The Google I/O conference kicked off in San Francisco earlier this week. The focus of the keynote speech was on user engagement; Google not only wants people to search, it wants people to stay and explore. It wants people to share. Although the speech didn’t reveal any plans for new hardware, it did include improvements on core Web services.
Below is a list of the headline topics covered in the keynote speech…
Maps for Mobile:
Google Maps for mobile became more interactive with added features such as an ‘explore’ tab that lets users locate nearby shops, bars, eateries and other points of interest. A function that not only alerts of traffic jams but also suggests new routes is particularly handy for drivers.
Maps for Desktops:
An update for Google Maps on desktops has the added benefit of recommendations made according to past searches by the user and their friends. The interface includes photos, user reviews and navigation making it easier for users to explore their surroundings and beyond. Overall, it looks a lot cleaner with better graphics – always a plus. Check it out on Google’s preview page
Google+ and Hangout
Probably the strongest evidence of Google’s aim to get people sharing is its updates to Google+. The new Google+ interface has a more modular look to it and a distinctly Pinterest-like feel. Users can now also click on hashtags to view related content.
The most interesting updates to Google+, however, are the image-related functions. The Google Knowledge Graph, a growing database of 570 million people, places, things and 18 billion facts – which until now could only be used for text – will categorise your snaps and identify highlights from your holiday. It also has an algorithm that will detect famous places and famous faces. Another addition is the Quick Editing tool which, contrary to its name is a somewhat sophisticated image editing function with surprisingly good results. It hosts a variety of filters, colour preferences, image softening and correction options. See below.
The Hangout app has replaced the Talk app and according to Google, it “brings one-to-one and group conversations to life with photos, emoji and video calls for free”.
It is obvious that the changes are built around encouraging users to share more and start conversations.
“Cards” with information on commute times, film, TV shows and video games will supplement the existing system, but more excitingly, voice-enabled conversational search will be available on desktops via Chrome and the Chrome OS, albeit with a limited Google Now card experience. After activating the service by saying “Ok, Google”, users can ask questions like ‘where is the nearest sushi place?’ followed by ‘how far is it from here?’ The service allows users to begin an email, post a reminder or search for locally stored media like “my holiday photos from New Zealand”. There is also the capability to set reminders by voice or text and to receive them in the same way.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Available directly from Google, the new Samsung Galaxy S4 runs a pure, untouched version of android without the customisations of Samsung. Unlike the Nexus, this smartphone will be sold in the US at the higher end of the market at $649.99 from June 26th. The grand unveiling can be seen here.
Google Play Music – All Access
Entering into the already hugely competitive music-on-demand market, Google has introduced their answer to Spotify and Pandora. Being touted as “radio without rules” Google Play Music – All Access is a paid-for addition to Google Music and provides users with unlimited access to its bank of music. When it comes to the UK, the service is expected to cost about £6.50 a month with a free trial for the first month or £5.25 a month for those who sign up early.
The interface integrates existing music on a user’s device with Google’s online collection allowing for similar suggestions and the capacity to save suggestions for quick access later.
The Explore tab enables users to browse categories and sub-categories of music lists curated by people employed specifically for that purpose.It recommends picks by YouTube hits as well as your own music style and preferences, making it as relevant as possible. Here’s what the Guardian had to say about it.