Ina Fried

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Google I/O, Day One: A Tablet, a Streaming Media Player and Google Glasses Descend From the Sky

It’s that time of the year again. Search giant Google takes to the stage to show off the latest in its long line of Android desserts, talk about the future of its platforms, and hand out some hardware to the developers lucky enough to get a ticket to its I/O conference.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of what to expect. For starters, there’s going to be Google’s take on the tablet, though it remains to be seen just what the company is adding to the mix here. Google is also expected to unveil new cloud services, show off the next version of Android, and detail a home media player that it has been working on.

The company is likely to talk about Android’s broader future, but just a reminder that sometimes that bold vision proves trickier than expected, as was the case with some of the announcements made at I/O last year.

Check back around 9:30 am PT for live coverage and analysis from our team of reporters, including Mike Isaac, Liz Gannes and myself.

9:33 am: Wow, we’re finally in and seated. I’m not saying it was chaotic, but in the time that it took to get in, T-Mobile’s CEO resigned and the Google Play store prematurely showed off the Q streaming media player.

9:36 am: Google is doing a fun, almost-holographic visualization countdown of the last minute before the keynote.

9:37 am: Showtime. On stage is Senior VP Vic Gundotra.

6,000 people in attendance. And I think I bumped into nearly all of them on the way in.

“We still have some surprises left,” Gundotra said.

9:40 am: Android executive Hugo Barra is now up, starting with some momentum figures, naturally.

9:41 am: There are now 400 million Android devices activated, Barra said, up from 100 million as of a year ago. “We’re definitely not slowing down,” Barra said.

Daily activations are up to one million devices per day, up from 400,000 per day rate as of a year ago.

9:42 am: Barra now talking Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

“We want things to be simple, beautiful and really smart.”

Project Butter is a part of Jelly Bean designed to improve performance. There’s also better search, and more.

9:43 am: Engineering Director Dave Burke is up to talk about this Project Butter, not to be confused with Qualcomm’s recent video of rival chips melting butter.

9:44 am: Talk is getting nerdy quick, as Burke is talking about triple buffering and other things. Upshot: The idea is to have smoother streaming video.

Meanwhile, on the touch side, Jelly Bean is designed to be more responsive by predicting where a finger is headed. The device’s processor is also ramped up when a finger is touching the screen to give maximum performance.

9:46 am: Really, shouldn’t it have been Project Buttered Popcorn?

Meanwhile, we’re getting a demo of two devices side by side to see the performance of Jelly Bean versus Ice Cream Sandwich.

“It just feels much more silkily smooth,” Burke said.

9:48 am: Barra is back with more Jelly Bean demos.

9:49 am: One of the new features is that Android widgets on the home screen resize themselves based on available space. Widgets and apps can also be gotten rid of more easily.

Jelly Bean adds a predictive keyboard that helps auto-complete and predict the next word. (Sorry, Swype and SwiftKey.)

9:50 am: When you don’t want to touch-type, there’s also voice-typing that works whether or not there is a network connection.

Seems to work in the demo.

9:51 am: Android adding support for new languages, including Persian, Hindi and Thai, with improved support for Arabic and Hebrew.

There are also improved accessibility features, including a feature for the blinds that allow voice output to be mixed with simple text gestures.

9:53 am: On to the camera. The camera app in Jelly Bean makes it easier to review the photos just taken, which can be accessed with a swipe.

A filmstrip view makes it easier to review multiple photos; ones you don’t want can be discarded with a flick.

9:54 am: Google is adding new features to its Android Beam sharing function, including the ability to share photos by tapping two NFC-connected Android devices together, as well as easy pairing with NFC-equipped Bluetooth devices.

9:55 am: Improvements to notifications allow one to return a missed call, see the subjects of incoming e-mail, or notify folks attending a calendared meeting that you will be late.

The enhanced notifications also work with third-party apps, as Barra shows with a music-playing app and the Pulse news-reading app.

9:58 am: Another key feature of Jelly Bean is improved search.

There are cards with answers for a lot of different queries, from facts to weather and more.

Voice search is improved in Jelly Bean, and speaks answers back, as well.

In a demo, Jelly Bean is able to answer the height of the Space Needle, define a robot, and correctly identify the Prime Minister of Japan.

Finally, a query to “show me pictures of pygmy marmosets” returns a bunch of photos of the adorable little primates.

10:01 am: There’s also a new search feature called “Google Now.”

It’s a mechanism for automatically getting information without searching. Google Now, for those that opt in, can predict what information might be needed by calendar, travel patterns, your location and search history.

If you are near a bus stop, you will get transit info. If you are walking down the street, you can automatically get information on nearby restaurants.

Google will tell you when to leave to get to your next appointment, based on traffic or bus schedules.

One can get up-to-date sports scores, based on teams you have searched for on Google.

“Google now knows when you are travelling,” Barra said. It offers up currency conversions, the time back home, and other information when roaming overseas.

10:04 am: Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up Google Now. There’s a search bar, and below that are the relevant cards pulled up by Google Now.

10:07 am: So when can you get your hands on Jelly Bean?

Motorola Xoom, Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S will get Jelly Bean starting in mid-July. The software development kit for developers is available today.

Google is also releasing a kit for hardware makers two months to three months before the release of Jelly Bean and all future Android releases.

The kit “allows hardware makers to innovate in parallel” with Google, Barra said.

10:09 am: Now up, engineering director Chris Yerga, to talk about Google Play.

10:10 am: There are 600,000 apps and games in the Google Play store, Yerga said.

More than 50 percent of apps revenue comes from in-app billing, Yerga said. This can expand even more with additional carrier billing options and the recently added in-app subscription option.

10:12 am: Users can now get “smart app updates,” where they only get the part of the apps that have changed. Typically, such updates are only a third as big as a full app update.

“We handle it automatically for you,” Yerga said. The feature works with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and above.

Google is adding a free “cloud messaging” feature that developers can build into their apps.

On to the content side of Google Play.

“Today, we are bringing more content to Google Play,” Yerga said.

The company is adding movie sales, in addition to movie rentals, as well as TV-show sales.

Magazines are also coming to Google Play, including titles from Hearst, Conde Nast and Meredith.

10:16 am: Hugo back on to talk tablets. Hmm, I wonder what he has up his sleeve.

“It’s always been the goal of the Nexus program to provide you the ‘best of Google’ experience,” Barra said.

As expected, the company is showing off the Nexus 7, the tablet Google partnered with Asus to build. It’s running Jelly Bean.

10:18 am: Some specs: 1280 x 800 pixel display, Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, front-facing camera for video chat, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC. Up to nine hours of video playback. Weight: 340 grams. (Why do U.S. companies keep giving us weight in grams?)

Yerga says Nexus 7 was designed to show off the content in the Google Play store, and to support the next generation of games and apps.

“Nexus 7 is made for Google Play,” Yerga said. The Nexus 7 is ideal for reading books, thanks to its weight and size, Yerga says.

It’s also nifty for TV shows, Yerga insists.

10:24 am: Nexus 7 also has a new recommendation engine for finding new content, with a widget on the tablet’s home screen.

There’s a “what’s this song?” widget that identifies a song and takes you to Google Play market to get it. (Hi, Shazam!)

10:25 am: Nexus 7 is the first Android device that ships with Chrome as the standard browser. (Chrome has been in beta for Ice Cream Sandwich.)

10:26 am: On to mapping.

As Google talked about at a recent event, it is adding an offline maps option and other features.

Yerga is now talking about Google Currents — the company’s Flipboard competitor that serves up news from a variety of different sources.

Currents now has Google Translate built in, so articles can be shown in another language.

10:31 am: Gaming, too.

10:31 am: So, how do we get the Nexus 7? Barra is back. “It’s a fantastic device.”

Available for preorder today from the Google Play store, starting at $199 with a $25 Google Play credit, the “Transformers” movie, some free magazines, and a Bourne book.

Orders will ship in mid-July.

10:32 am: Next up, Danger co-founders Joe Britt and Matt Hershenson, to give an update on Project Tungsten — the Android-in-the-home effort the pair introduced last year.

This is where we will hear about the Q — the Google-developed, Android-powered media streaming device.

Yep. Video talking about it. It’s a sphere-shaped device. Mike Isaac has more on it in this piece.

“It’s a small, Android-powered computer that lives in your home,” Britt says of the Q. It can be controlled by phone or tablet, but the content comes from the cloud.

On to the design.

The Q is powered by Texas Instruments’ OMAP chip — the same processor in the Galaxy Nexus. It has Wi-Fi and Ethernet, Bluetooth and NFC, a micro-USB port for future accessories and “general hackability.”

10:39 am: Joe Britt giving a demo, including the device’s LED lights, as well as its ability to send visualizations to a connected TV.

“It’s a cloud-connected jukebox,” Britt said, noting that anyone at a party can add their music to the playlist.

Everybody that has a device can see the queue and add their music to the playlist — or even take over the system and skip to the front of the queue.

Nerd fight!

10:44 am: The Q can also be used to grab movies from Google Play in the cloud, including content on anyone’s device.

So, if you have an Android device and go to a friend’s house and they have a Q, you can stream your video to their TV.

10:45 am: Nexus Q sells for $299, also from Google Play store. Preorders now, and the device ships in mid-July, like the tablet.

10:46 am: Okay, I think that’s the end of the Android part of the keynote — looks like Google+ is next.

Gundotra is back, noting that Google+ launched a year ago tomorrow.

“We really think we are on to something special,” Gundotra says.

Gundotra says we should think of Google+ as a unification of all of Google’s efforts with a “social spine.”

Some stats. Gundotra said there are 250 million Google+ accounts, with 150 million monthly active users, half of whom sign in daily.

10:52 am: Google is adding a native tablet version of Google+.

10:54 am: Here’s a look at the new tablet app:

10:55 am: If you’ve got an iPad, we’ve got you covered, Gundotra said, noting that an iPad Google+ app is also coming soon, with similar features.

Available today for Android tablets, and “very soon” for the iPad. The company is also updating the Android phone app.

10:56 am: One more Google+ announcement, Gundotra said.


Online tools let you manage invites, but don’t do much once the party starts, or after it ends.

“Today’s online tools bail when you need them the most,” Gundotra said.

I’m pretty sure Evite and others have tried to keep people coming back for photos and more. That said, Google brings a lot of tools when it comes to sharing.

10:59 am: The invite piece has “cinemagraphic” animated themes — basically, pictures with animation. You can invite people by email, whether guests are Google+ users or not.

There’s integration with Google’s calendar and maps.

At the event, photos are key.

“Everyone’s photos get lost,” Gundotra said. They stay on everyone’s individual devices.

Google’s solution is “party mode,” which allows all the guests to share their photos.

“Party mode gives your party a visual pulse,” Gundotra said, noting that you can even have a live slideshow.

There’s an icon to remind you that party mode is on, but I foresee some embarrassing unintentional shares, nonetheless.

11:04 am: After the party, the Events app allows people to share photos and video. The app will put all the photos and videos in chronological order.

One of the guys on the Google+ team beta tested this at his own wedding, so now we are seeing his wedding pics.

“You can see the event from different perspectives,” Gundotra said.

Photos with most engagement (comment and +1) are made event highlights.

11:06 am: Sergey Brin makes a surprise appearance.

“It’s a little bit time-sensitive, so I apologize for interrupting,” Brin said.

“Who wants to see a demo of Glass?” Brin asked.

11:08 am: Brin says the folks with the Google Glass units are in an airship close by. Looks like the Airship Eureka I went in a couple weeks ago.

11:10 am: It looks like they are going to jump out of the blimp, err, airship. (Zeppelins are testy about the “B” word.)

And we see them jumping, live, through the glasses.

“It’s a little bit tricky landing on a building,as you might imagine,” Brin notes. Luckily, the Moscone West convention center has a pretty big roof, Brin said.

11:12 am: One has landed. Now two and three.

The skydivers are met by bikers, also wearing Google Glass specs, and do some stunts before handing off to someone rappelling down the side of the building.

“Don’t try this at home, kids,” Brin said.

“This is pretty wild,” Brin said. (Agreed.)

Now some more bikers are biking through the convention center and into the keynote hall, to strong applause.

11:15 am: And, the biker has made it onstage to join Brin.

The rest of the stunt team now making its way to the stage, to a nice ovation.

11:17 am: Brin gets the pair of glasses that the team delivered. “No, these are the wrong ones,” Brin jokes. “We have to do it again.”

Now, to learn more about Google Glass, is another Googler, also wearing prototypes of the high-tech eyewear.

So, what’s inside? Lots of memory, powerful processor, touchpad on the side, button for taking pictures, microphones, camera, speaker and sensors like accelerometer, compass and gyroscopes.

The project started about two-and-a-half years ago to get the technology into a small pair of wearable glasses.

11:20 am: Isabel, one of the designers of Glass, is on stage to talk about the software interface. The goal, she said, is to make it so you don’t miss the real world.

The display is above your field of view. “We want to empower people to use technology naturally,” she said.

11:21 am: If this is not ridiculously light, it doesn’t belong on your face, she says.

The latest prototype, she said, weighs less than many pairs of sunglasses.

11:22 am: She noted that people have started wearing the glasses while running.

We want Glass to work for many peopl, and in most situations. The company realized it needed to create a scalable design that is off to one side and can be paired with lots of different frames.

The other Google Glass demo-er, by the way, is Babak Parviz, who is back onstage.

Isabelle Olsson is the designer that was onstage.

Parviz notes that Glass is great for capturing those moments when you don’t have your camera with you, as well as for really capturing life as it is seen through your eyes.

“There is something really powerful about this,” Olsson said. Sometimes it is about really feeling you are there,” Olsson said. Other times, it is a way to learn new things or connect with a friend having an experience — like going to the dentist or being caught in the rain.

Parviz said the second main aspiration with Glass is to access information very quickly. Nowadays, you might ask a friend, or pull out your phone. “What we aspire to do is make that even much, much faster,” Parviz said.

11:30 am: “We would like it to be so fast that you feel you know it,” Parviz said. It’s a long-term goal to have information that close. “That day may not be today. That day may not be tomorrow.”

11:30 am: There are different things you might want to know at different times, like knowing how fast you are going while biking, or identifying an unknown food at a market.

“We are very excited about this possibility,” Parviz said.

Video shows how it is really handy, especially when capturing images of a new baby.

Sergey is back, noting that he is “so jazzed” that the landing actually worked, he says.

As for why it’s being shown at I/O, Brin says there are three reasons: One, it’s really compelling. Two, most people haven’t gotten to experience it; and three, the Google Glass team is still pretty small, and it wants to get developers involved.

“This developer community is going to be key to us.”

Google announces Glass Explorer Edition, available for preorder only for U.S.-based I/O attendees.

“It’s going to be rough around the edges,” Brin said. “You have to want to be on the bleeding edge. That’s what this is designed for.”

11:36 am: It will be $1,500, and we plan on shipping it to you early next year.

“This is really new technology, and we really want to get all of you to help shape it,” Brin said.

11:37 am: Now, Sergey gives it back to Vic Gundotra, who I think was talking about Google+ or something …

11:38 am: Undeterred, Gundotra is showing a video of events. Meanwhile, the crowd is all deciding whether they can afford to order a pair of $1,500 experimental glasses without breaking the bank or being killed by a significant other.

11:40 am: First Google+ event will be tonight’s After Hours event, which features musicians Paul Oakenfold and Train.

11:40 am: Hugo Barra is back on stage. Guessing it is giveaway time.

11:41 am: I/O attendees will get an Android developer pack. All 6,000 attendees will get a Galaxy Nexus phone, Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q.

11:43 am: And with that, it’s a wrap.


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