Google I/O: Updates to Google Play, Android, Google Maps, Google+, and More

We’ve been eagerly anticipating the Google I/O conference because of course Google saved up lots of goodies for its annual event, and the company did not disappoint. Google unloaded with a ton of updates and new products, so let’s dig in.

First off, the Android platform is enjoying a number of new upgrades. Google announced Google Play Music All Access, which is the oft-rumored Google music subscription service; for a monthly fee of $9.99, you can create “radio stations” based on any artist, store up to 20,000 of your own uploaded tracks in the cloud, and also plumb the depths of Google’s All Access catalog of tunes. The service will work across all of your devices.

Google I/O Music

There’s also now Google Play for Education, which essentially provides a content acquisition and management system via Google Play, offers functionality through Google Apps, and even provides the hardware with Chromebooks and Nexus 4 tablets.

The Google Play store will carry a special Google version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, which will offer the same “Google experience” as the Nexus devices and will retail for $649.

Google now offers an app called Android Studio, which is simply a free video editing app for Android (with a $6.99 paid version that offers more effects). There’s also a new game calle Racer, which might portend Google’s further engagement with gaming.

Finally, devs can now run controlled alpha and beta tests through Google Play.

Google+ got some goosing, too; Stream received a multi-column layout with larger media that’s designed to unify the look across devices, and it includes hashtags so you can dig deeper about a given topic right from a post.

Google has developed standalone version of its Hangouts feature, which is an effort to clean up video chatting by providing a solution that works across Android, iOS, and desktop computers. Users can insert photos and emoji, and the conversation history feature lets you go back and remember what you said and when. The new Hangouts is available from Google Play, the App Store, and the Chrome Web Store, and it’s built in to Gmail and Google+.

For shutterbugs, like just got easier; Google announced integration between your camera and Google’s cloud with Google+ Photos. Features include virtually unlimited back up storage, auto highlight, auto enhance, and “auto awesome” which is designed to do everything from animating a series of snapshots to stitching together a family portrait from multiple shots.

Google Maps is a brilliant, powerful tool, and now it’s even better. There’s a whole new Google Maps (which is available on the desktop starting today) that offers personal maps that adapt to you, your environment, and your needs.

For example, Google Maps can use your usual routes, such as those from home and work, to start adding helpful points of interest and the like, such as places to like (or might like) to eat in the immediate area. There are also local search results right on the map, so you can get more information about a place in context.

New Google Maps

The visuals are improving, too; a new “carousel” feature gathers up all the images on Google Maps around a single location to give you a more comprehensive view of it, including Earth views, 3D images, and more.

Finally, let’s not forget about search; after all, Google is still a search company first and foremost, and unsurprisingly, Google is furthering the nature of search. We’ve already seen a lot from Google concerning voice search--it’s a life saver when you’re lost and need to pull up something in Google Maps in the car, for instance--but Google is turning things up a notch in particular on the desktop.

Google I/O Search

“Soon, you’ll be able to just say, hands-free, ‘OK Google, will it be sunny in Santa Cruz this weekend?’ and get a spoken answer”, reads a blog post. “Then, you’ll be able to continue the conversation and just follow up with ‘how far is it from here?’ if you care about the drive or’how about Monterey?’ if you want to check weather somewhere else, and get Google to tell you the answer.”

Google also announced that the Knowledge Graph has more “depth” now, with expanded language support and smarter answers to questions that include anticipatory answers to follow-up questions. Along those same lines, Google Now has new reminders with more customization and better anticipation.

Of course, there are more details surrounding all of these features, but the above meal is a hearty one that probably needs to digest for a while. In any case, today’s announcements foreshadowed incredible things to come from Google.