Google I/O, the search giant’s yearly developer conference has come and gone and with it came numerous announcements. From the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q, Jelly Bean, Google Now and Google+ Hangouts, and even an exciting demo of Google’s Project Glass, Google delivered a host of exciting product previews.
Google’s preview of the Nexus 7 tablet is exciting. The device comes pre-loaded with Google’s most up to date version of the Android operating system (more on that later), comes in a comfortable form factor and is priced right. The $199 tablet (for the 8GB model, the 16GB model is $249) seems to be Google’s attempt to deliver a quality Android tablet as an alternative to the Kindle Fire and a budget option over Apple’s iPad. The device is manufactured by electronics maker ASUS, and seems to be an attempt to overcome the somewhat fractured nature of Android’s ecosystem. It runs off of NVIDIA’s powerful quad-core Tegra 3 chipset, has a comfy 7” display and has built-in WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and Micro USB, all of the mobile device technologies that make them so useful. Cellular data is not available however, an understandable limitation given the price point.
As an admitted Apple fan, I have found it difficult to get involved with Android. As much a we tech folks complain about the need for openness in our technology solutions, it is the closed loop of Apple’s hardware and software ecosystem that I like. It insures a more seamless delivery system with developers needing to only develop on a limited set of hardware as opposed to Android’s almost “spray and pray” methodology. There are tons of Android devices out there, and each manufacturer is responsible for getting custom Android deployments out to that hardware.
The Nexus 7 seems to overcome that to some degree as it is more tightly integrated with Google. ASUS makes the Nexus 7, just as Foxconn makes the iPad. But just as the iPad is an Apple device, it seems that the Nexus 7 is a Google device. That is promising for me, as Google should be able to manage integration with the device more thoroughly. Even with the alarmingly low amount of built-in storage and a lack of ability to expand it I am seriously considering a switch from the iPad to the Nexus 7 for my tablet solution. With rumors of a smaller form factor iPad on the horizon, I will have to wait and see.
Any excitement over the Nexus 7 has to be considered alongside Jelly Bean, Google’s code-name for their most recent version of the Android operating system. Android has not always been the most smooth experience but if the previews are accurate, Jelly Bean with its improvements via Project Butter, seems to smooth-out the wrinkles in performance. Switching between applications appears to take considerably less time and movement on screen is fluid.
Google Now, the Android answer to iOS’ Siri service looks to knock the socks off (the current version) of Apple’s voice-controlled concierge service. Google Now seems fast and more tightly integrated with the web than does Siri, and is advertised as delivering relevant content to you before you even know you need it, weather updates first thing in the morning as well as traffic and alternative driving directions if there are snags on the road. Depending on how things look when Apple releases an updated Siri with iOS 6, Google may have provided a nice alternative to Apple’s service.
Overall Jelly Bean makes me interested in Android, and given that I’ve had an iPhone since the very first release, this is a big deal for me.
Google’s apparent obsession with Apple continues with the Nexus Q, a ball-shaped piece of hardware apparently designed to compete with the Apple TV. Of the many interesting things that Google demonstrated at I/O, this thing has to be the least so. It integrates with Google Play, allowing you to stream music and movies, but the most puzzling addition is the ability for you to provide access to other Android users and for those users to be able to access and edit currently running playlists. That seems like an incredibly silly idea, leaving music playing at a party an entropic experience. I just don’t see how Google can do this better than the other alternatives out there, and with the shared playlist editing “feature” this just seems doomed to fail.
Continuing with the concept of sharing, Google discussed improvements to Google+ Hangouts. The platform provides Google+ users the ability to plan and experience events in what is supposed to be a more immersive experience with technology. When you join an event, you are asked if you wish to share photos taken during the event within the Hangout group. It is supposed to take your gatherings in to a more shared space, making it easier to organize and relive these experiences. There are a number of thoughts that I have about this, foremost being that I have no practical interest in this product but I can see how it may be fun for others. The potential for embarrassing photos to show up seems more pronounced, but whether that is a good thing or a bad thing should be left up to the users.
Lastly, the Google+ Hangouts presentation was interrupted by Google co-founder Sergey Brin with an exciting demonstration of their ambitious Project Glass. Glass is Google’s eyeglass-like hardware that integrates a video camera and a tiny display that sits just above the right eye. There has been tons of controversy about the usefulness of this product, and I am one of those who sees vast potential in it. The presentation featured a Google+ Hangout with Glass-equipped skydivers sharing their experience from the jump from the airplane down to the landing on the Moscone Center (where the convention is held) to BMX bikers riding along the roof to repelling down the side of the building and finally more bikers riding in to the keynote itself.
The demonstration was certainly more flair than substance, as ultimately it was an elaborate web cam demo, but to see that the project is continuing is encouraging. I see a lot of potential in Google Glass and to break that down would take an entirely separate blog entry. Suffice it to say that the instant availability of data and the opportunity to take photos and not miss them by trying to dig your phone out of your pocket are selling points to me. As someone who enjoys running and cycling, heads-up information on metrics such as pace and distance, combined with the ability to document certain portions of the experience are very appealing to me. And it is often that I’m playing with my daughter and she does something that I wish I had my phone out for. But the time I manage to find it, the moment is gone. I certainly wouldn’t wear the Glass headset all of the time, but if I knew that I was going to be playing with her for a while I’d pop it on just for that.
I don’t see a middle road with Project Glass. It seems destined to be either a huge success or a major flop. I hope for the former myself, as I have some legitimate uses for the project. What will ultimately dictate the success or failure of the project are what developers make for it.
In all, I’m very excited about Google’s products following an eventful I/O. As someone fully ingrained in Apple’s ecosystem both personally and professionally that says a lot. If things continue on the path that they seem to be following, I may be splitting my loyalties. I’ll host a Google+ Hangout to show you.