Google announced a huge number of new products, services and feature updates at Google I/O two days ago. Maps, Search, Google+, Android, Chrome – no major product line was left untouched. In this week’s Ask The Readers Poll, we summarize the major announcements made at I/O 2013, and let you decide and discuss which one excited you the most.
Google Gives Spotify A Run For Its Money
Google has a bit of a habit of looking at a successful product in a lucrative market, and then doing their best to make a better version of it. In launching Google Play Music All Access with an 18 million+ song catalog, track streaming, unlimited skips, virtually unlimited number of downloadable tracks and intelligent mixing of your own library music, all at $7.99/month (introductory offer), Google is trying its best to beat Spotify on Android and the web.
Be sure to check out our review of Google Play Music All Access.
Unified: Google Talk, Google+ Hangouts, Google+ Messenger Merge Into “Hangouts”
Hangouts for Android, iOS and the web is the ultimate, all-in-one messaging app. It combines Google Talk’s instant messaging service with Google+ Hangouts’ group video chats and Google+ Messenger group messaging features. What’s more? Support for Google Voice and SMS on Android is on the way!
Google+ Gets Redesigned; Adds Amazing ‘Auto Awesome’ & ‘Auto Enhance’ Photo Enhancement Features
Just about every techie I know agrees that Google+ is – features and looks-wise – miles ahead of Facebook. At Google I/O, the tech giant announced awesome features that make Google+ even better! Firstly, Google+ now follows the cards-based design language introduced with Google Now. Secondly, photos uploaded on Google+ are analyzed by Google’s algorithms and then automatically tweaked for noise reduction, tonal distribution, skin softening, red-eye reduction and more, in what Google is calling ‘Auto Enhance’. Lastly, ‘Auto Awesome’ finds patterns in your uploaded photos, and creates animated GIFs of shots taken a few seconds apart, panoramas of photos taken at same location, and choosing the best smiling photo out of a bunch of chaotic family photos to create amazing family portraits.
We have already discussed both the new unified Hangouts messaging platform and updates to Google+, so give it a read for more details.
The Next ‘Nexus’ Smartphone: A Galaxy S4 Running Stock Android
One of the most surprising announcements at Google I/O 2013 was that of a Samsung Galaxy S 4 running Stock Android, without any customizations from Samsung whatsoever. With a price of $649 for a 16GB model, it is the most expensive Nexus device on the market to date, but that is fine considering that – compared to the $349 Nexus 4 – it has a Full HD 1080p display, a 13 megapixel camera, a faster processor, LTE support, expandable storage and a removable battery. The phone will be available fully contract-free on Google Play starting June 26th.
Google Maps Redesigned On Desktop And Android
Google Maps is the most popular as well as most powerful consumer maps application in the world, and the new updates for its Android and desktop web apps further cement this fact. The updated web app follows a new “The Map Is The UI” approach, where the actual map takes over most of the screen, with only the header and a little search bar at the top – no more sidebar! Google Earth, vector maps, Google Offers and Zagat’s trusted restaurant reviews are integrated right inside Maps. To make for a more personalized experience, your home, workplace and local points of interest are also included automatically in the map based on data from Google Now.
The new Google Maps for Desktop is slowly rolling out to invited users. You may request an invite at maps.google.com/preview. Android users should update their apps from Google Play to get the new Google Maps.
Google Search Integrated With Google Now For Voice Search And Other Commands
The rumors were right after all. For Chrome and Chrome OS users, Google Now is now integrated with Google Search. Saying “OK, Google” activates voice search – no typing or tapping required. Voice search has been developed to be more intelligent, so Google remembers what you last searched for, and predicts future searches. But that’s not all; you can also send emails, set reminders and more – all without leaving google.com or the Google Search app.
Google Play Books Allows User-Uploaded EPUBs / PDFs; Syncs Everything Across Android, iOS & Web
Google Play Books has always been at a distant third/fourth place in the eBooks reading app market, but a new feature update is bound to push it up ahead: the ability to upload your own collection of eBooks to the service, and to keep your page positions, bookmarks and notes synced across all platforms on which the service is available, i.e. Android, iOS and the web.
Check out our post to learn how to upload EPUBs to Play Books and read them on Android, iOS and the web.
Developer Features for Android
Rather unexpectedly for an I/O event, Google didn’t reveal the next version of Android this time, though that doesn’t mean the world’s most popular mobile operating system was completely neglected at the event. Google did announce several new features and improvements to Android, but most of them were targeted at developers rather than end users for now. However, it will be the users who will benefit from the fruits of these labors in the end.
The biggest new developer feature has got to be Android Studio – a dedicated IDE built by Google to make developing for Android easy. Apart from that, new APIs and developer features were announced for Google’s Maps and Location services, and Google Cloud Messaging. Several new features were added to the Google Play Developer Console as well, making it much easier for developers to optimize, translate and beta test their apps, with the ability to automatically roll out a beta update to a percentage of users first, and then gradually increase that percentage towards a full release. Lastly, a few major APIs were announced for game developers, allowing them to implement features like cloud save, achievements and leaderboards without having to use their own or third-party cloud services for the purpose.
Synced Notifications Across Android Devices
A major new feature for the end users was also announced: notification syncing across all your devices, meaning if you dismiss a notification from your phone, it’ll automatically disappear from your tablet as well. We will likely have to wait for the implementation of this feature in the next (likely minor) update to Android.
So which announcements do you think were the most significant? Join the poll below to let us know. You may select up to 3 answers out of the 9 available.
Haroon Q. Raja contributed to this post.