Google had a busy day today at its I/O 2012 event and unveiled several new software and hardware offerings.
Android Jelly Bean:
Google unveiled the next version of Android, dubbed “Jelly Bean.” Jelly Bean is more of an incremental update than what we saw with Ice Cream Sandwich, and is aimed at giving a smoother user experience. New Features include improved notifications, better keyboard/predictive text and voice typing, and redesigned search and improved Voice Search. Also, Jelly Bean includes Google Now, which uses “cards” “that get you just the right information at just the right time,” whatever that means:
Android Jelly Bean will be released in Mid-July, and will be pushed via OTA updates to Galaxy Nexus (thankfully!), Motorola Xoom, and Nexus S.
Google Unveils the Nexus 7 Tablet:
The Nexus 7 is the first Nexus tablet – a tablet designed with Google’s input – and is built by ASUS. It features a 7″ 1280×800 display, a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1 GB RAM, WiFi, BlueTooth, NFC, GPS, micro USB, a 1.2 MP front-facing camera, a 4325 mAh battery with a stated 10 hour life while web browsing and 8 hour life while watching HD movies, and it weighs 340 grams. The device will ship with Jelly Bean, and will be the first device to ship with Google Chrome as the stock browser. It will retail for $199 for the 8 GB model and $249 for the 16 GB model, and there is a limited time offer to receive a $25 Google Play credit with the purchase of a Nexus 7. The device is expected to ship in mid-July.
Judging by the commercial below, the Nexus 7 will tie in with the Google Play Store’s apps, games, music, movies, TV shows, books, and magazines, as well as Google Maps, GMail, Google+, and YouTube. It will be able to do other things, too, but the marketting suggests that it is intended to be a media consumption device to compete with the Kindle Fire.
I think the Nexus 7 looks really good, and the price definitely makes it an appetizing choice for someone looking to buy a tablet. I do wonder, though, with the increase in display size of top-tier Android phones, which range from 4.5″ to 5.5″, whether there will be some consumers who feel that the Nexus 7 is not enough of an increase in size over their smartphones to warrant buying it and carrying it around. I still think even with my 4.65″ Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus 7 would be a nice improvement for reading and watching movies while travelling long distances, and for $199 I’d consider it.
Google Unveils the Nexus Q:
The Nexus Q is a media-streaming device that can connect to a TV, receiver, and/or directly to speakers, and stream content from Google Play Music, Movies, and TV, and YouTube. It is a black sphere with a 4.6″ diameter, with 32 LED lights that move to the music, ethernet, WiFi, micro-HDMI, and amplified stereo speaker outputs (with a 12.5 watt output per channel). It can be controlled by Android phones and tablets (I don’t think there is a free-standing remote for it), and the top half of the dome can be turned to adjust the volume or tapped to mute the volume. The Nexus Q has the ability to let party guests request songs from their own library, and Nexus Qs can also be linked together to provide sound in multiple rooms. The device will retail for $299 and is expected to ship in mid-July. Here’s the commercial:
$299 seems steep to me for this kind of device, especially one that relies solely on Google Play content, which although improving is still limited. Its music capabilities seem to be what Google is marketing, but I really do think if Google added a few more video content channels and/or an AirPlay-like streaming from apps on Android devices, the price tag would be easier to swallow. It is relatively simple to hook a computer, iPod, or phone up to a stereo system, and I don’t think the added music functionality is worth the price. As for movies and television, the iTunes Store, which can be accessed from the $99 Apple TV, has a far better selection than the Google Play Store. If Google could let people watch content from apps on their phones, or maybe even browse the web using their phones and the Nexus Q, then the Nexus Q would be much more enticing to Android users. All that being said, that little sphere would look pretty cool on my entertainment center, but unless I come into a lot of money, I don’t think it is worth the price.
Google Play Store will now carry magazines, television shows, and allow for movie purchases (as opposed to just rentals):
That is self-explanatory, and it is obvious from the Nexus 7 and the Nexus Q that Google is trying to step up their content offerings.
Google Improves Google+:
Google also announced several improvements to Google+. First, there will be a new Google+ app designed for tablets that is attractive and user-friendly, and also a redesigned Google+ app for Android phones. The apps are available for Android devices now and for iPads in the future.
Google also announced new Events functions, including “beautiful invites,” Google Calendar syncing, a “Party Mode” that instantly uploads photos taken during an event to the Event page, and a way for guests to upload photos after the event to the Event page as well.
I like Google+ and think it has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, no matter how great its features are, it will live and die based on the number of people who use it. Right now, less than 10% of my Facebook friends use Google+, and I think those who do “use Google+” only have a profile page and don’t actually visit the site or post updates. So no matter how great the features are – and some Google+ features are awesome – I won’t use Google+ for social networking unless there are people there with whom to network. I’m hoping people start switching to Google+, but I feel most of my friends won’t make the jump as long as they are relatively happy with Facebook.
Google Earth for Android Goes 3D:
The 3D Google Earth functionality went live today in the Google Play Store. The 3D maps cover 14 cities so far, and look pretty good. Surprisingly, New York City, my hometown, is not featured in 3D yet.