Google music streaming service, Gmail improvements, and Galaxy S4 to come with stock Android Jelly Bean 4.2
If you weren't one of the 6 million people who tuned in to YouTube to watch the Google I/O 2013 keynote on Wednesday, don't sweat it, you've come to the right place for an extensive recap of all the big announcements. Some of it you may have already read about here on Maximum PC, such as Google partnering with Samsung to offer a totally clean version of the Galaxy S4 complete with an unlocked bootloader or the introduction of an All Access music service, but we also have some new stuff to share.
Technically the event is still going on -- it's a three-day event -- and while the news keeps pouring in, a lot of what's now being revealed are product statistics and minor software updates, like Heat Maps and Symbols being added to the Google Maps API -- not exactly 'knock-your-socks-off' news. There's plenty of interesting tidbits to share, however, so let's get started!
From humble beginnings as an operating system that was originally developed for digital cameras, Android over the past decade has grown into the most popular mobile OS in the world. Just how popular is the open source platform? Google revealed rather early in its opening keynote that Android is now installed on 900 million devices.
"There are over 7 billion people on this planet, so we have a long way to go and we think the journey is just getting started," Google's Sundar Pichai quipped on stage.
What's interesting about Android's dominance in mobile is that it's only scratched the surface of available users. While Pichai may have been semi-joking about getting Android devices into the hands of 7 billion people, Android's penetration in most territories around the world is less than 10 percent, albeit "growing very, very fast."
Underscoring Android's popularity is the number of app downloads to date, which Google pegs at 48 billion. To put that number into perspective, consider that it's just 2 billion shy of Apple, which recently announced 50 billion iOS app downloads.
In just the last month alone, Android users have installed 2.5 billion apps. Beyond bragging rights, all these numbers translate into revenue for developers, who have been paid more money in the last four months than in all of last year. The revenue per user is up 2.5x what it was a year ago. Not too shabby.
Google announced a bunch of new APIs for Android developers as part of a robust update to its Google Play services, including three new Android location-based tools. They are:
A low-power location mode that uses less than 1 percent of battery life per hour.
Geofenching: Lets you define virtual fences around geographic areas, which are triggered when a user enters or exits any of them. Developers can have 100 simultaneous geofences active per app.
Activity Recognition: Uses accelerometer data to determine whether a user is walking, cycling, or riding without tapping into the battery-sucking GPS.
Another new API is one that allows for cross-platform single sign-ons with Google+. The benefit for users is that they don't have to sign into apps separately on different devices, so if you open an app using your Google+ account, you're logged in whether you fire it up on the web, on your smartphone, or with your Android tablet.
Leveling Up Google Play
You'll notice some changes to Google Play over the course of the next few weeks. Google's putting a much bigger focus on movie, music, and book recommendations based on the content you consume and what items prompt your friends to mash the +1 button.
Google Play will also do a better job adapting to whichever device you're using. The same content will be available whether you're viewing Google Play on your notebook's browser or your tablet, but it will be presented differently on each to take advantage of the different form factors.
Google Gets Into Streaming Music
Okay, enough with the APIs, backend infrastructure, and UI enhancements, let's get to the fun stuff. One of the big announcements Google made was its new All Access streaming music service. This is the next logical step in the evolution of Google's foray into music, which began with it offering an online locker for users to upload 20,000 songs of their own that could then be streamed to multiple devices. After that, Google launched a music store, and now this.
For a monthly fee (normally $9.99, though if you sign up by June 30, it's $7.99), you can tap into Google's catalog of millions of songs, but it's more than just that. There are curated playlists by Google's expert music editors and 22 top level genres to sift through, with more to drill into. Best of all, you can immediately start playing anything you see in All Access, as nothing is grayed out.
There's quite a bit of fine grain control, too. Anything you listen to can be turned into a radio station. If you're curious about what the unseen DJ has picked out, you can take a look at the playlist and swipe away any songs you don't want to hear, You can also rearrange the order of songs in your queue.
All Access offers the same features across multiple devices. It's available now with a 30-day free trial.
Samsung Galaxy S4 as You've Always Wanted It (Unlocked)
The other big reveal is the one we talked about at the beginning. Coming soon to Google Play is a special version of Samsung's Galaxy S4 device. Unlike the one that's currently available, this one will ship with an unlocked bootloader. it will also feature a squeaky clean version of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, delivering the same software experience that Google ships on its Nexus devices.
Like the Nexus line, this version of the Galaxy S4 will receive Android upgrades "promptly" with every system platform update, which means no more waiting around for weeks and months for your device maker and wireless carrier to get on the ball with the latest version of Android. Speaking of which, it will work on both AT&T and T-Mobile.
That's the good news. And the bad? Well, it's going to cost a whopping $649 when it becomes available starting June 26.
Chrome Dominates the Web
As far as Google is concerned, the various versions of Chrome collectively add up to the most used browser on the planet. It's added 300 million active users in the past 12 months, giving it a userbase that's now over 750 million strong, and climbing. Many of those new users are accessing Chrome on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
If those numbers are even remotely accurate, it's easy to see why Google is sticking with its Chromebook platform, which runs the company's Chrome OS. Providing further incentive to push Chromebooks onto the masses is data from Amazon that shows the $249 Samsung Chromebook as being the No. 1 selling laptop for 199 consecutive days.
"It's an ecosystem play and we have many more partners joining our journey," Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pinchai added.
Click the next page to see why you might want to start using Google+
Get ready for a different Google+ experience than the one you're currently used to, assuming you're using the service. To take advantage of widescreen displays and to address the flatness of feeds, Google+ will be switching to a multi-column card design. This will make your feed more visually appealing, and on the backend, Google+ will optionally have the ability to automatically add hashtags. What for? If you spy the Eiffel Tower above, you'll notice there's no mention of what it is. However, Google knows, and if you click the card, it will present related information. Here's a short demo:
Related to Google+, Google introduced Google+ Hangouts for mobile devices during its event. It's a standalone app with a heavy focus on conversations, and it's available on Android, Chrome, Gmail, and iOS. It will keep a history of long-running conversations, though you can turn off the history and/or delete entries you're rather keep private.
Like everything else, there's an emphasis on making Hangouts visually appealing. There might be pictures and videos scattered throughout your long-running conversation, and according to Google, it just "feels alive." Subtle animations show when people join and where they're reading, so that it feels like you're all in the same room together. And of course it's all synced, so if you swipe something away on iOS, it's also gone on your other devices.
Finally, Google is making an effort to make photos less labor and time-intensive by making its data center your darkroom. In other words, the cloud will handle some of the time sucking tasks that are related to cleaning up photos.
It starts with backups, something Google already offers, only now it's giving you 15GB of free unified cloud storage, which you can allocate however you want between Gmail, Drive, and Google+ Photos.
Much more interesting, however, is Google's Highlight feature. If you think about the number of photos you're likely to take on vacation, it quickly becomes a daunting task when you get back home and discover there are hundreds, if not thousands of snapshots to sift through and edit. What ends up happening is you tuck them into a folder telling yourself you'll come back and power through them when you have more time, but that time never comes.
Google proposes it can pick out the best pictures of the bunch for you. Sounds too good to be true, right? Time will tell, but it sounds promising. It's not just a crapshoot wherein Google hopes to get lucky, there's some intelligent sifting going on. For example, Google won't highlight blurry photos, and if it detects duplicate images, it will pick no more than one of them. It also looks for poorly exposed photos and narrows down photos based on other factors, such as whether or not there are people in the picture and if they're smiling. It will even attempt to detect family members, giving those photos a social boost.
A little less interesting is Google's auto-enhance feature, as we've found similar tools to be of limited value. However, Google promises dramatic results using tonal distribution, skin softening, noise reduction, white balancing, red eye removal, and a whole bunch more.
Better Looking Google Maps
Google Maps rocks, that's something most of us can agree on. If you liked it before, you're going to love the new version, which Google rebuilt from "the ground up." Upon logging into Google Maps, restaurants and other places you frequently visit will be highlighted. You can also see more of the map by shoving aside and hiding the sidebar menus. There are Info Cards that provide details about different businesses and locales, some of which even show photos of the establishment you're looking up.
Send Money Through Gmail
Lastly, Google announced that it's folding Google Wallet into Gmail. Now you can send money to family and friends through Gmail, even if the recipients don't have a Gmail address. It's free to send money if you link your bank account to Google Wallet, or if you're using your Google Wallet balance.
In Gmail, just click the dollar sign icon to attach money to your message, and then send away. Some of you will see this feature now, others will see it over the coming months.
If you wanted to check out the entire Google I/O 2013 Keynote, check out the video below.
That wraps up the more interesting highlights of Google I/O 2013. Were you impressed or disappointed by Google's event? Let us know in the comments below!