Liz Gannes

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Google I/O: Music, Maps, Messaging and More

google io scenesetterHere at the densest concentration of Google Glass devices since the factory floor, team AllThingsD is covering the news out of Google’s I/O developer conference this morning.

The maker of Android and Chrome is just about to kick off a three-hour keynote, and if you want to see it for yourself, you can: Here’s the livestream. Meanwhile, we’ll be doing live coverage, but it’ll be quick blurbs and takeaways rather than transcribing every last Googley word.

Anticipation is high; Google shares just topped $900 for the first time ever.

“We are very fortunate to have two platforms,” says Sundar Pichai, who is now in charge of both Chrome and Android and also Google Apps. He’s addressing an I/O audience of 6,000 in-person attendees and some 1 million via livestream. He notes the advent of smartphones and connected devices has been a massive, rapid and global change over just the past six to seven years.


There have been 900 million Android activations to date, announces Pichai. Here’s some more context on those numbers, via Ina Fried.

As an update to Google Play services, Android product leader Hugo Barra announces three new location tools for developers that will reduce battery drain and add awareness of users’ location and activities for the purposes of geofencing and activity tracking (the latter thing is just like the Moves app for iOS, which understands the difference between walking, running and biking motions as you’re carrying a phone).

A few more of Barra’s Google Play updates that get cheers from developers will help sync accounts and notifications across multiple devices. Plus, new game developer tools on Android, iOS and web will show personalized leaderboards, help players challenge each other and save games.

Google introduces a brand-new development environment, Android Studio, for building applications. It helps rapidly visualize layouts across different devices, languages. This goes over extremely well with the developer audience.

And here’s some more stuff that developers care a lot about, and other platforms like Apple’s iOS don’t do a great job of. Later this summer, Google will add new Android analytics tools to help developers do things like track conversions from their app advertising and visualize revenue over time and geography. Plus, a biggie for people making new apps: Beta testing and staged rollouts with private feedback.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty APIed out,” says Barra. Yes indeed!

On to content and entertainment: Personalized recommendations for content in Google Play are rolling out “over the coming weeks,” and navigation is improved. This gets the mildest round of applause so far.

But here’s the real news: Google Play Music All Access, which comes with “a uniquely Google approach,” says Google content guy Chris Yerga. For some savvy handicapping, here’s Peter Kafka’s advance take.

What is interesting about it? The radio service is interactive (you can mess with what’s coming next), it has personalized recommendations and it includes Google’s collection blended with your personal library. It’ll cost $9.99 per month but there are some promo and trial options. Here’s a fuller summary from Mike Isaac.

Barra shows off a Galaxy S4 running Google’s Nexus version of Android rather than jammed with Samsung stuff. Not cheap, though. It’ll be sold for $649 on Google Play on June 26. Ina Fried has more here.

Back to Chrome and Chrome OS. The browser now has 750 million monthly active users, up from 450 million last year. As for Chromebooks, Sundar Pichai offers no actual numbers, but says they’ve been the No. 1 seller on Amazon for a while. (C’mon, where are the numbers?)

Next, an update on some of the underlying Web formats, tools and components that Google contributes to. This now includes a data compression proxy for Chrome for Mobile that sounds like like Opera and Onavo. Plus, some demos of what’s in the pipeline, including a nifty race car game played on a track made of five devices laying next to each other that keeps in sync using Web sockets. Lauren Goode has more on all the Chrome news here.

Sundar Pichai is giving out Chromebook Pixels to everyone at I/O, which they are rather stoked about.

How about them Google Apps? Lots of people use them — 74 of the top 100 U.S. universities. That was an extremely short segment.

And another little launch coming this fall: Google Play for Education. Google wants to help schools manage Android tablets, offering a library of apps recommended by teachers, and mechanisms to push apps directly to groups of student devices.

Plus, cute kids around the world use Chromebooks, as displayed in like the 30th feel-good product movie of this keynote.

Vic Gundotra says he’s here to introduce 41 new features for Google+, which I hope he is not going to go through one by one.

The G+ feed is now three columns, with posts tiled like Pinterest.

Google is also going to automatically tag posts with hashtags so people can find related content. These are extracted with image recognition and text analysis.

Also, Gundotra says as part of Google’s efforts to help computers get out of people’s ways, it will better support multiplatform conversations. That means: group messaging, persistent conversations between groups (a la GroupMe a few years ago), albums of shared images, synced notifications, free group video and support for Web, Android and iOS as of today.

On to photos: Google wants its data centers to be your darkroom, says Gundotra, who seems to only speak in slogans. G+ saves “all the pixels, because some memories are not meant to be downsized,” says Gundotra, with a nice visualization that shows how much larger G+ photos are than Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Also, new tools will help users find their best photos and edit them, especially faces. Vanity, eat your heart out.

For further reading, Mike Isaac has detailed pullouts on the new G+ stream design and Hangouts.

“Auto awesome” features like collage generation, smile detection, making a series into a GIF and stitching panoramics are now generated automatically. And these features have been in “dark launch” so Google is already ready to spring them live on every photo you’ve ever uploaded.

Next up: Amit Singhal wants to talk about “the end of search … as we know it.” He’s the smiley guy who always talks about the Star Trek computer. Yup, there we go: He dreamed as a child of building the Star Trek computer for the world.

Google’s Knowledge Graph is today coming to Polish, Turkish and Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, adding to nine existing languages.

Singhal announces conversational search for the desktop and laptop. Users can launch voice queries by saying, “Okay, Google.”

Plus, Google Now, the smart personal assistant app, is adding reminders, public transit and TV shows.

Johanna Wright demos a voice search using the new tools for Chrome and Chrome OS with the premise of planning a trip to Santa Cruz. Her computer listens to a set of queries including “How far is it from here” that returns directions with current traffic.

More snazzy voice demos: Saying “when does my flight leave” returns a personalized result based on email archives, “show me my pictures from New York last year” brings up photos with those characteristics, and giving commands sends emails and sets reminders. Basically it’s like Siri, but it seems to actually work.

Ina Fried has more on this voice search section here.

Maps head Brian McClendon comes next. Google has a long history of building and growing its map quality — subtext: Unlike some other noobs in the industry — and McClendon recaps the history of Google’s mapping layers: local data, imagery, street view (including underwater view) and base maps. Over 1 million websites are using Google maps today, he says.

Google Maps for iPhone is “sleek, simple, and let’s not forget, accurate,” says Daniel Graf. So what’s next for mobile maps?

Google is launching a unified five-point rating scale for local results, says Graf, which doesn’t really seem like an innovation to brag about. There’s also a nice new swipeable interface for browsing venues, plus discount offers appearing within listings (from Starbucks at first, with more to come). Also, some Waze-like features: accident reports and live rerouting. And, a tablet version for both iOS and Android. But none of it is ready yet. Will be out this summer.

An interface preview of the new desktop Google Maps UI shows that they’ve gotten rid of the uninformative map pins in favor of labels shown directly on each place. The big idea: “The map is the user interface.” Maps are personalized based on users’ history (like Google Now), so they can each navigate via their own landmarks and find related places and nearby streets each time they click.

A new transit schedule viewer looks a lot like Hipmunk. Users can also submit “photo spheres” from their phones by capturing a big multidimensional photo all around them. Also, here’s a mindblower: When you zoom out, the view of the Earth shows clouds in real time. And you can zoom all the way out to the Milky Way.

This isn’t released to the public yet, but you can sign up to check it out at maps.google.com/preview.

Larry Page appears onstage, a surprise given he just explained his vocal cord paralysis condition publicly yesterday. He has a message for developers: Technology is amazing.

Page is having a bit of a Bono moment. He explains the arc of Google’s vision: Technology should do the hard work, so people can live their lives. “I think we’re all here because we share a deep sense of optimism about the potential of technology to change people’s lives and help the world.”

Page says he wants to build great things that don’t exist, so press comparisons to competitors are overdone. “Being negative is not how we make progress. The most important things are not zero-sum.”

Progress displaces the past, Page notes. “I’m sure people in the future will think we’re just as crazy as we think people in the past were, having to do hunting or farming all the time.”

And to that end, recruiting young people to care about science is important. Page explains that Google participated in the upcoming movie “The Internship” as a way to market computer science.

And now something even less expected: Page takes audience questions. First up, predictably, is Robert Scoble. Page notes that he didn’t need to see Scoble’s picture of himself in the shower wearing his Google Glass. Point for Larry.

Page answers a question about the potential of a Web-based operating system for mobile; he’s disappointed about the industry state of warring platforms, saying, “The software you write should run everywhere easily.”

How does Google protect freedom, asks a woman from Colombia. It’s difficult and important, says Page, but transparency is key.

About fiber, Page says increasing capacity increases the potential for doing interesting things. Beyond gigabits, the next step is low-latency connections.

Meanwhile, Google stock is trading above $906, with the company’s market cap passing $300 billion.

On Glass production, Page isn’t willing to say much of anything specific. He says it’s about making users happy. He loves using it with his young kids.

Page’s advice for a kid: Try to cut deep to the real issues. The power grid and manufacturing, not incremental stuff. Asking how far are you off the raw materials cost helps you think about the longer view.

Here’s Mike Isaac’s story on Page’s appearance.

12:19 pm: Just going to add in a timestamp here to note this has been ridiculously long.

Page extends his positivity riff into limitations. He says he doesn’t just want to inspire computer scientists, he also wants lawmakers who understand technology. There should be something in the world like Burning Man, Page says, where technologists can have safe places to experiment on the effects of what they build without deploying them into the normal world.

On healthcare, Page says the main problem is regulatory issues around keeping medical information private. He says he got tons of emails after writing about his vocal cord condition yesterday. “After disclosing, I feel I should have done it sooner. Why are people so focused on keeping medical history private? The answer is insurance companies. That makes no sense. We should change the rules around insurance so they have to insure people.”

Page endorses a question about getting more women into tech, and he says that cheap smartphones are key to global social development.

Page goes offstage as it’s announced that Billy Idol is the evening I/O performer. Meanwhile, nobody has the strength to stand given they haven’t had nutrition or water since dawn. What I mean to say is, it’s finally over.

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