Google I/O inundates and overwhelms

No major news on 'Key Lime Pie' or Google Glass, but Google unveils lots of tools, new features, and -- simply -- Awesome

It was shock and awe all over again. Or perhaps when describing Google I/O, "inundate and overwhelm" would be the more apt description. In the nearly four-hour keynote for this week's developers conference in San Francisco, Google execs swaggered through a laundry list of announcements and put Apple on notice that Google is here to dominate.

But first, what was noticeably lacking: Google served no "Key Lime Pie" to attendees hoping to hear more about the next version of Android, nor was there any mention of Google Glass. While attempts to top last year's demo (which combined live skydiving and mountain biking) were destined to fall short, crystal-ball gazers had still expected Google to show off new Glass apps since developers have had prototypes to work with for more than a month.

Here's what Google did announce, starting -- fitting for a developers conference -- with new APIs. After heralding an "amazing year for Android developers" and the more than 900 million users for the Android OS, Google announced an update to Google Play Services that includes new APIs for Google Maps and Google Now. Google launched three new location APIs, including a low-power location mode that should extend battery life; geofencing, which lets developers define "virtual fences" around geographic areas that are triggered when a user enters and leaves those areas; and activity recognition, which uses accelerometer data and machine learning to figure out whether the user is walking, driving, or cycling.

Also for developers, Google unveiled an early-access preview form of Android Studio, a tool based on the community edition of the JetBrains IntelliJ Idea IDE for Java that features Android-specific refactoring and Lint tools to catch performance issues. Google also announced App Engine 1.8.0 with a limited preview of the PHP runtime to the App Engine cloud -- the most-requested feature sought for the platform, according to Google. "The addition of PHP will enable developers to run open source apps like WordPress. It also offers deep integration with other parts of Cloud Platform, including Google Cloud SQL and Cloud Storage," according to Google Senior VP Urs Holzle.

In a move sure to get Apple's attention, Google rolled out a subscription music service that gives users unlimited access to millions of songs in return for a $9.99 monthly fee. A 30-day free trial of Google Play Music All Access is available now, and users who sign up before June 30 will get a $2 discount on the monthly fee.

Mobile users will be pleased by new features in the Chrome browser that reduce data consumption and improve performance on Android devices. Google is incorporating its WebP open source image compression technology, to help reduce data use and conserve battery life, and the new VP9 video codec file compression format, which is designed to deliver better-quality video at lower data rates than the widely used H.264 format. YouTube will roll out support for VP9 later this year.

Google has also built a feature into Chrome that makes shopping easier on mobile devices by collecting users' payment info and making it available across other devices. The average checkout process involves filling out 21 fields on a smartphone, according to Google, with an average abandoned shopping cart rate of 97 percent. But with the new Chrome feature, when the user goes to check out at an online store, a form will appear with the person's payment information already filled in.

Also of interest to end-users is an upcoming "conversational assistant" for Google Search that is capable of answering spoken questions like, "Will it be sunny in Santa Cruz this weekend?" Once Google delivers an answer, you can continue the conversation with follow-up questions like, "How far it from here?" or "How about Monterey?" according to Google senior VP Amit Singhal.

On the cloud front, Google unveiled the Google Cloud Datastore service for storing nonrelational data. Based on App Engine High Replication Datastore, the service features automatic scalability and high availability, along with capabilities like ACID transactions, SQL-like queries, and indexes. Google Compute Engine, the company's environment for running virtual machines, is also available immediately and has such features as shared-core instances, aimed at low-intensity workloads; advanced routing, to help users create gateways and VPN servers for apps that span local networks and the Google cloud; and large persistent disks that support up to 10TB per volume.

Cloud social app Google+ is also getting a makeover, with enhancements to its photo-editing capabilities and the addition of features such as instant upload, which lets you save every photo you take to the cloud for free (up to 15GB). Google Hangouts is now a stand-alone free app on Android and iOS that combines text, photos, and live video. Features include the ability to review conversation history with a swipe and the ability to inject images into conversations.

Finally, Google+ can now create new images based on a set of photos in a library. Upload a few family portraits, and Google+ will sift through them, find everyone's best smile, and stitch them together into a single shot. Befitting Google CEO Larry Page, who said in the keynote that he's saddened by the negativity in the industry, that new feature is dubbed simply "Auto Awesome."

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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