Google I/O 2013 announcements: A summary

May 17, 2013

While no hardware reveals were made at this year’s Google I/O conference, the search giant left fans slobbering over a cornucopia of announcements. Here’s your roundup.

At the event, Google confirmed that more than 900 million Android devices have been activated around the world; almost one device per every seven people in the world.

Speaking at the event, Sundar Pichai, head of Android and Chrome revealed that 500 million Android devices have been activated in the last 12 months alone.

“Two years ago, we announced we had over 100 million activations of Android,” said Pinchai. “Last year, we announced with had 400 million Android activations. The momentum has been breathtaking since then.”

He also revealed that 500 million of those activations occurred in the last 12 months alone.

Google Play Music All Access

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Google Play Music All Access is a music streaming service (music-on-demand) that launched in the US today for $9.99 a month. The company said it would announce details about international availability at a later date.

The service sets the company on a collision course with streaming rivals including Spotify, Rdio and Pandora. But unlike those, we hope that Google Music remembers us poor souls in the Middle East.

“Music unites us, it’s universal,” Google’s Chris Yerga said on stage. “We set out to build a music service that didn’t just give you access to a world of music, but helped to guide you through it.”

The service builds a list of songs based on your interests and what you listen to. Like Spotify, you can choose exactly the songs that you listen to. It can also be used as a “customized” radio service.

The service will be available on Android smartphones and tablets, as well as through a web browser. It is unclear if the company plans to launch it on rival platforms.

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Photos and gaming

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A number of new video game features for Android were also unveiled.

They include the ability to connect a players progress across different devices through online multiplayer. It also allows them to compare scores on leaderboards via its Google+ network. The leaderboard feature will also be offered to iOS device owners.

Such a service had been rumoured before the event.

Not everything went smoothly for Google though. A live demonstration of technical tools designed to make writing online multiplayer games for Android failed.

google play services-580-90

Google also unveiled a new cloud-based photo editing app.

The photo tool is designed to help people share better pictures, Google said. When you upload your photos, a new “Highlights” feature automatically emphasizes nice looking shots, and selectively “hides” images that are duplicates, blurry, or poorly shot. Its algorithms can amazingly recognize landmarks like the Cairo pyramids and smiling faces.

It will also offer a range of amazing smart tools for editing photos beyond those that are typically available through online services.

Many put the service on a collision course with tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The move comes at the perfect time for Google as Adobe looks to move to a cloud-only service offering.

On the photo front, every Google+ user will now have access to 15GB of free photo storage, and the company will automatically back up mobile pictures as the snaps are taken via Auto Backup (a.k.a Instant Upload).

Custom Samsung Galaxy S4

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Google also announced a customized version of Samsung’s recently released Galaxy S4. The smartphone will run the latest version of Android, not the customized version from Samsung.

“It’s Google’s take on Android, and it feels really awesome on the Galaxy S4,” said Hugo Barra, vice president for product management at Android.

This means Google’s version of the GS4 will be at the forefront of Android releases, getting them at the same time as Nexus devices. You would also be getting more usable space out of the 16 GB internal memory, since the heap of customizations on Samsung’s original version meant you were only left with 9 GB to fill up with cat photos.

Google+ redesign

 

Google’s failing social network is also getting a new design in an attempt to rekindle interest.

The redesigned service adds a multicolumn design that changes dynamically based on the device accessing it.

It also features dynamic tiles that allow people to “go deeper” into posts. This is controlled by tags. The user can either add them manually, or the Google’s system will look for cues of what to tag it.

Google used the example of a photo of the Eiffel Tower. While the user did not manual tag the photo, Google’s systems recognised it was a picture of the Eiffel Tower and tagged it so.

The new system allows people to search and view content based on similar content and/or tags.

“It’s very easy to see a long list of things shared with you, like a never ending newspaper,” explained Vic Gundotra, senior vice president, engineering for Google.

But it’s nearly impossible to go deeper on a topic or interest you have.

“We think we can fix that,” Gundotra added.

He also announced a new standalone Hangout app, which takes aim at other cross platform chat apps, including WhatsApp, BBM, Viber and Skype. The app will be available for both Android and iOS. It will also be accessible through web browsers.

The company is also adding voice-powered search to its Chrome web browser. The service has been available for a number of years now on Android devices, and on iOS through its Chrome browser.

The tool will also anticipate follow up questions. An example used by Google included asking where a themepark was based. Along with the information, it also automatically showed directions via Google Maps from a restaurant that had been booked earlier.

Google just might revolutionize the educational system

Google Play For Education is a specialized app store geared towards educators and students.

Educational apps are sorted out by topic and level (grade) can be pushed to the entire classroom by the teacher, while payment is made from a centralized (school’s?) account.

 

 

The new Hangouts: Chats, Video Chats, and Hangouts sync’d acrossed all platforms

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Google wants people to talk to one another no matter where they are or what platform they’re using thanks to its new Hangouts messaging system for Google+.

Hangouts, announced at Google IO, was the replacement name that we confirmed for “Babel” and now is very real. And speaking of replacements, Google plans for Hangouts to take over Google Talk.

App users will be able to start live group video conversations with up to 10 friends in what Google is calling a stand-alone version of Hangouts that combines text, photos and live video.

Users can take a conversation from device to device, and those messages will appear in a list format. All convos will be stored in the cloud, with users able to plug into conversations anytime, even if they aren’t connected.

 

The new Google Now, Now… The end of search as you know it

Google Now is much smarter, and is on (almost) all devices.

The three pillars of Now are what Google calls Answer, Converse and Anticipate experiences.

Made an inquiry to Google Now and got your answer? Follow it up by another referring to the answer as “it”. That’s Conversing.

Goole Now will also anticipate your upcoming inquiries and display them from the get go, saving you the hassle of posing another question.

End of search

Google Maps… Remapped

Google unveiled a raft of new features for its online maps service. The company has spent the last year collecting a huge amount of data from a variety of sources, including its Street View cars (which have no done 5 million miles across 50 countries), terrain and building data. This will allow the company to map out cities in even more detail, it said.

It also announced that it was ramping up local business data and bringing it to mobile via new apps for iOS and Android this summer.

The new apps will also bring live coverage of traffic accidents and alerts in the US. Google didn’t mention if this will be coming to the UK, but we imagine it will only be a matter of time before it does.

Google also unveiled a redesign of its online maps, similar to those that leaked earlier this month.

It claimed that they needed to re-write its mapping applications from the ground up in order to provide more personalised maps, immerse imagery, and a new user interface.

As a neat extra, the new Google Maps service will allow users to zoom out past the world map, to see the whole earth and then it’s place in the solar system. A view of Earth at night is also included.

According to Google, first invites for the new version of Google Maps will be sent out on Thursday with a public release at a later date.

Wrapping up the keynote, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page said that it is vital to get more people involved in technology.

He claimed that Android is now leading the push, with smartphones a key tool in helping people get involved.

“Technology should do the hard work, so you can get on and live your life,” he said. He added that developments in computing had never progressed at such a fast pace.

“We’re only at one per cent of what’s possible and we’re moving slowly relative to the opportunities we have,” he added.

“We’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible and what’s next.”

Maps

by Simon Khoury
Molecular Biologist turned technology journalist, Simon moved from browsing genomes to dissecting gadgets and putting them through T3's battery of tests. He is currently the Editor for T3me.com, and a contributing editor to the Arabic and English editions of T3 Middle East magazine. He takes special interest in high performance computer systems, high-end smartphones, the indie gaming scene, and productivity boosting software. He is also an avid reader, science afficionado and a picky gamer. You can contact him at webeditor(at)t3me.com.