I/O is Google’s biggest event of the year, a three-day soiree for the company and its developers to talk about the present and future of Google’s products. It’s also the week Google tends to make its biggest announcements — from the Nexus 7 to Google TV, Chrome to Glass and everything in between, Google plays its biggest cards every year in the middle of May.
This year’s rumors began almost as soon as last year’s I/O ended. Would 2013 be the year Google merged Chrome OS and Android into a single operating system, under Sundar Pichai’s leadership? Would Google release a new tablet (or several)? Was Google Now poised to take over the internet? What about new apps for Glass? Add in Google’s penchant for device giveaways — last year’s attendees went home with a Chromebook, Chromebox, Nexus 7, Nexus Q, and Galaxy Nexus – and the expectations were through the roof.
So we sat down in the giant conference room at the Moscone Center, along with 6,000 Google developers, and over the next three and a half hours Google told us what it’s been up to all year, and what’s coming for 2014. And we all spent some time with CEO Larry Page. We didn’t leave covered in Chromebook Pixels and Google Glass, but here’s what we did learn.
Get started with the 3.5 minute supercut of the full keynote below:
One chat room to rule them all
With the latest version of Hangouts, Google finally rolled its various messaging solutions like Talk and Google+ Messenger into one. And yep, Google Voice integration is on the way. Hangouts is most simply a messaging app for iOS, Android, Chrome, and Gmail. All your conversations stay in sync between each platform, just like with Facebook Messenger. Entering a video hangout is now just one tap (or click) away, since there’s a video hangout button at the top of every text conversation. Google hasn’t yet said if SMS integration will ever make its way into Hangouts, but we have high expectations for the feature. Only then could Google complete its perfect messaging platform: text, video, voice calls, and chat, all in one place.
Auto-awesome your photos
Just one year ago, Google+ got a fresh coat of paint, and today, it received yet another. Google’s social network has a new newspaper-style mosaic layout that spreads posts out over your entire page width, instead of having one vertical stream. Every story is on top of a "card," which you can flip over to reveal related hashtags (which Google intelligently adds) and comments on the post. Most importantly, the new version of Google+ includes a new photo gallery that enhances, categorizes, and styles your photos. It can remove wrinkles, make duplicates disappear, and highlight the photos its algorithms thinks are your best. The goal is to be the new Flickr, but powered by Google, of course. That’s okay with us.
Android & Google Play
Google takes on Spotify
Google Play Music All Access is Google’s mouthful of an entry into the subscription-music ring, joining competitors like Spotify and Rdio. Available now with a free 30-day trial, the streaming music service is similar to what we’ve seen before, offering on-demand music from within your browser, the Google Music Android app, and on mobile browsers. No word yet on an iOS app just yet. Pricing has been announced at $9.99 a month but unlike Spotify and Rdio, All Access has no ad-supported tier. Check out our full hands-on here.
Android becomes a game console
Google’s answer to Apple’s Game Center, which leaked over the weekend, made its debut onstage at I/O. Android’s game service includes achievements cloud saves, matchmaking, and leaderboards. And it works across platforms, so developers can implement it on iOS and the web.
An app store for your classroom
In a challenge to Apple’s dominance of the education market, Google unveiled a new play for the classroom called Google Play for Education. Scheduled to launch this fall, it’s a custom app store curated to show off apps useful to students and educators. The company said it would also make getting Android tablets cheaper and easier, but did not elaborate.
No new Nexus, but a special Galaxy S4 instead
The hardware story at I/O today was as much about what wasn’t announced as what was: rumors of refreshed versions of the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 had made the news in recent weeks, but neither actually made it to the event. Instead, we got something out of left field — a "de-Samsunged" version of the Galaxy S4 that’s shipping with stock Android 4.2 instead of the Korean company’s extensive suite of UI tweaks and custom apps. For many Android users who’ve been long clamoring for the "ultimate" smartphone, this certainly has to jump near the top of the list; unlike the Nexus 4, the GS4 features LTE support on both T-Mobile and AT&T. It’ll be available in late June for $649, putting it on par with full off-contract prices for both the 32GB HTC One Developer Edition and the 16GB iPhone 5.
Not much from Google TV
Google TV went largely ignored during today’s I/O keynote. It was only after the presentation’s conclusion that Google announced new software updates for the platform. Android 4.2.2 is en route along with a new, current version of Chrome. By itself, these changes are minor, but bringing Google TV up to date will make porting smartphone apps and games to the TV screen far easier for developers. LG’s own press release confirms as much, promising that "games that provide a greater level of interactivity and advanced graphics" are on the way. Unfortunately, that won’t actually happen for several months — long after Ouya reaches consumer’s hands.
Search and Maps
Searching with "OK Google"
The big update to Search is a "no-interface" approach in Chrome that lets you prompt the service by saying "OK Google," with no other keystrokes or screen taps necessary. From there, you can perform standard search tasks like asking for directions or searching the web, but also set voice reminders, send emails and search for media attached to your Google+ account. (One example: "OK Google, show me my photos from New York last year.") Google Now also got new cards with public transportation data and book, movie, and music recommendations.
New-look maps, better directions
Google Maps has been redesigned on the desktop and on mobile applications, with the new versions faster and more personalized than they have been before. The ground-up redesign on the desktop shows the map in full screen, integrates Google Earth information and vector maps, and highlights important locations like your home, workplace, and restaurants you may like using the company’s now-familiar cards. The update is also coming to Android and iOS, where users will be able to rate restaurants and view Zagat reviews from within the app, as well as receive Google Offers. The app will include live traffic alerts and suggest new routes based on current road conditions, and an iPad version will finally arrive "this summer."
Chrome and more
A racing game… called ‘Racer’
There were a lot of backend tools on display – including new WebP and WebM compression and new WebGL integration – but the most impressive demo came from a toolkit Google has built into Chrome for syncing software across iOS and Android devices. To show it off, Google created a multiplayer racing game called Racer that let users control tiny Hot Wheels-style cars by tapping their device’s screens. The track extended across the screen of every device, with each one featuring a different part of the track.
Attach money to your emails
One of the simplest features unveiled at I/O was an unexpected crossover between Gmail and Google Wallet, rolling out now. Click the new dollar-sign button in the Gmail Compose window and you’ll open up a Google Wallet dialogue that lets you attach money to your email the same way you’d attach a file. There’s a 2.9 percent fee per transaction unless you set up a bank account, and anyone receiving money will need to set up a Google Wallet account before they can cash out.