Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) used its annual I/O developer conference in San Francisco to unveil its latest Android software update, 4.1, or Jelly Bean. Google also unveiled the Asus-made Nexus 7 tablet, its own co-branded tablet running Jelly Bean.
Google's Nexus 7 tablet
The Nexus 7 is Google's latest attempt to sell devices directly to consumers and is intended to highlight an expanded selection of content from Google's Play store, which houses applications, movies, music, games and books. Google appears to be targeting Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, which runs a variant of Android but uses Amazon's services. (In what may be a countermove, CNET reported that Amazon will launch a new $199, 7-inch Kindle Fire in the third quarter.)
The device, which is geared toward content consumption, will cost $199 for an 8 GB model and $249 for a 16 GB model from the Google Play store. The device will start shipping in mid-July for consumers in the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia, with more countries to come later.
The tablet sports a 1280x800 HD display and is powered by Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 chipset. Google said the device will sport a front-facing camera, WiFi, Bluetooth and Near Field Communications and will have nine hours of video playback time and 300 hours standby battery time. The Nexus 7 will also be the first Android device to ship with Google's Chrome browser as the standard Web browser.
Android tablet sales have lagged those of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad, something Google has been concerned about, but many analysts felt Google did not have a compelling enough content ecosystem to rival Apple's iTunes and App Store. The addition of TV shows, movies for purchase and magazines to the Google Play store were critical elements in the company's decision to roll out its own tablet, according to Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president of mobile. "I think that was the missing piece," he told AllThingsD.
In other I/O news, Android 4.1 is now available for developers via an SDK and will be made open-source in mid-July. In a bid to reduce fragmentation, Google is also going to release a Platform Development Kit, or PDK, to handset and chipset partners, two to three months before Android versions go open-source, so they can optimize their hardware for Android. The PDK for Jelly Bean has been available for hardware partners for the last few weeks.
Google also demonstrated several key updates to the Android operating system at the conference. The biggest update is its digital assistant called "Google Now," which, if users opt in, uses information from their location, calendar and search history to deliver context-aware actions for when they are needed. Users can access it from Google Search bar or with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen. For example, if users are near a bus stop, a card will appear showing when the next bus is coming. Or, if users are at a restaurant, Google Now will deliver a card showing the dish that restaurant is best known for. Additionally, Google Now will let users know how far they are away from their next meeting and when they would need to leave to arrive on time. Google said more features will be added over time, and Google Now will become more intelligent the more it is used.
Google also updated its voice search feature to work offline and respond to users' queries, much like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri, delivering the results on digital cards. However, the new voice search is also always linked to Web search results as well. "From the very beginning Android had search at its core," said Google's Hugo Barra, director of product management for Android. "We redesigned it from the ground up for Jelly Bean."
In what might be a move to compete more directly with Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone and its live tiles, Google also updated notifications to allow users to take actions like sending email or making calls directly from the notifications menu. Notifications can also be expanded and collapsed on screen.
Another update is something called "Project Butter," which was designed to improve the performance of Android and includes updates such as smoother and more responsive touch feedback. Google also added new design tweaks to allow widgets to automatically resize to fit on screens in Android and also updated its photo-viewing app.
The I/O conference would not be complete without statistics concerning Android's growth. According to Barra, there are now more than 400 million activated Android devices worldwide, up from 100 million a year ago, Additionally, he said there are one million Android activations per day now, up from 400,000 a year ago.
- see this The Verge live blog
- see this Google I/O site
- see this separate Google site
- see this The Verge article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this separate GigaOM article
- see this CNET article
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