Google I/O, Google’s much anticipated 3-day yearly event wrapped up with some pretty exciting announcements. The three-and-a-half soiree brought together 6,000 developers at the Moscone Center in San Francisco where CEO Larry Page spent time updating attendees on the latest in one of the world’s biggest and most popular tech companies.
Google didn’t hand out Chromebooks and Nexus devices in this year’s I/O, but it sure gave developers a lot of things to talk and write about. Here are the highlights:
No new Nexus, but a new Galaxy s4
Sadly, rumors of new versions of the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 and a new Nexus 11 tablet didn’t pan out. But Google made up for this by dropping the bomb on a new Galaxy S4 that’s going to ship with stock Android 4.2. Yup, you read that right. The pure Android version of Samsung’s flagship will do away with the Korean tech company’s TouchWiz software; instead, the smartphone will be automatically updated with Android’s latest OS directly through Google and will feature LTE support on carriers AT&T and T-Mobile. The modified version will come out this June via the Google Play Store with a hefty $649 pricetag. While it probably won’t have some of the S4’s newest features, the device will still appeal to hardcore Android fans who want powerful business phones.
Introducing the new Hangouts
Joining all other messaging apps out there is Google’s latest version of Hangouts, an all-in-one messaging app for Android, iOS, Chrome, and Gmail that replaced Google Talk. Perfect for Google fans, Hangouts integrates Google Talk and Google+ Messenger into one messaging platform. Joining a video hangout has also been made easier; now, you can simply tap on the video hangout button on your chat box. Best of all, conversations and notifications are synced between platforms, so you can easily switch between devices. Now if only Google can add SMS features, Hangouts would definitely be a great alternative to Facebook Messaging.
A fresh Google+
Taking a look at the new Google+ brings to mind a social network amalgam of Facebook, Pinterest, and Flickr. The magazine-style look looks fresh and more dynamic, although it could be a bit confusing at first for those used to the single vertical stream of Google posts. After some getting used to, you’ll be able to appreciate the clean feel of the new Google+. The best part is the new photo gallery which allows you to enhance your photos and shows you photo details like location, dimension, and camera settings.
Google plays music
Google Play Music All Access is Google’s foray into subscription-music, competing with popular online music providers Spotify, Pandora, Grooveshark, and Rdio. Just like other streaming services, Google Play Music offers on-demand music and features such as album recommendations, radio stations, and curated playlists. While Google’s service is just starting out and has a comparatively smaller library, you can most likely expect developers to improve on its features. Check out Google Play Music yourself with the 30-day free trial or $9.99 a month subscription.
Android game center
Giving credence to rumors the past weeks, Google unveiled its centralized gaming hub called Google Play Games. Confirmed at Google I/O, the Android gaming center showed off features such as cross-platform play between mobile devices, achievements, leaderboards, and cloud save.
A new racing game
Speaking of games, Google has also created a multiplayer game they call Racer to demo their new toolkit that syncs software across Android and iOS devices. Gamers line up their devices to create race tracks. They can the control the miniature cars onscreen from their own mobile and race each other. The game needs no downloads and apps. You simply need the Chrome Mobile browser to play. You can check Racer out yourself on this site.
Google in the classroom
Last February, Google pronounced that Chromebooks were the tablet of choice for over 2,000 schools in the U.S., directly challenging the dominance of iPad adoption in education. Google seems to be serious about dominating the education space as it announced in Google I/O the launch of its app store called Google Play for Education, which showcases specially curated apps for educators and students. The Verge also reports that the company is looking into making cheaper Android tablets.
Search with “OK Google”
Search just got a bit better with the Chrome voice search feature. Simply say “OK Google”, and a flashing mic icon will show up. You can then ask a question or give a command without having to click or tap to perform a search function. This “no-interface” feature built for Chrome and Chrome OS is reminiscent of Siri and other voice search tools. As shown in Google’s demo, you can personalize searches by natural voice commands such as “OK Google, show me my photos from New York last year.” The more information you give, the more successful your search will be.
Gmail and Google Wallet
Want to send cash to someone far away? No problem. Sending money is now oh-so-easy through Google. Gmail now lets you attach money to your email just like you would attach any old file. You’ll be charged 2.9 percent per transaction and the receiver will need to create a Google Wallet account before he can cash out.
An even better Google Maps
If you can’t get around with Google Maps, you’ll be happy to know that Google has refreshed its application, showing off a redesigned, faster, and more personalized version. Aside from Google Earth integration, the new Google Maps highlights the places most significant to you, like your office or home. Updates will also allow you to read reviews, receive Google offers, and rate restaurants.