It’s Google I/O time again, and day 1 has brought some incredible action to the event. And I really do mean action, of the zeppelin-skydiving, squirrel-suit-flying, convention-center-roof-jumping and rappelling-down-buildings sort. But more on that later, let’s talk about what was announced.
Jellybean – Android 4.1
First up is Android 4.1, known as, yes, Jelly Bean. No surprise there. The big feature that got a lot of pleased reactions was Project Butter, Google’s attempt at addressing complaints that Android feels slower than iOS.
They’ve gone over how the operating system works and responds to touch with an eye towards every little thing they can do to make everything “buttery smooth” — hence the project name. The results were impressive. They used RED cameras operating at 300 frames per second to record the response times of devices running Jelly Bean and Ice Cream Sandwich, with Jelly Bean clocking in much faster.
There are many other improvements throughout, including auto-arranging of icons, magic resizing, predictive keyboard, improved dictionary, and–another highlight–hugely improved voice interface. It was impressive in the demo, the voice was noticeably better than Siri’s voice, and it was capable of taking accurate dictation with the ability to recognize the context of a sentence, realize it made a mistake several words ago, and automatically fix it.
Take that, Apple.
Still, we’ll have to see how it works out in the wild to really get a sense of it. Naturally, you can expect that Google only demoed it with queries it knew it could handle nicely.
They’ve made strides with accessibility as well, including improved language support and 18 new languages, as well as many improvements to aid the blind, including external braille input.
Search has been drastically improved using Google’s knowledge graph in something they’re calling Google Now. They’ve gone down the road of using what the device knows about you from your search history, your calendar and your location to be able to predict things you’ll want to know about. It’ll also learn your patterns and schedules. If you habitually take the bus, for instance, it’ll know how long you take to get to the bus stop and will tell you when the bus is going to arrive. It looks like an incredibly powerful feature, though it does have some possible creepy factor to it, too.
One feature they kind of rushed past was “application encryption,” which is their way of saying DRM. It’s available in Android 4.1, to some developers’ delight and many consumers’ woe. Smart app updates that only require you to download the parts that have changed are a more welcome addition.
Android 4.1 will start rolling out to Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, and Xoom devices starting in mid-July, and the SDK is already available.
Galaxy Nexus 7 Tablet
Positioned right at a price point that makes it competitive with the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 tablet looks pretty impressive. It runs Android 4.1, of course, and it’s built for Google Play. Google partnered with Asus to make it, and it boasts:
- A 7″, 1280×800 HD display at 216 ppi
- 1.2MP front-facing camera
- 16 GB internal storage
- 1 GB RAM
- 8 hours of battery life
- Quad-core Tegra 3 processor
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- A micro-USB port
- And some other features you might expect, like microphone, NFC (“Android Beam”), accelerometer, GPS, magnetometer and gyroscope.
It’s the first Android device to have Chrome as its default browser. The real star feature is the price though. It’s $200 for 8 GB internal storage, or $250 for the 16 GB version, and you get a $25 Google Play store credit with it. More details in the video.
Galaxy Nexus Q
I’m not sure what to make of the Galaxy Nexus Q. It looks like it should be some sort of competition to the Apple TV or Roku Box, but Google already has Google TV. The Nexus Q has no internal storage, it works directly off the cloud. It requires an Android device to use it. And speaking of Google TV, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between it and the Q.
They really hype the feature that you can install more than one Q in your house and play music anywhere, which makes it sound like an intelligent wireless cloud speaker. At $300 each though, that’s steep. They describe it as a “social streaming” device. It’s social because you can have a playlist of songs or movies playing, and a friend can come in, use his or her own Android device, and change your playlist, adding content to it from his or her own Play account.
The interesting part about that which I do like is that it really does look like they’ve simplified the sharing to the point that DRM and permissions are handled automatically and verified invisibly, so that you don’t have to worry about it; to get your music on your friend’s Q, you just get your phone on the network and the devices negotiate the rest. That part is pretty cool.
I’m just not so sure I like the idea of friends coming over and starting music fights for control.
More info in the video.
They took some time to acknowledge the anniversary of Google+’s launch, and to introduce a new feature to compete with Facebook events. It’s called Google+ Events, shockingly enough, and it looks pretty good.
Event invitations look great, and they integrate with full functionality when recieved in Google+ or Gmail, and if accepted, they work seamlessly with Google Calendar as well. As you’d expect on Google+, you can invite individuals, whole circles, or even people who aren’t on Google+ by sending to an email address.
Check out the video for more.
They also announced a new Google+ client for tablets, launching today for Android and coming soon for iOS.
Project Glass Demo
As I mentioned at the top, they took some time (in fact, they interrupted the Google+ presentation) to take a look at Project Glass, the famous Google AR glasses that Googlers are often seen wearing these days. They completely floored attendees with the stunt they pulled.
They had 5 base jumpers in squirrel suits in a zeppelin above San Francisco, all wearing Project Glass glasses, all in a Google+ hangout together.
All 5 jumped out of the zeppelin, recording their points of view in the hangout as they flew using the suits.
They landed on top of the Moscone convention center, where another set of people waited on bicycles. These cyclists took off, all wearing the glasses in the hangout, and headed for a ramp on the roof. They hit the ramp and jumped to the next roof.
They then switched off to yet another group of people who rappelled down the side of the building to the third floor, (except for a couple who went too far, all the way to the ground,) and then rode bikes right into the convention center and up onto the stage to talk with Sergey Brin.
This is NOT the footage of the actual IO conference jump, unfortunately. It looks like it could have been a jump they did in preparation for it though. If anybody finds a good video of that whole, complete stunt, please send us the link!
Project Glass Beta Hardware
They didn’t just pull the stunt for the sake of pulling the stunt. It was impressive, and really gave a sense for some outlandish uses for the glasses, but the true takeaway is that it’s slowly getting closer to becoming a consumer project.
Right now the hardware is very beta, but developers who are physically present at Google IO this year can buy their way into getting a dev unit next year–for $1,500.
It’s pretty steep, but they are awfully cool glasses. And Google DID hand out a Galaxy Nexus phone, a Nexus 7 tablet, AND a Nexus Q … whatever it is, for free, to attendees, so they might be grimacing, but I doubt anyone complained too loudly.