Google's I/O conference, in usual form, kicked off with an explosive start. The day's news saw the revelation of things we've been waiting to see for months. Things we've heard rumor of, wished for, and even (quite accurately) predicted. With all the things we saw, it only seems right to round up all the day's news in one place. Grab a snack, because we've got a lot to talk about.
One of the day's I/O show stoppers was undoubtedly the announcement of Android 4.1 aka Jelly Bean. I have to be honest, with a ".1" update, I wasn't expecting too much improvement, but I was certainly wrong in that estimation. Jelly Bean's introduction brings with it a handful of enhancements, and the name of the game seems to be "efficiency." The step from Gingerbread/Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich unified the OS, made it beautiful, and added some functionality. Jelly Bean takes those enhancements, brings a few of them up another level, and machines them into an efficient, productive experience. Let's take a quick look at JB's new enhancements.
First up is Project Butter. Project Butter, as we explained earlier provides a new processing framework for Android, making complex animations, interactions, and transitions "buttery" smooth (get it?). This sorcery is accomplished through the implementation of vsync timing across all drawing and animation, along with triple buffering for graphics, making more consistent, smooth rendering possible.
In addition to speed/consistency enhancements, Project Butter reduces touch latency, allegedly allowing apps to anticipate your touch by synchronizing it with vsync timing. After a period of inactivity, Android will even implement a CPU input boost at the next touch event to make sure latency is kept to a bare minimum.
Besides all that, developers can now use systrace, a tool which stacks time series graphs of system activities studied by looking at data from the Linux kernel. This allows developers to pinpoint rendering and "other issues" in their apps.
Google Now. Does it fit the (rumored) description of Google's fabled "Majel" project? Not exactly, but it is a major improvement over the current iteration of Voice Actions/Search.
The feature, which some consider Google's initial response Siri (and the ensuing typhoon of other voice-based assistants), works on a system of "cards," compiled based on what Now learns about you from actions you've previously performed on your device. Using the learned information, Google Now assists you in just about everything – from travel to calendar queries and more. Trying to get across town in a hurry? Google Now can find several routes for you (walking, driving, or using public transport), giving time estimates based on distance, traffic, and transport departure.
The service can check sports scores, weather, traffic, look up general queries, and so much more. While a Google Now screen is open, users can just say "Google" to start a voice query. Cards also automatically appear throughout the day, but can also be called with a simple swipe gesture. Google Now adds a new dimension (not to mention an absolutely gorgeous interface) to voice actions, making just about everything you need to accomplish with your device more productive, efficient and well… easy.
One of my personal favorites among the myriad enhancements introduced in Jelly Bean is the improved notification shade. Improving on ICS' minimal, clean notification drawer, Jelly Bean brings something huge – expandable, actionable notifications. Notifications from the same app are grouped, and can be expanded with a simple touch. Users can also perform various actions with the notifications, from answering calls to sharing posts and saving photos.
Jelly Bean also includes a notification builder, meaning developers can build custom notification styles, sizeable up to 256dp. The builder features three styles so far: (From the Android Developer site)
- BigTextStyle — a notification that includes a multiline TextView object.
- BigInboxStyle — a notification the shows any kind of list such as messages, headlines, and so on.
- BigPictureStyle — a notification that showcases visual content such as a bitmap.
Of course, developers can also make their own styles, each with up to three actions in a single notification. The expandable notification also allows users to block or "disable" further notifications from a given app, which could possibly spell an end for AirPush advertising.
Once again, Jelly Bean brings enhanced efficiency and productivity to the table, allowing users to do just about anything to any app all from a simple notification.
Jelly Bean also brings some camera tweaks to Android. Adding to ICS' zero shutter lag improvement, Jelly Bean's camera app adds some efficiency to the process, allowing users to simply pinch the screen to bring up a side-by-side view of the camera app and recent photos in the gallery.
Additionally, users can simply tap photos to share, or swipe them away to delete (this action can be undone). These are small touches, but play a big part in the overall efficiency of the camera app, and are – at the very least – undoubtedly very cool.
New SDK / Tools / ADT Plugin
In addition to the announcement of the new OS, Google also unleashed new SDK tools and a new ADT Plugin revision.
Besides bringing systrace (aka System Trace), the new SDK Tools offer a new Device Monitor application, Build System enhancements, and improvements to the SDK manager. For more information, check out the Android Developer site's SDK Tools or ADT Plugin page.
As an added treat, the Jelly Bean SDK was also launched, and shows up in the SDK manager after updating SDK Tools to revision 20. Developers and enthusiasts alike can fire up their SDK managers and get started ogling/playing/developing right away.
In a renewed effort to ensure timely updates for users everywhere, Google debuted the Android PDK or Platform Development Kit at day one of I/O. The PDK is essentially a development kit meant for manufacturers, aimed to ease the process of adding manufacturer overlays, tweaks, and other modifications to new versions of Android.
What's more, the PDK will be released to manufacturers "months" ahead of new OS launches. Theoretically, this should mean manufacturers have plenty of time before announcements to cook up updates for their respective devices. Whether this will work in practice (especially given carriers' sometimes meddling tendencies) remains to be seen.
For now, the PDK is said to have been given to "select" manufacturers. The meaning of this is unclear, but it's safe to assume ASUS and Moto are included in that list. Of course, this will be a story to watch, and we'll keep you updated as we see just how the PDK ends up helping (or not helping) end users.
The Nexus 7 is a tablet that has been talked about, rumored, and otherwise hotly anticipated for a long time now. Just about everyone has been wondering what Google's fabled entry into the affordable tablet arena would be, and now we know. The Nexus 7 is a device centered around media consumption, specifically from the Play Store. Check out the promo video:
Without boring you with too many more words, here are the tablet's specs:
- 7" 1280x800 IPS display
- Quad-core Tegra 3 processor (1.3 GHz)
- 1GB RAM
- Super thin and light: only 340 Grams
- front-facing camera
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC
- 4325mAh battery - 9 hours of video playback, 300 hours of standby time
- Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
The Nexus 7 will be the 7" tablet to watch in the coming months. With its slim form factor, IPS display, and full Google endorsement, it may be just what the doctor ordered for the current state of Android tablets in the market.
What's interesting about the Nexus 7 is that it doesn't seem to be meant as a direct competitor to the iPad – rather, it's a competitor to Amazon's wildly successful Kindle Fire, another affordable seven-incher whose media consumption prowess has helped it make a serious splash in the tablet market.
For those interested, our own David scored some hands-on time with the Nexus 7. Here's the video:
Project Glass is another gadget we've had our eye on for some time now. Officially announced and demoed on stage, Glass looks just as amazing as everyone expected, even if we still haven't seen the UI.
In an amazing display, Google engineers jumped out of a plane, biked across rooftops, and even rappelled down the side of the Moscone Conference Center to show off the next-generation device's unique ability to capture moments from the user's natural point of view. Watching the demo was undoubtedly awesome.
Following a rather non-Google pattern of development, the big G is holding off on public availability of Glass, nurturing the project carefully, and presumably planning to introduce the revolutionary gadget in such a way as to gain public acceptance – which will be no easy task. The glasses are being made available to I/O attendees for the steep(?) price of $1500 a pair.
While Glass is not a consumer product yet, it is, for lack of better terms, awe-inspiring, awesome, bad ass, etc. I am (along with, I'm sure, many others) completely fascinated by the concept, and can't wait to see where it leads. Glass has the potential to change a lot in the tech world, and of course we'll be following the project as it gets closer to readiness.
The Nexus Q is something pretty much no one saw coming (until earlier). The device is, to put it simply, a social streaming media player meant to centralize your home's media experience. With support for optical out and microHDMI, as well as Wi-Fi, ethernet, and NFC, the Nexus Q is undoubtedly a versatile tool in connecting devices for centralized media control, as well as utilization of your Google Play media.
Besides using your own Google Play Music, the Nexus Q allows other users with access to your Q to add content to streaming playlists from their own Play Music libraries. In this way, centralized streaming becomes social. Friends can add music they want to hear to the lineup, as long as they are using the same Wi-Fi connection as the Q itself.
While the Nexus Q is in the Play Store for a somewhat steep $300, something to note is that the device is manufactured entirely in the United States, a move that the New York Times facetiously referred to as "retro." Without going too far into the implications of Google having a device like the Q manufactured in the US, we can suffice to say that it's a bold – and potentially very significant – move.
Whether its functionality and overall experience can outweigh its hefty price tag remains to be seen, but I for one am excited to see where the Nexus Q goes.
Google+ has also received major improvements. First of all, as we predicted, Google+ received a major new feature – Events. Users can now create events with gorgeous customizable pages.
Invitations, once accepted, go to the invited user's Google Calendar. When the event gets started, users can enable "party mode," which turns your event's page into a live feed of photos and posts from all involved users.
After the party, all the event's photos are centralized in a single page, eliminating the need to send everyone your photos (or even tag them for other users to download). Photos can be sorted by creator, the people in the photo, or time of capture. The most active photos are even collected in a "highlights" section for quick viewing of key party moments.
The only thing missing, as Eric rightly pointed out in his coverage, is hangout capability, but that may already be in the works. Overall, Google+ Events has huge potential, and already offers a fantastic set of features. It is – no doubt – a standout function for Google+, and may just help the burgeoning social network take the next step toward mainstream adoption.
On the mobile app side of things, Google+ got updated to feature a new new interface, one that is cleaner, more simple, and more comprehensive than its predecessor, and one which (finally) has true support for tablet devices.
Besides a brighter, better feed, G+ now offers the ability to filter feed according to circles. Overall, the changes constitute a UI facelift, one that may or may not have been needed, but which is warmly welcomed nonetheless. To grab the update, hit the widget below.
The Play Store
Google's Play Store also saw some pretty great additions, gaining new TV shows, Magazines, and Movies for purchase. TV shows, a content category that was conspicuously absent from the Play Store before, finally arrived, bringing some really decent options to Play customers, including popular shows like The Walking Dead. Individual episodes typically cost about $2, with full seasons pegged at just over $20.00, definitely a reasonable price for shows that users can download and keep/re-watch forever.
Moving away from the previous rental-only model, the Play Store now allows users to purchase movies. Purchases like these are, of course, stored in Google's Cloud, meaning you can enjoy your newly-purchased media on any of your devices at any time.
Magazines have also landed in the Play Store, an addition that I personally find very appealing, especially for tablet use. Users can buy current issues or choose from monthly or yearly subscriptions, each with varying price points based on the publication. To read purchased magazines, Google also introduced the Play Magazines app.
The Play Store's content isn't the only thing that got enhanced, though. The store's online functionality also received a facelift. First off, the "My Apps" page is revamped, allowing users to sort apps by which device they're installed on (with handy little pictures of each).
Besides that, users can remotely update and uninstall apps from the web interface, a much-needed functionality. While Jelly Bean's updated Play Store mobile app hasn't received much in the way of enhancements, the addition of new content and improvement of the web interface are great, and definitely improve the Play Store's overall usability and appeal.
There is no question – day one of Google I/O was a huge day for Android and tech enthusiasts alike. Google brought an absolutely dizzying array of great news to the table, and after seeing everything the big G had to show us, all I have to say is that I'm looking forward to day two.