 7 tablet is the price. It starts at $199, which will buy you 8GB of storage. A $249 version with 16GB of storage should be available, too. At that price, they could sell a whole lot of them, even if it doesn't directly compare to 10-inch tablets like the iPad.
Nexus 7: Lots of Magazines to Choose From
Google is adding magazines to the Play store, including special enhanced, interactive magazines. The starting lineup of top-tier magazines looks pretty good, and includes a lot of names you're familiar with. We saw demos of Esquire and Shape. The crowd enjoyed Shape a lot more.
The surprise of the show is the Nexus Q, a living-room appliance to stream media to your TV and home sound system. It's Android under the hood, and made to provide a great video and audio experience. In a way, it's a lot like Apple TV. No word on which streaming services it will support, outside of Google's own. Without Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and more, they'll have a hard time getting users to part with $299 for one.
Jelly Bean Comes in July
When does the general public get Google Now, improved notifications, and faster performance from Android 4.1? Rollouts are scheduled to begin in July, but developers can get the preview SDK now. Of course, there's no telling when your phone will get it. That's between you and your carrier.
Google Now Does Traffic...Now
Google Now is a new feature in Android 4.1 that seems a lot like Siri, in that it can answer voice questions and help you plan your day. It integrates traffic and weather into your appointments so you can know when you have to leave to make it to that next place on time.
New Image Search in Jelly Bean
Just speak to your phone: "Show me pictures of Pygmy Marmosets!" and be prepared for cuteness overload. The voice search and dictation features in Android 4.1 seem impressive, and a big step up from what the platform currently offers.
Improved Android Notifications
Notifications are no longer passive, but active. The new notifications system lets you swipe down with two fingers to extend the notification, giving you more details and allowing you to interact with the notification.
Offline Voice Typing
A nice tweak on the voice dictation feature of Android - 4.1 allows for offline voice typing. The words appear as you talk, without sending data off to some internet server first. This feature is rolling out for U.S. English first, with other languages to follow.
Smart App Updates
It looks like Google has discovered "delta updates", where only the parts of your app that have changed are downloaded to users. This will save a lot of bandwidth and time, and it's a great feature, but it's not exactly a new invention. Various computer applications have done this sort of thing for years.
Play Store Content
Plenty of time during the Google I/O keynote was spent flaunting the extensive library of content on the Google Play store. TV shows, movies (now available for both purchase and rental), books, magazines, you name it. The layout in Android 4.1 on the Nexus 7 tablet is clean and attractive.
Google Play: Over 20 Billion Apps Installed
Are you easily impressed by large numbers? Google sure hopes so! There are now 600,000 apps and games in the Google Play store, and over 20 billion apps have been installed. For reference, Apple claims about 650,000 apps (225,000 for iPad) and over 30 billion installs.
Google thumped its chest a bit, cataloging the rapid growth of Google+. There are now over 250 million Google+ accounts, with over 150 million active monthly, and about 50% singing in daily. Without a more precise definition of these terms, it's hard to make direct comparisons to Facebook (does your phone automatically "sign in" when it checks for Google+ notifications? Do you sign in when you share something, even if you don't go to the site?).
Google+ is getting extensive new features for Events, including planning them with fancy invitations and calendar integration, a "party mode" to shoot and share pictures and video at the event, and group sharing of those moments after it's over.
The most popular feature of Google+ may be Hangouts, which have continuously improved since the launch of the service a year ago. And everybody loves The Muppets, so naturally Google had to roll out its Muppet Google Hangout video.
Google + Tablet App
Google+ has been available on phones, but strangely absent on tablets. As of today, you can explore Google+ on Android tablets, with the iPad app coming soon. Android tablet owners have waited a long time for this - it seems like something Google should have had from the start.
Attendees were treated to a neat update and demo of the Google Glass project, which is still a long way from being a commercial product. It looks like it still just takes photos and video, but in some cases, that's enough. Developers can get special developer preview glasses, but they cost $1500 and don't ship until 2013.
Google Glass 2
In one of the best stunts we've ever seen at a keynote presentation, skydivers jumped out of a plane, streaming the experience live to the convention center with Google Glasses. They landed on the roof of the Moscone Center, where bicyclists rode over the roof, rappelled down the side, and came into the hall. It was a great demonstration, but the glasses are still more of a science project than a product.