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6/27/2012
07:18 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions

Google Glasses, the Nexus Q home entertainment streaming device, Android software upgrades, and a Nexus tablet shine at day one of Google's I/O developer conference.




Google accomplished something on Wednesday rarely achieved at technology events: The company managed to make a product introduction genuinely exciting at its developer conference, Google I/O.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, arrived on stage in the middle of Vic Gundotra's presentation about Google+ Events, a new social event planning service, because he couldn't wait: A plane with skydivers wearing Google's augmented reality glasses had reached the drop zone high over San Francisco.

Brin warned that things might not go a planned. The skydivers jumped out of the plane, bringing the audience along for the ride as video streamed from the jumpers' glasses to the conference projection screen.

When the parachutists arrived in the auditorium, minutes after landing on the roof of the Moscone West convention center, where Google I/O was being held, the developers in attendance offered something more than polite applause. It would be fair to call the stunt awesome because people were in awe.

Google's demonstration of Project Glass reflects a willingness to take risks that we have not seen in its more established competitors.

Apple turns technology into something sacred; Google sells adrenaline, openness, and geek cred.

Selling an actual product might be better: Google promises to deliver its glasses in prototype form to developers next year, with no commitment about general release. At least its Nexus 7 and Nexus Q devices will ship next month.

Google has to take risks. It has to catch up in the tablet market, and despite the popularity of Android, it still has to combat fragmentation, carrier foot-dragging, and other problems that Apple doesn't face with iOS.

The Nexus 7 is a good start. Introduced at Google I/O, Google's 7-inch Asus-made tablet arrives ahead of Apple's rumored 7-inch iPad and Amazon's Kindle 2. It's a graphics powerhouse and eminently portable. It runs on the latest version of Android, known as Jelly Bean. At $199, it should sell well.

The Nexus Q, also introduced at Google I/O, is more of a gamble. It's a streaming media player that works only with Android devices and Google Play. Apple's iTunes has far more customers than Google Play, but Google's decision to position its hardware as a social tool--friends armed with Android devices can connect to a nearby Nexus Q to stream their own movies and music--could help Android and Google Play gain ground.

For a closer look at the best Google I/O highlights so far, keep reading.


How do you challenge a champion? Wait for age to take its toll--or change the rules of the competition. Google has taken the latter approach in the competitive tablet market. Its Nexus 7 tablet should make Amazon worry more than Apple.

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Android 4.1 Jelly Bean brings performance improvements and search changes to users. Perhaps most intriguing is Google Now, which combines search with location data and appointments to keep track of where you are and where you're headed and presents reminders of when you need to get going to make your appointments.

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Android 4.1's biggest change may be the way it handles mobile search results. Asked a question, it returns a card with an answer. The traditional search results list is still there, below the card, but it's no longer the default mobile search experience, at least for some kinds of queries.

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Google is now selling consumer electronics, a $299 streaming media player called Nexus Q. The price point seems a bit high compared to Apple's $99 AirPort Express or the $99 Apple TV. Recall that Logitech's Revue Google TV player languished at that price point.

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While rumors persist that Google+ is a ghost town, Google insists 150 million people are actually using its obligatory social network every month. Google says 250 million people have registered for the service, which suggests that 100 million have little or no interest.

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Google, as a company built on network-dependent services like advertising, has been slow to add offline capabilities to its products. But Android 4.1 shows this is starting to change, with voice input that doesn't require a network connection to function.

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Eclipsed by Sergey's hectic Project Glass demo, Google+ Events nonetheless deserves some consideration. Social networks and event planning go hand in hand. But Google+ Events will probably have to ensure an initial period of skepticism and ridicule until it becomes apparent that Google is in the social networking business for the long haul.

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Google says more people are using Google+ from mobile devices than desktop computers. And now that Google has a tablet of its own, the Nexus 7, it makes sense to have a version of Google+ tuned for tablets.

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As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer put it in one of his more manic moments, "Developer, developers, developers, developers. Developers, developers, developers ..." Google has developers too and their projects will play a major role in sustaining the health of the Android ecosystem.

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