10 Intriguing Product Updates From Google I/O 2013

Okay Google ...

Google's sixth annual Google I/O developers conference, under way in San Francisco this week, has yielded a long list of new rollouts and enhancements commensurate with what one Google executive referred to as a time of "one of the most innovative phases of technology." While such hyperbole is not unusual at conferences such as this one, upwards of 6,000 people are attending the event, and approximately 1 million others are said to be tracking it on YouTube. CRN presents a roundup of the highlights, including one that predicts that many of us will find ourselves saying "Okay Google" on a regular basis.

Upgrades To Search Capabilities

If you find yourself starting conversations with friends by saying, "Okay Google," that will probably be a clue that you've been searching too much. The company is rolling out voice-activated searches for the desktop, as well as for mobile devices. Rather than relying on search terms, the system supports a more conversational question-and-answer format that comes more naturally to spoken interactions, using the phrase "Okay Google" as the spoken trigger to begin a search. This capability is not yet available, but a main stage demonstration of the technology went well.

Compute Engine Now Open To All Developers

Google Compute Engine is now open to all. The company said at I/O that the cloud-based infrastructure-as-a-service offering, part of the Google Cloud Platform that competes with the likes of Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and Azure, is now open to all developers. New features include a revised billing structure that enables users to commission instances for 10 minutes at a time, if so desired. Users can also purchase access to shared instances to support smaller, less compute-intensive jobs.

Introducing Android Studio

The new Android Studio development environment is intended to help developers work more efficiently than they were able to do with the Eclipse development platform. Various functions to streamline the process are being put into place. Examples include a new preview pane, plus the ability to see what layouts would look like in different screen sizes. The system can also support a variety of different national languages.

Improvements To Android Developer Console

A number of enhancements to the developer console were unveiled, mostly to support performance analytics. A new Optimization Tips feature analyzes sales volumes and makes recommendations for improvement. A new Usage Metrics feature brings many Google Analytics capabilities straight to the dashboard. A new tab for revenue provides data on users and their locations. And the system is also getting additional capabilities to support beta testing. The console can also help to ascertain the effectiveness of traffic drivers, such as advertisements.

New Developer Tools For Google Play

The company rolled out several new APIs to the developer community. Most of these involve Google Play Game Services, which can be used to build games with increased interactivity, such as the ability to challenge friends who are also members of Google Plus, develop leader boards, and save games for later review or continue later, perhaps even on other devices. In addition to supporting Android, the capability with also support Apple iOS.

New Features For Google Cloud Messaging

Announced last year, Google Cloud Messaging pushes data to different devices. New features announced at the I/O conference for the service include persistent connections to dynamically send messages to different devices, increased capabilities to support two-way traffic between applications and servers, and synchronized notifications. According to Hugo Barra, Google's vice president of product management for Android, the system sees high volumes of traffic with more than 1 billion message pushes per day.

The New Google Plus

Google Plus is getting a facelift to the tune of 41 new enhancements in three areas. The stream, which in other contexts might also be known as the "news feed," is getting a new layout with a three-column design users can configure, and it can also auto-configure the number of columns based on the size of the screen. The system also dynamically adds hashtags that link to related topics, but this capability can be switched off, if the user prefers. The second area involves the new "hangouts," which facilitate long-running conversations among friends and family members. Thirdly, a number of new photographic capabilities let users retouch and organize images, and there's even a new feature that can help users select the best images.

More Assistance From Google Now

If you ever felt that you needed an assistant to help keep your life in order, the Google Now service is trying to answer that call. New cards are being made available to support moviegoers, TV watchers and video game enthusiasts. And if you plan to enjoy those features while riding the bus, the service also offers transit information for designated locations. The system can also alert you of upcoming meetings and deliver other reminders. The service will also be voice-enabled.

Google Play Music All Access

An apparent competitor to such music venues as Spotify, Google Play Music All Access provides streaming capabilities for a wide range of artists and genres at a price of $9.99 per month. The system also supports "radio stations" based on user music preferences and can also make suggestions for tracks and artists based on user consumption patterns. For a limited time, early adopters can get a $2-monthly discount that extends indefinitely. The service is available via Android or over the Web.

Updates To Google Maps

A major revamp of Google Maps is currently under way. The forthcoming new interface will extend the use of photos and accommodate 3-D representations of major terrain features such as buildings while at the same time integrating more tightly with searches. In addition to generalized search returns, users will also see related information, such as restaurant reviews, that were posted by their friends. The new version also takes traffic patterns into account when issuing travel directions. Google is also adding a "Fused Location Provider" that speeds the system's ability to determine location while requiring less battery power.