Google’s I/O Developer Conference today brought a host of Android news, including Google+ enhancements to posts and photos, Google Play updates for developers, enhanced Maps, a new music service, a new Hangouts app, extra Google Now cards and (eventually) better voice search. Here’s what was announced and when we’ll see the new options.
Google+ Adds New Options
Google+ is seeing a huge update today with 41 new features, including an awesome new column-based interface with some nice customisation options.
The new interface almost looks like the love child of Facebook Timeline and Flipboard, putting your feed into a number of columns that can be customised according to your screen size (so if you have a large screen, you can add more columns and use that white space). Videos will stretch multiple columns, and it’s got some great little animations that look really smooth too.
When you make a post, Google+ now automatically adds hashtags to your post by reading the text and scanning images in the post. That way, from any post, you can see more posts on the same subject, without the poster having to add hashtags themselves. (And, of course, you can turn this feature off or customise the auto-hashtags if you want). As with most Google online updates, this will roll out over the next few days.
Google+ is also adding some mind-blowing new features to make your images awesome and help you manage your incredibly large photo library. Using advanced algorithms, Google+ will now pick your best photos, and auto-enhance images.
The new “highlight” feature selects your best shots based on both picture quality and the kinds of photos most people like.
Google+ will also automatically enhance your photos, with features such as the ability to recognise faces, remove noise and sharpen images. The enhancements are reversible and can be turned on or off individually or globally for all your photos.
Finally, a new “Awesome” feature will create collages of multiple people, find images where all the people are smiling, and automatically remove visual dupes.
In short, Google+ wants to be “your darkroom.” With the recent increase to 15GB of free storage for Google’s services, this is potentially pretty awesome.
A New Look For Maps
In a widely-anticipated move Google announced a new version of Maps for Android, iOS and the web today, with a new look and a focus on location discovery.
On the desktop, Google has eliminated of the Maps sidebar for a more map-centric experience, with a floating search bar on the left side. When you search for a location, the results show up on the map, but not on a big sidebar on the left side. You can filter the results and click on them for some dropdown cards that give you more details. It’s a very cool interface, but it looks like it could be a little frustrating if you want a more traditional list.
Google has also added a new feature that highlights personal landmarks, such as favourite restaurants and other locations (driven by the same data that sources Google Now) that help you orient yourself. Certain restaurants may show up on your map by default, but not on others, and you can also see locations on your friends’ maps (sourced by your Google+ circles).
Maps also adds some handy features for directions. If you click on a location, it will show the names of nearby roads on the map, even if you don’t usually see them by default. It’s also improved public transit directions.
On Android and iOS, Google is looking to improve location discovery. When you search for a location in the new Maps, you’ll get a small popop on the bottom of your screen that you can swipe through easily, and drag it up for more details. iOS users will be somewhat familiar with this new card-like interface, but now it’s on Android as well. Google has also updated the interface for tablets, particularly for location search, and it looks pretty great.
When it comes to Navigation, Google hass added better support for car accidents and other incidents that will get in your way. Just check out traffic view to see them. It will also notify you if a faster route has become available (say, if conditions change on your current route). These are a welcome change (as long as they don’t distract you from the road, of course).
The new version of Maps for desktop is available in preview right now, though you’ll have to sign up for an invite to try it out. The new Maps for iOS and Android will be available mid-year.
Fresh Developer Services On Play
Google announced some interesting new APIs as part of Google Play Services, which developers can use to enhance their apps. Some of the most interesting ones include single sign on and notification syncing, so you get alerts and can sign on just once across all your devices.
Google also revealed three new map and location services APIs. These will allow for better battery performance for location tracking modes (with a claimed lower than 1 per cent of battery use per hour), activity recognition (so your Android will know if you’re walking or driving), and geofencing (so retail establishments can send location-based alerts to you).
Along with these enhancements, Google also officially revealed Google Play Game Services, with cloud saving and achievements.
Google Music And S4: No Luck For Australia
Google also unveiled Google Play Music All Access, a Spotify-like music streaming service. Unfortunately, it’s US-only at the moment (not so surprising, given we only saw the basic Google Music paid-for tracks option arrive in Australia back in April). There’s also no word yet on whether the the version of the Galaxy S4 with a stock Android image, which Google will be selling in the US from June, will hit Australia; we’ll update if we hear anything.
The New Hangouts App
Google also took the wraps off of a new Google Hangouts app, one that makes it easy to connect with any of your Google+ circles or Google contacts. The app puts photos, chats with friends and family, and video conversations at your fingertips on Android, iOS and the web.
The new Google Hangouts app brings the popular Google+ feature out of Google+ exclusively and makes it available on any device as well as the web. Photos and chats are easy to browse and save through the app, and one tap gives you a gallery of all of the photos you and your contacts have shared. You’ll see live animations as people are typing and posting, and messages are grouped together so a conversation flows naturally across all participants, instead of a disjointed group of back and forth messages.
The app also seamlessly includes video chats, and with a single tap you can start a group video chat with everyone in your conversation, regardless of the device they’re using. Hangouts will be available today for iOS and Android, and on the web it will still be a core component of Google+. All of the video chats, messages and photo sharing are free (apart from data charges) on all devices.
New Google Now Cards
Google Now is getting a few new cards to dish you information quickly. This includes a new Reminders function that automatically tells you when you have plans and a new public transport search.
As with everything in Google Now, the new cards try to anticipate what you’ll need. For Reminders, it’s all about keeping you up to date on your appointments and meetings. For public transport, you’ll see what is available to you at your location (assuming your local transport authority offers up that data). Other new cards include book releases, music albums, TV shows and video games, though these are likely to have a US bias initially.
Beefing Up Voice Search
Google has inched ever closer to the dream of Star Trek-style computing with its new Conversational Search feature, which was previewed at Google I/O. You start a search by saying “Okay, Google…,” and speak your search query, such as “When does my flight leave?” “How far is it to the beach?” or “What’s the population of my town?” Google then responds, both by voice, and with text search results.
Conversational Search uses the data that Google has about you and your activities to power search results with information that’s actually relevant to your interests. You can say “show me my holiday pictures,” and Google will bring up photos you’ve uploaded. Or you can say “Show me things to do around Washington DC” and Google will not just respond to you with voice information, but also present search results listing popular destinations, arranged on a Google Map and with relevant links below.
The new search features will roll out slowly (though some are available to members of Google’s Search Field Trial now). When they do arrive, many will only work via Chrome.