Google announced a slew of new hardware and software at this year’s I/O event for developers. From tablets to a funky-looking media streamer, to the next version of Android and even the futuristic Project Glass, the boys of Mountain View covered it all so let’s dive right in.
The Nexus 7 serves the same purpose as the Nexus smartphone lineup: it provides a pure Android experience, but on a tablet. The 7-inch slate was made in collaboration with hardware manufacturer Asus, and it packs a 1280×800 back-lit IPS display with scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla glass. It measures 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm and weighs an impressively light 340 grams. A quad-core Tegra 3 processor from NVIDIA and 1GB of RAM power the tablet, and a 4325 mAh battery 9 hours of HD video playback and 300 hours of standby time. As far as sensors go, there’s an accelerometer, GPS, a magnetometer, and a gyroscope. WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth, and NFC are also on board. Ports include Micro USB and a 3.5mm headphone jack, both located on the bottom of the device. There’s rear-facing camera, but you’ll find a 1.2MP front-facing camera for video chatting. 8GB and 16GB storage capacities are available to pre-order today through the Google Play storefront at $199 and $149, respectively. The tablet ships later this month and comes with a $25 credit for the Play store plus a copy of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and other media-related extras. It runs the latest version of Android (that is 4.1 Jelly Bean, more on this later) and Google says it was “made for Google Play.” On the homescreen you’ll have quick access to games, your music, movie, and TV show libraries, and your book and magazine collections. In related news, the Google Play store has been updated and now sells magazines, TV shows, and movies can be rented and purchased.
The Nexus Q is what Google is calling “the world’s first social streaming media player. It serves as an extension of your Android device, whether it be the new Nexus 7 tablet or an Android-powered smartphone. The Q is a black spherical device featuring 32 RGB perimeter LEDs that light up and dance when you’re interacting with it. The design is wicked. The Q is a media streamer and acts like Apple TV expect that it receives all of its content directly from the cloud. Connect the Q to your HDTV and/or sound system users can wirelessly stream music, movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos to their living room setup. The catch is that (outside of YouTube) users can only stream content purchased from the Google Play store. So what makes the Q social? Throw a party and the Q makes it possible for all your friends to be DJs and contribute to a single playlist of music and wirelessly control the playbook from their phones or tablets. The catch here is that said devices must be running Android. A free Nexus Q companion app does the trick. For the full experience, Google recommends you purchase multiple Qs so that you can “fill your house with sound.” Around the back of the 2-pound sphere you’ll find a Micro HDMI port, optical out, banana jack speaker outputs, an Ethernet port, and inside there’s an audiophile-grade amplifier, a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and SGX540 graphics core, 1GB RAM, 16GB flash memory, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich software. Wireless options include WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth, and NFC for device tap-to-share capability. Another cool feature to note: the top half of the sphere actually spins to serve as a volume rocker. The Nexus Q goes on sale later this month in the Google Play store at a pricey $299.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
The successor to Ice Cream Sandwich is Jelly Bean as Google makes a leap from Android 4.0 to 4.1. On the surface Jelly Bean doesn’t really look all that different; in this iteration Google is focusing on what’s under the hood like speed and overall performance. Project Butter is what the company is calling their initiative to make Android faster, smoother, and more responsive. They say in 4.1 “everything feel[s] smoother, from scrolling to paging and animations” and user will experience “a more reactive and uniform touch response.” The OS runs at a blazing 60 frames per second. Other OS enhancements include offline voice input, notification and Google Beam enhancements, a more predicative keyboard, new customizations options for the homescreen, and a new way to get information called Google Now. Now provides information that is relevant to you based on your search history and location data. Google provides these examples: “It tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, or your favorite team’s score as they’re playing.” All of this information is displayed on neat little cards that pop up at appropriate times. For example, when you leave your house for work a card will pop up and inform you about the traffic and provide alternate routes in necessary. Also, the OS comes stock with the Chrome web browser (Chrome is also now available for iOS, featuring tabbed browsing, sign-in to sync your tabs across devices, and private browsing). With the SDK out today, Android users can expect Jelly Bean to roll out later this month (Google specified mid-July). The devices that will receive the update right out of the gate are the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, and Xoom.
Google’s updated their social network by adding Events. The announcement focused on three key aspects; Events in Google+ highlight the “before, during and after” in regard to an occasion. Before: You can choose from various cinemagraphic themes for your invitation and attach personalized video greetings from YouTube, and add unique animations. Also events will automatically appear in your Google Calendar and guests’ updates will appear in your stream. During: You can enable Party Mode in your Event and this will allow your guests to upload pictures from their mobile devices during the event to your Google+ Event stream. A “live slideshow” features gives you the option to project your Event photos as they appear in real-time. After: When the party’s over, you can go back to the Google+ Event page and view all the photos that were taken. They can be browsed by popularity, photographer, or photo tag. All the photos from the event in one place, and from there they can be commented on and shared by your friends. In other Google+ news, the app has been optimized for Android tablets and will soon be coming to iPad, Retina ready. (Update: Google+ for iPad is out now.)
The release of Google’s augmented reality spectacles known as Project Glass is still in the distant future (the year 2014 is being thrown around), but that doesn’t mean Google can’t ramp up anticipation by announcing a version made for the developers of the world. At I/O Google announced “Glass Explorer Edition.” Developers and key members of the press who were on hand at I/O conference were offered to test out the prototype glasses; in exchange for $1500, in early 2013 those who accepted the offer will be able to get their eyes on the glasses and provide feedback to Google. The rest of us, unfortunately, have some waiting to do. In addition to this announcement, Google actually did shed some light on Project Glass; no specifics, but here it goes. The glasses will feature a “powerful” CPU and “lots” of RAM, an accelerometer, gyroscope, and wireless radios (for WiFi and 4G we still do not know), a camera (duh), speaker, and microphone. Along the side of the frame there’s a touchpad that provides another means of input, in addition to voice commands and head gestures; around the back there’s a battery pack (still no word on device longevity). It was made known that the small transparent display that projects images onto your eye actually sits slightly above your eyeball so that it won’t interfere with your direct line of vision. On display at the conference were the glasses in various hues including black and a light blue. What might have trumped the entire I/O was an exhilarating video featuring skydivers. Each member of the skydiving team wore a pair of Google’s glasses and the attendees watched their various first-person perspectives as they made their way to the I/O stage. The live demo was made possible by a Google+ Hangout. Watch it unfold here.
In sum, the capable Nexus 7 opens up the world of Android and tablets for those who aren’t willing to empty their wallets for the pricier competition. The Nexus Q introduces a slick piece of tech with innovative features for the social crowd, but with such a heavy price tag the arguably more capable Apple TV shouldn’t be scared of the competition just yet. Jelly Bean, although not a big leap into the future for Android, brings a slew of new features and welcome enhancements to the growing and always evolving OS; it’s unfortunate that rollout to devices is so fragmented. Google+ is getting more functional with a comprehensive and super-social take on Events. And the future is coming into vision knowing that Google is hard at work on Project Glass and is nearly ready to share it with a chunk of the general population.