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    July 5, 2012

    Google I/O: A roundup of what we saw

    Last week Google I/O, the annual developer conference hosted by the search giant, came with a storm of new products and technical titbits. We have had some time to digest the Google goodness, and we will go into more detail after we take a step back and look at all that Google brought to the table.

    A lot of excitement fluttered about with anticipation of the Nexus tablet launch. Also, some questions were bound to be raised over Google‘s ability to counter the threats from Apple, with iOS 6, and more recently Microsoft, with the Surface. As expected, many of the announcements we saw during the week were in response to these threats and to close the gap to Apple in certain areas of the mobile market.

    One of the opening remarks from Google was that its various hardware partners have sold over 400 million Android devices, and that over 1 million Android phones and tablets are being activated every day. To compare, last year at the Google I/O, they announced that a total of 100 million devices had shipped.

    Google have never shied away from a challenge. As we know, most of its revenue comes from advertising, mainly in search. This means, of course, that most of the Google products don‘t actually make the company any money. They are continuously pushing to give the consumer an experience to encompass what they know and love about Google, together with the latest technology to refine their core business and help it grow. Let‘s take a look at some of the announcements made.

    Nexus 7

    One of the worst kept secrets of the conference was the Nexus 7 tablet announcement and was consumer wise, probably the most important for Google. The name Nexus is Google‘s family of hardware, with the most recent example being the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

    The 7-inch tablet runs the new version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean (which we will get to later). This tablet is aimed at competing with Amazon‘s Kindle Fire. It is also priced at $199, or $249 for more memory, which is the same as the Fire, with the added bonus of $25 Google Play Store credit. However, it offers some high performance specs for a device of that price, although it does have some notable features missing, as you would expect.

    It has a 1280 x 800 HD display, which is not far off Apple‘s retina display in terms of pixel density. It does not have a rear facing camera, but let‘s face it, no one really takes photos with their tablets (enter, smartphone). A front facing camera is included for video chat. It also includes 1 GB of RAM, and the new nVidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor. With specs comparable with flagships tablets, it should sell like hotcakes, or at least in the US. How South African consumers will respond is another question.

    Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

    The latest iteration of the Android OS has arrived, and to much fanfare. It is not a complete revamp of the operating system like Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was, but rather an incremental improvement (as the 4.1 version and not 5.0 would suggest). That being said, there are a LOT of enhancements and new features.

    • First of all, true to Google history, Search has been revamped. It has a new UI (but I prefer the ICS one) and it is much faster. Voice search is also greatly enhanced.
    • Google announced something called “œProject Butter“, which makes Jelly Bean such a joy to use. It makes it much smoother and quicker, with frame rates of up to 60 FPS. According to Google, it will even predict where your finger wants to land on the display (is it just me, or is that quite scary?).
    • Widgets, one of Android‘s unique features, has been updated. When one changes the size of a widget, apps on the homescreen will automatically shift to make room for it.
    • Android notifications have been changed. It is an improvement on the ICS notifications, although I don‘t see how that is even possible, as they were near perfect.
    • Predicted text has been improved, and voice typing can now be used offline.
    • The camera has been improved through the OS, and it is easier to view photos than before.
    • GOOGLE NOW! Looks like an amazing new feature on Jelly Bean, but we will get to that later.

    Google says it is the fastest version of Android yet. “œEvery corner of Android was touched“ according to the opening keynote address. I am one of the blessed individuals with a Nexus brand device, meaning I will be getting the Jelly Bean update first, that will be rolling out in late July to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Motorola Xoom.

    Nexus Q

    The Nexus Q is what Google calls “the first social streaming media player.” It is already available in the Google Play Store in the US (where you can buy devices directly from Google), retail price of $299 for a 16GB model. It‘s a 4-inch metal ball, running on Chrome OS.

    It works with any Android smartphone or tablet, and with Google Play. It streams music and videos to your sound system, pair of speakers, or HDTV. It allows you to come together with friends via your phone or tablet to put together music or video playlists.

    Google hopes to power media throughout your whole house with its apps and services, seamlessly connecting to other Nexus Q‘s nearby. It does seem like an awful amount of money to spend on such a device, though, especially since content in SA will be very limited for some time.

    Project Glass

    This project has been floating around for some time, first having been officially announced back in April. From the get-go it seemed impressive, but we were all wondering where this was going. Luckily, Google co-founder Sergey Brin gave a demo of the device. The head-mounted computer is supposed to integrate into all aspects of our lives. However, I doubt whether most people would be caught dead with it on their head out in public.

    Google had five people jump out of a blimp while wearing it, showing how they actually podcasted their jump in real time via a Google Hangout! As part of the demonstration, Google prepared the following video:

    The hardware for Google Glass includes a camera, speaker, microphone, and touchpad on the side, presumably to interact with certain things you see. It also includes a gyroscope and accelerometers, a compass, and radios for data connection.

    It is expected to be available to consumers in 2014, with a prototype build available to certain members of the media next year, at a price of $1500. Let us hope that that’s not the actual retail price when it launches.

    Google Now

    Without a doubt, this is the announcement we are most excited about, and will have the biggest impact on consumers on a day to day basis. It truly has the potential to change the way we live.

    It uses your search history, calendar and all other Google services you use or have used to put together information applicable only in the context of the person using it. This is happening continuously, without you having to instruct it to do anything. It can figure out where you are going and whether it‘s the quickest way, whether it would be quicker to walk there or sit in the traffic, when a bus might come along the route. If you are in town, it can see what the restaurant you are entering is best known for, and remember to remind you of the score of your favourite team currently playing. It will show you how far away your meeting is if en route. It‘s incredible to think that your device can know so much about you and how you live.

    It is also Google‘s attempt at beating Apple at one of its most renowned features, Siri. But it is so much more than a mere competitor for voice commands. It is beautifully designed and brings a level of intuitive functionality never before seen on an Android device, or any other for that matter.

    Google Now predicts what you want and when you want it. The algorithms going into these features must be mind-boggling. It is truly astounding how Google can extract so much information from a limited source, you.

    If you have arrived at your destination at an airport, Google Now will show you the train schedule for departures at that airport, or where the car rental service is. If you happen to be in Tokyo, it would tell you how to say “œHi“ in Japanese. It shows you a great personalized view of the city you live in, for example Berlin. It even changes the background of the city landscape according to the time of day.

    It will be fascinating to see how Google takes this idea further, and how Google Now evolves. The possibilities certainly do seem endless. It must be the biggest threat to Apple and the iPhone in a very long time.

    So what do you think of Google I/O and everything that was announced? Please leave your comments and questions below.

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