Google put on a pretty impressive show at the I/O conference in San Francisco recently. The aim was to introduce its latest software products and to announce the exciting news that the search giant is now becoming a hardware company. Looks like Apple’s getting some competition then. Time for a bit of an overview. Here’s what’s been happening at Google lately.
Jelly Bean and Voice Search
One of Google’s latest developments has been the launch of Jelly Bean, its latest version for Android system software (about time, anyone?). Additionally, they have added voice recognition which doesn’t require an internet connection. Google’s research has shown that 400 million Android phones have now been activated, whilst a staggering 12 devices are sold every second! The search giant has also added its latest search innovation, namely Knowledge Graph. This offers a selection of useful information on the chosen search subject, in response to queries, rather than just a set of links. The integration of its voice search service on smartphones clearly poses as competition to Apple’s Siri. On top of that Google Now has been introduced. This provides users with helpful information without having to ask for it. As an example: it will offer you the quickest route home after work (yes, the device will know what time you usually finish work!) taking current traffic conditions into account; or it suggests restaurants and their most popular dishes when you’re walking down a street. As you can see, a series of rather drastic additions have taken place as the result of on-going criticism. However, as only 7% of Android users actually run the latest version, this means that the general public is not likely to get too excited. Mainly because Jelly Bean can be seen as another update that you’re unlikely to see delivered to your Android phone.
Chrome for Iphone and the Ipad
Another recent announcement was the availability of Google Chrome for the Iphone and the Ipad. So far Chrome’s user base has reached an astonishing 310 million active users. Going forward Ipad and and Iphone users, like Android users, will be able to enjoy all the browser’s features. In other words from now on you can sync settings, passwords and tabs across all hardware platforms. When Chrome was first launched most of us were still bound to one single computer but due to the growth of mobile, apps, multiple computer ownership and tablets, the search giant is now offering a personalized and consistent web experience across all devices. Result!
Nexus Tablet/ Nexus Q
Yes, it’s official Google has announced the launch of its first own-brand tablet. So what can we expect? The 7-inch tablet is pretty similar in size to its competitors. However, it features a smaller screen than Apple’s Ipaad (9.7-inch) and in terms of weight it comes in at 340 grams. This compares to 712.60g for the Ipad1 and 600.60g for the Ipad2. The tablet’s default browser is of course Chrome. Battling through a saturated market Google is seeking competitive advantage through its pricing strategy: the 8GB model comes at £159 (UK) and the 16GB version for £199 (UK). Countries soon to be selling the Nexus tablet are Australia, Canada, the US and the UK. Google has obviously realised that they can’t ignore the increasing importance and demand for tablet devices. Taking the risk of just selling their software and services through the products of others simply wasn’t enough anymore. A drawback though might be that Google is lacking tablet-optimised apps, therefore the next challenge for them is to motivate developers to fill the gap. Apart from that the company made a bit of a surprise announcement of another addition to its product palette – the Nexus Q. A stand-alone Android powered computer but minus the screen. Not convinced yet? The spherical device is meant to be plugged into a stereo or a TV allowing users to stream videos and music from your other devices. Nexus Q communicates via wi-fi, bluetooth and NFC. The downfall though? Google’s equivalent to Apple’s TV is priced at £193 which is 3 times the price of the Apple TV. Why is Google pricing the Nexus Q at 3-times the competition? Does it want to sell any?
Since a few weeks ago it’s official: eventually all of us will have the chance to get hold of Google’s augmented reality headsets, that is if you have the necessary pocket money for it. The search giant didn’t cut any corners when it came to hosting the I/O conference in San Francisco a few weeks ago. It was dubbed as one of the flashiest presentations ever, including live streaming from headsets worn by rather ‘brave’ skydiving Google staff to offer the audience the ‘real’ experience. If you think that’s all, think again, here’s what’s been happening. In terms of functionality the device can record, stream and display information via the little transparent screen placed above the user’s right eye, whilst navigation is controlled either by voice or a small touchpad. So far the function palette covers web searches, emails and photos which are seen in-frame. Getting excited? Currently the headset is only available for developers to test and start working on related software, however for the general public the device will be available in 2014. Thinking about it the device is likely to have many different user cases. Just imagine you’re out and about and looking for a restaurant: you don’t have to reach into your pocket to get your phone out, launching the app, waiting until the device has located you, typing the restaurant’s name and then clicking it. Okay, that was a bit of an every-day example but let’s take a look at public safety professions such as police, ambulance, etc. Probably the most important aspects when in a stressful situation are concentration and time. The ability to see in your field of view relevant information to the task you are carrying out is of incredible value I believe. Hence, I imagine there are plenty of use cases. At the end of the day though it’s just an additional interface to the internet. The art, I believe, is to add communication and functionality to things which we always have one us (wallet anybody?) without having to invent wearable computing devices. Bottom line is that we should infuse things that we carry with us with intelligence, computing and connectivity.
Google’s Self-Driving Cars
The robotic vehicle has been created by no one other than Sebastian Thurn, the man responsible for Google Street View. He and his team started working on the self-driving car technology in 2005 and as per May 2012 they have finally reached their destination: the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has now issued the first ever self-driving car license (in the US) after ensuring that the car’s driver-less technology is safe enough. So how does it work? The technology cleverly combines information from Google Street View (no wonder Mister Thurn is in charge) with a little help from artificial intelligence software which then combines the input from video cameras inside the car as well as sensors and radars positioned on the roof, front and rear to detect other cars, obstacles and pedestrians. So far, so good but what about commercialization? It’s pretty obvious that these developments were undertaken by the search giant to enter the automobile industry to market the system and data involved with it. For now though most laws only account for humans actually driving meaning that technology is ahead of the law. As a result, commercialization will only really come into action once new laws have been enforced.