Google’s annual Google I/O developers conference kicked off today in San Francisco, CA with a live crowd of 6,000 in attendance, including our own Jake Ludington. Over one million people tuned in for the YouTube live stream as well.
Expected announcements prior to the event included: Google Glass, updates to Google+ and Google Maps, a possible streaming music service, and a potential update to Google TV. These expectations were hit-or-miss, with much of the keynote’s actual emphasis being on developer tools, search, maps, and the future of Google+. There were no notable announcements surrounding Google TV or Google Glass.
The Google I/O keynote kicked off while the line of attendees still streaming out the auditorium door. The live stream kicked off with a countdown followed by a series of highlights surrounding Google’s existing service lineup, Android OS, and some of its more popular third-party applications.
APIs and Developer Information
The keynote started with a focus on developers and Android. With over 900 million Android devices being sold, Android is now the largest mobile platform in the world.
Hugo Barra announced that 48 billion app sales have taken place through Google Play, Android’s integrated app store. Over the last four months, more money has been paid to developers via Google Play than all of 2012. This includes a 2.5-fold increase in revenue per user (RPU).
Google+ sign-in, which lets people sign in to app with existing google credentials, is being extended to introduce cross-platform single sign-on functionality. Sign-ins are consistent across all devices logged in using the same Google+ account.
An option to automatically install a site’s app on mobile Android device when a user signs in with a Google+ account is also possible, making it easier to experience a site’s offering across every device in a way that is optimized for each platform.
Some updates to Google Cloud Messaging were also outlined, expanding on Google’s emphasis on having the same experience from one device to the next.
Google also announced a new family of APIs built for game developers. These APIs are intended to expand on the already existing API capabilities to include options that make it easier for users to pick up where they left off on a game from one device to the next.
Cloud Save makes it possible to start a game on your smartphone and pick it up from your tablet or browser, without having to repeat progress you’ve already made. This, coupled with new Achievements APIs give you the ability to form a trophy wall and save achievements to compare with friends in your Google+ circles.
Android Studio launched to include the community edition of Intellij with the goal of making app development faster and more productive. This new platform gives developers the ability to render their code in real-time and see examples of their project as it would appear on a number of different devices, simultaneously. In addition, language support gives you the opportunity to see how your text appears in various languages to eliminate any of the layout mismatches various translations might create.
Ellie Powers, a member of the Android product team, announced a number of features coming to the Google Developer Console including analytics, optimization tips, revenue metrics, and more. Perhaps the most well-received of these announcements was the addition of beta testing and staged rollouts, allowing developers to release beta versions of their apps prior to rolling out to their entire audience.
Google Play now includes personalized recommendations based on your existing purchases, in addition to content your friends have shared on Google+.
Google Play Music now offers an All Access service in addition to the existing pay-per-track offering. This is a Pandroa and Spotify-like music service that intends to give access to Google’s extensive music library to users for a monthly fee. Like Pandora, it recommends music based on information Google has gathered about specific genres and music types you like, as well as recommended tracks from industry experts, and key tracks that defined a genre.
You can turn any track you’re listening to into a radio station complete with the ability to “swipe away” any tracks you don’t want to hear. You can actually see the upcoming tracks well in advance of hearing them. You can also listen to specific tracks via search, much like Spotify.
You can also add tracks from All Access to your library, combining them with tracks you’ve uploaded using Google Locker. This is where Google’s ambitions to compete directly with Spotify, Rhapsody, and Pandora become more clear.
Google Play Music All Access is available to existing Google users for $9.99 per month in the U.S. only, and has a 30-day free trial avaialble. If you sign up for the service prior to June 30th, you can do so at a price of $7.99/month.
Samsung Galaxy S4
In what may have been one of the more curious announcements concerning Android devices, a Samsung Galaxy S4 running vanilla Android 4.2 Jelly Bean available directly through Google Play in the US, unlocked, with 16 GB of memory, an unlocked bootloader, at a price of $649. This is a far cry from the current Nexus 4 device which costs less than half that, but it does include some of the more advanced hardware that makes the Samsung Galaxy S4 a bit more appealing to some users.
Google is releasing a new design to the Google+ stream as part of a 41 feature enhancement, adding multi-column navigation across all devices. The new stream resembles a newsletter more than the traditional vertical social feed.
Google is also rolling out a feature called Related Hashtags which will automatically add hashtags to posts in order to allow users to go into more detail concerning related topics. Upon clicking one of these hashtags, the post flips and reveals related content from top accounts and socially-related sources. These hashtags are determined by a combination of features, including image analysis that determines what a shared image is a photo of. Users have the option to turn this feature on or off, and they can delete any misapplied or inappropriate hashtags applied by Google.
Google+ Hangouts is also becoming a stand-alone application that makes it easier for users to communicate with others across a long period of time. A conversation in Hangouts can take place between multiple users over a period of months or years. This feature is available via the Web, Android, and iOS right away.
Image storage for full-resolution image has also been upped from 5GB to 15GB, and Google+ is committed to supporting full-resolution photos on the network, natively. In addition, a new feature promises to take your photos and choose the best ones based on a complex algorithm based on image blur, duplicates, bad exposures, landmarks, people, aesthetic quality, and affinity based on circles.
Image enhancement is also a big change. By uploading an image to Google+, you gain the ability to take advantage of Google’s automatic enhancement which attempts to mimic the type of modifications a professional photographer might make in Photoshop. This is still a largely automatic process, but it could be seen as a viable solution for amateur photographers.
You can also have your photos become part of a motion-capture series, HDR image, and more. In a sense, Google is attempting to make Google+ a viable alternative to popular photo programs like iPhoto on OS X.
Google Maps is adding a few new features to make the mobile maps experience a little different. For one, Google Offers is now integrated, allowing you to spot and redeem offers from your mobile device while searching with Google Maps.
In addition, Zagat reviews are included which give you access to expert reviews in addition to Google’s user reviews for restaurants, and other establishments.
Google Explore also gives you immediate access to popular nearby hotspots for specific activities. For example, you can select Play to see theaters and other entertainment venues, Sleep to see hotels and motels, and Shop to find stores near you.
In what is perhaps the biggest announcement for Google Maps during the keynote, Google unveiled an entirely new design, including an OpenGL framework which takes advantages of some of the latest innovations for the Web. Google also did away with pins in favor of dots which are laid out throughout the map. Additionally, Google Maps is customized per user, so you can see places your friends on Google+ have recommended.
User-generated photo spheres add the ability for users to create virtual walkthroughs of popular locations by snapping them with their camera and submitting them to Google Maps. In addition, you can zoom out and experience Google Earth without needing to install a single plugin within Google Maps. Clouds appear on the globe in real-time, updated via satellite.
Google is launching three new location APIs for its Google Maps services. This includes a Fused Location Provider, which reduces battery strain from location-based apps and improves location tracking.
Geofencing is also new to the Google Maps API family. It allows developers to create support for virtual fences around geographical areas. These can trigger when user enters or exits the area. Each app can support 100 active fences, simultaneously.
Google has also added an activity recognition API allowing developers to create applications that support activities using location-aware components. This would come in handy for apps that track jogging trails and provide support for workouts. Scavenger hunts are also useful applications for this API.
Larry Page closed out the keynote with a touching speech about technology and how it has empowered the world to move past its humble beginning and allow people the freedom to do more with their lives. He then took questions from the audience.