Highlights from Day 1 at Google I/O 2012

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Earlier today, we had the great pleasure of attending the Google I/O 2012 Keynote Presentation at the Moscone West conference center in downtown San Francisco. While Internet connectivity issues precluded us from live blogging the event, we would like to bring you some of the most exciting events that we saw, as well our thoughts on the future of the Android ecosystem.

Android Platform Growth

The event began with Vic Gundotra introducing Android’s director of product management Hugo Barra. Hugo spouted off impressive figures about Android’s adoption to date—400 million Android devices in circulation worldwide, compared to a mere 100 million at last year’s I/O. More impressively Hugo mentions that daily activations are still on the rise, coming in at a cool million per day. This equates to roughly 12 devices per second.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

Hugo then mentioned the design tenets of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean—Simple, Beautiful, Smart. In order to accomplish this, much work had to be done to boost responsiveness and fluidity on Android devices.

Project Butter

Dave Burke then came to the stage to talk about how Project Butter enhances UI performance on Android. This works by using VSync with triple buffering, and by boosting touch responsiveness.

A high speed RED video camera was used to film the two Galaxy Nexus devices—one running Ice Cream Sandwich, and the other running Jelly Bean. While one can hardly label ICS choppy, JB is a definite step forward in fluidity.

Usability

In addition to making the overall experience smoother, Android has been made more usable thanks to home screen and notification improvements.

Widget handling on the launcher is much improved in Jelly Bean. Let’s say you have a home page full of various icons, and you would like to move your calendar widget into the page. Previously, Android would not allow you to move the widget unless there was enough room for it on the destination screen. Now, widgets are automatically resized to fit in the available space.

Notifications

Notifications were similarly revamped, with the top notification slot presenting more content to users than before. For example, you can now begin and hang-up phone calls directly from the notification tray. Similar functionality is also available for other apps. Gmail notifications now deliver much more information, and you can directly view, reshare, and +1 posts on Google+. If you wish to expand a notification that is not at the top of the list, a simple two-finger gesture will open them up.

Increased notification functionality is also available for third party apps such as TuneIn radio. Here, you can favorite, play, and advance tracks more conveniently than before.

Camera Software

The user interface of Android’s camera software was also updated. Users can swipe from camera view to previously taken shots, and pinch-zoom to access filmstrip view. As one would expect given the swipe-to-dismiss theme in ICS and beyond, you can slide to delete unwanted pictures when in the filmstrip view.

Navigation

Navigation is improved on Jelly Bean. Aside from integrating Zagat reviews and enabling users to make entire cities available offline, it now incorporate “Google Inside,” which shows you the insides of buildings. Google Inside is also compatible with your device’s gyroscope for compass mode.

Improved Voice Recognition Functionality

In order to make Android smarter, various new productivity features were implemented. Previously in Android, users needed to be connected to the cloud in order to use voice recognition. In Jelly Bean, however, offline recognition is now available.

We also saw the launch of the next generation in Google Search. Thanks to “Knowledge Graph,” when a user asks a question, the answer is presented in a context aware manner. This can range from questions such as “Who is the Prime Minister of Japan?” to requests for images of pygmy marmosets. If at any time users would prefer to view Google search results, they simply have to swipe away the information card and the Google search window is revealed in browser…

And speaking of the browser, Jelly Bean will be the first version of Android to ship with Chrome as the default browser!

Google Now

Furthering Jelly Bean’s quest to become “smarter,” Google is launching Google Now. By using search and location history along with your calendar, Google is able to figure out what information you need and when.

For example, if you are at a train stop, it will let you know when the next train is coming. Walking around restaurants will bring up reviews and highlights for restaurants around you. And perhaps most importantly, if you have a meeting coming up, route and timing information appears automatically, including when you need to leave in order to make it on time. This is seriously impressive stuff, and is truly the first steps towards “the future.”

Android for Developers

Google Play

Chris Yerga talks a bit about Play. There are currently over 600,000 apps available, and over 1.5 billion apps are installed per month. To date, there are over 20 billion application installs.

The Play store has also been refined for developers. Developers have already seen improved tools such as support for APK expansion files, improved analytics, and the ability for top developers to reply to reviews.

Now, app encryption is now available for all paid apps. Smart app updates mean that users running Gingerbread or better now only have to download changed portions of applications. And Android C2DM (Cloud to Device Messaging) was revamped and renamed as Google Cloud Messaging. Developers are free to use Google Cloud Messaging without quota limitations.

Platform Development Kit

The Android PDK (Platform Development Kit) is essentially like an SDK for Hardware development. It contains all the code necessary to Port Android to hardware easily. PDK will generally be available 2-3 months before any future OS release. For Jelly Bean, this was initially limited to several hand-picked OEMs, but now the PDK for JB is open to all.

Google+

Vic Gundotra came back for a bit to talk about Google Plus. Tomorrow is its 1 yr anniversary, and it has amassed 150 million active users. Surprisingly, there is more mobile than desktop usage on Plus.

The Google+ Android app has seen considerable revision. Google finally released a tablet-optimized version of the app, giving new and popular content center stage. Hangouts are updated dramatically, such that video automatically shifts to the person talking.

Google+ Events

Google+ now supports events. “Cinemagraphic themes” are present in invitations. Calendar integration makes keeping track of scheduled events easy.

Much focus was also put into using Google+ during events. Party mode adds event photos to the Google+ event page in real time. Essentially, it functions as a visual pulse of the engagement, complete with a live slideshow.

Party mode is enabled automatically. Users are prompted for permission once arriving, and a green ongoing notification is present to make sure users are aware that their photos are being uploaded to the event page.

After the event, photos from party mode are arranged in chronological order. The photos with the most activity are shown in event highlights. Photos taken of you are tagged as well.

Project Glass

Sergei Brin came in and interrupted Vic’s presentation about Google+ to give us a live demonstration of Project Glass. He presented live footage of skydivers making their way down—all while donning Project Glass headsets. Once they landed, it seemed as if the X-Games were on, as others performed bicycle stunts and rappelling atop the conference center.

The Project Glass hardware contains a processor, display, camera, touch pad, microphone, GPS, and various sensors.
The project aim for Glass is to allow users to interact with virtual world without being distracted from real world. It’s meant to be close to the senses, but not blocking them.

Nexus Devices

Nexus 7

As expected the Nexus 7 tablet was announced. Featuring a 7″ 1280 x 800 IPS display, the Asus-manufactured tablet features a nice looking and high density display. It is backed by a 1.3 GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, has a gig of LPDDR3 RAM, and packs 8 gigs of NAND storage. It also promises 9 hours of battery life and weighs in at just 340 grams.

 

Perhaps most importantly, the device will only run for $200, and it comes with $25 of free Google Play credit. This will truly help tablets to become even more mainstream than they are today.

Nexus Q

If you’ve been waiting for Google’s integrated answer to the Apple TV, you now have it. The Nexus Q is a small Android-powered computer aimed at being the intersection of hardware, software, and the cloud. Furthermore, it does this in a social manner, and it is marketed as the first “social streaming device.”

The hardware internals are quite nice as well. It is powered by the same TI OMAP 4460 that powers the Galaxy Nexus. It also features a 25 Watt “audiophile-grade” amp and a spattering of connectivity options (Micro HDMI, Optical Audio, Dual Band WiFi, and MicroUSB for “general hackability).

Differentiating itself from Apple TV, the Q pulls content directly from the cloud rather than from connected devices. It also allows multiple users to connect and control it, so users in social settings can now share their favorite tunes with their friends without having to worry about transferring media to specific devices.

Unfortunately, pricing is a bit less revolutionary than on the Nexus 7. Available for $299 from the Play store starting mid-July, the Q may be just out of reach for many who aren’t yet sold on its benefits.

You can expect our take on the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q, as well as the preview build of Jelly Bean that is now available for the GSM Galaxy Nexus in the coming days. If you want to get in on the discussion, you can do so by checking out our newly created forums for the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q.


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