Google I/O: What you need to know

What a difference a year makes. In 2012, the Google I/O focused heavily on hardware: from the skydiving sequence introducing Google Glass to the launch of the Nexus Q and Nexus 7 devices, it was clear Google was looking to sell products. This year’s keynote set a very different tone and I had a lot of fun geeking out following the news while sat in the pub last night.

Google+

The best social network (in pure functionality terms, in my opinion at least) just got even better. With 41 new features coming to the network it would take me all day to write about each of them (I don’t even know them all) but here are some of the key updates:

  • New 2-column layout that is clean, uncluttered and Pinterestesque.

  • Auto-awesome images just won the internet. Google is automatically combining images to make animated GIFs from your photos. Move over Facebook, Google just won by TKO. Here’s an auto-awesomed image of the Mayor of Derby doing a firewalk. Google created it automatically. I love Google.

  • Auto-hashtagging for your posts which some might find annoying but I personally find useful and I only accessed it this morning. It’s very smart and it allows me to find new content with no effort and also exposes my content to new users with literally no extra effort.

  • Auto-enhanced images might not sound like a great new feature, after all, it existed in the previous image enhancement toolkit, but the feature is even more sophisticated than before and can be set to automatically enhance every image you upload.

  • Auto-image recognition will automatically contextualise your images so, for example, if you upload an image of the Eiffel Tower it will know the Eiffel Tower is listed and add that as a tags to the image even though you may not have mentioned Eiffel Tower at all in the image comment or caption. Clever, huh?

  • Highlight is a neat new feature that will be appreciated by anyone who has ever gone on holiday, taken hundreds of photos and then come home only to never sort through the images. Now you can use Highlight to automatically sort your images in to the best of the bunch and present a nice, neat photo album of your trip. It’s clever too: not only does it sort photos by aesthetics (filters out blurry images, keeps well composed images etc) but it also understands cultural context and recognises what is important to you. This means a photo albums from a British wedding and a Thai wedding will be sorted differently according to cultural norms and expectations. Also, it recognises family members so it will highlight shots with you family in, preferably where they are smiling (which it can also detect).

  • Full size photos can now be added to the network although they now count towards your (new) 15gb storage limit for Drive, Gmail and Google+.

  • Google+ Games will be discontinued on June 30th.

Android

Of course there was an emphasis on Google’s mobile operating system but there were no major overhauls revealed at this event. Instead we were introduced to significant feature developments.

  • Google Play Games will now have increased social elements through Google+ as well as a new persistent cloud saving feature which will no doubt be a great benefit to many gamers.

  • Google Play Music All Access might not be the snappiest sounding name for a Spotify rival but that is what we have. Costing $9.99 per month ($7.99 per month for early adopters who sign up before June 30th) Google’s music streaming service is said to be “radio without rules. It’s as ‘leanback’ as you want, or as interactive as you want” according to Chris Yerga, Google’s engineering director.

  • A stock Android Samsung Galaxy S4 will be coming to the market soon. This means all of the features added to Samsung have been removed and users will get a pure Android experience. This guarantees that Android updates will be available immediately from Google without having to wait for Samsung to add all of their features before release.

  • A new Hangout app is now available and it will replace the existing Google Talk app. This combines IM, images and video conferencing into a unified experience. You can chat, pull in photos and join group video chat all for free and, if you want to delete or save a conversation, you can. It’s also been announced that this app will be coming to Google Glass.

For developers

The I/O event is primarily for developers and with 6,000 of them sat in the room it made sense that the opening content would appeal to them.

Here are a few of the goodies in store for them:

  • A new locations API (meaning a rewrite for developers using existing APIs) that provides faster, more accurate and less battery consuming location data. It also provides enhanced data using the accelerometer to determine when a user is walking, running, driving etc.

  • Expanded Google+ sign-in allowing for users who are signed in to Google+ to be able to download an app across a range of devices and automatically sign-in using the Google+ account. It’s a small change but brings huge convenience with it.

  • Android studios announced allowing developers to create apps within an environment that will help integrate Google services into the apps that developers are working on. This was especially popular with the audience.

  • As is de rigeur at the Google I/O events, each attendee was given a bit of swag to take home. This year it was the Chromebook Pixel worth $1,299.

There were loads of other announcements including big announcements for Google Apps for Education, developments to conversational search (voice search for desktop), new features for Google Now and an overhaul of Google Maps which looks incredible and will be rolled out in the coming months. I for one cannot wait for the full roll out which is why I signed up for the early access immediately.

Am I excited by all of this? Absolutely yes. Google is pushing boundaries and the feeling coming out of the keynote yesterday was that this felt like an Apple keynote speech of 5 years ago. It felt exciting, new and remarkable. The appearance of Larry Page at the end of the session should excite us all too because, as he said in his own words, “we’re only at 1% of what’s possible, and maybe even less than that.”

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