This week, Google invited the tech press and Android developers to San Francisco for the 2013 edition of the Google I/O conference. The search giant uses this gathering to talk about Google and web products, like Android, Chrome and other Google-branded applications.
Last year, I/O attendees saw the introduction of the Nexus 7 tablet, learned about Android 4.1 and got an early glimpse at Google Glass.
This year’s announcements didn’t bring any new hardware or groundbreaking surprises, but did reveal promising upgrades and improvements to Google’s core services.
Google Play Music All Access
Google has entered the streaming music fray with Google Play Music All Access (http://play.google.com/about/music/), a subscription service that aims to provide the best of existing services in one package.
All Access subscribers can listen to music from their own collection or choose from a pool of “millions” of songs that the service provides. Users can also purchase songs from the Play store to include in their libraries. A Pandora-like radio feature allows for random listening experiences.
Like competitors Spotify and Rdio, All Access is a paid service, but a 30-day free trial is available. Early adopters can also lock in a $7.99 monthly fee (the service will eventually settle at $9.99 a month).
Though Google+ (http://plus.google.com) wasn’t the Facebook killer Google hoped it would be, the company committed further to the platform, overhauling it with a new look and focus.
The new Google+ interface features a 3 column layout with a heavy focus on images and multimedia content. The platform also has new tools that will auto tag photos based on content and automatically create gifs or HDR remixes of dynamic content.
Google+ is a clean, nice service to use; hopefully the new changes push more users to the service, creating competition among social networking sites.
The pre-existing Google Hangouts product was a video communications tool capable of letting 2 or more users videoconference. This product has been merged into a new instant messaging platform, also called Hangouts.
The new Hangouts is a Google+ feature that combines the functionality of Google Talk, Messenger and the original Hangouts into one product.
Like iMessage, Hangouts provides a way to more immediately communicate than through traditional text messaging. Messages and content are saved in Google’s cloud, for access across devices. Hangout photos and content are saved in the user’s Google+ account, creating a quick and easy way to recall and access information from previous conversations.
A redesign for one of Google’s strongest products, Maps, was announced at I/O.
The new Maps brings the platform more in line with Google’s new, streamlined aesthetic. Along with sleeker controls and a minimalist design, map tiles have been replaced by quicker-loading vector maps, which also sport a new color scheme.
Google Maps can also learn about your travel destinations and provide suggestions about restaurants, hotels and attractions you might like. It will also pull suggestions for destinations from those liked by friends on Google+.
Street view and Google Earth technologies are also deeply integrated into the new Maps, providing street-level photography of local neighborhoods and 3D city imagery.
To view a preview of the new Maps, see Google’s landing page here: http://bit.ly/141wueG.
Google Play game services
As Android continues to battle iOS for mobile marketshare, Google has upgraded the Android and Play game experience.
New Google Play game services will provide new services for Android gamers, like cross-platform cloud saves, achievements, leaderboards and matchmaking. Apple device users have enjoyed these features as part of the iOS Game Center experience since 2010.
Android developers will also have some new tools available for Play users, like cross-platform sign on, more efficient location services and cloud messaging.
Google may not have unleashed any killer-app products at I/O this year, but they have shown a strong commitment to improving the user experience on Android and their web services.
To view view more information about the 2013 I/O conference, view the official hub at https://developers.google.com/events/io/.