Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, has kicked off in San Francisco and we thought we’d round up some of the biggest stories so far. We haven’t seen a wave of new smartphones or tablets, there’s no sign of Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie, but there were some interesting announcements. We’re talking about some big updates to major Google services, a new streaming music service, and some bits and pieces that should improve the overall Android experience.
The only phone that did make an appearance on day one was the stock Android Galaxy S4. It’s basically a Google version of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 without the TouchWiz user interface. Let’s take a closer look at the rest of the highlights so far.
Google Play Games
This is basically Google’s answer to Apple’s Game Center for iOS. Developers can choose to integrate a host of new features into their games. The best of the bunch is “Cloud save” which enables you to sync saved games across devices. You could play a game in your web browser at work, pick it up on your phone on the commute home, and then switch to your tablet when you get there. There are also some features to get your competitive spirit going with live multiplayer, social leaderboards of your friends and family, and achievements that can be earned.
Google Play Music All Access
Building on its existing Play Music service, Google will now be offering a subscription based music streaming service called All Access. For $9.99 per month users get unlimited access to a vast library of songs and you can search for tracks, artists or albums and make playlists. There’s also a radio station option for music discovery, which is a curated stream of music that you should like based on your past preferences and the music you own. Anyone familiar with Spotify will get it straight away. There’s no word on UK pricing or a release date for this, but the timing was obviously calculated, as Apple is expected to unveil its own music streaming subscription service next month. All Access is an Android-only service right now.
Google Maps Update
It could be the most useful free service that Google offers and Google Maps is about to get slightly better. Google recently released an iOS version and the Android version is being updated with the same UI. This will also bring new search features, the ability to highlight your favourite places, and recommendations of must-see places for you. Google Maps will draw data from Google+, so you might see a restaurant that was recommended by a friend. It will also pull in info from Zagat restaurant ratings, and special promotions from Google Offers. The promise is that Google Maps will become more personalized, so it may highlight specific points of interest related to the searches you do.
Google would really like you to forget about Facebook and use its social network. To that end Google+ has been revamped and overhauled with 41 new features. There’s a new layout, automatic hashtags, photo sharing tools, and a consolidated messaging and video chat option under the Hangouts feature. With the Hangouts app for Android and iOS you can video chat with groups of up to ten people. You’ll also enjoy 15GB of free space to store your photos and Google+ can automatically analyse your photos as you upload them and add relevant hashtags. You can also use your Google+ sign in with Google Play Games and share music from All Access via Google+. Throw in the tie-in with data being pulled into Google Maps as well, and you can see some real consolidation going on as Google+ worms its way into everything.
Google Glass Apps
If you can’t wait to get your hands on Google’s enhanced reality glasses then you might be interested in some of the apps that will be available. We already know there’s a Path and New York Times app, Google showed off CNN, Elle, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Evernote. Mostly they show feeds and breaking news, the CNN app includes video. With Facebook you can post photos directly from the glasses and Evernote lets you record and send notes.
Google Glass also has its first game, Ice Breaker, which notifies you when another player is nearby and then you can introduce yourselves, photograph each other, and rate your conversation. Could be great, could be horribly awkward.
Is that it?
The lack of hardware is a surprise, as is the fact we didn’t see a new version of Android, if not version 5.0, Key Lime Pie, we thought that 4.3, Jelly Bean, would show its face, but it seems Google was keen to show it can improve Android without having to roll out an update. Considering that updates can take a long time to reach people, and not everyone gets them, this could be a very good thing. On the other hand, we probably will see a new version of Android before the summer’s end.