Sunday, May 19, 2013

Google+ and I/O Keynote Highlights

Google I/O introduced many Google and Android announcements and improvements. One of the major ones, was an upgrade of their popular social platform, Google Plus. Lets take a look.

Google has taken the Android look of Google+ and integrated it into the desktop version. The complaints of wasted white-space have mostly been addressed as they've taken a dual column approach to posts showing up in your feed. Your chats, now updated to "Hangouts," still remain on the right side of the screen; more on them later. Your left side of the screen handles all of your Google+ destinations: Photos, Communities, Events, etc, are now all easily accessed by simply hovering over in the area or clicking the icon at the top left. This change allows you to always be just a click away from home.

G+, with Anime!
Your main feed with the new dual columns (which you can change back if you want) allows you to read more posts from people you want without having to scroll forever. Occasionally, photos and videos will appear in the feed and span the width of both columns, a nice aesthetic change. A minor addition, which I find invaluable, is that a "new posts" icon will appear allowing you to immediately jump to the top of the page to see what has just been freshly posted while you've been looking at your feed... no need to refresh the page anymore.
Chat on the right, Backstreet Boys and cat memes in the middle.
The big rollout this Google I/O was the Hangouts feature. Now, its not entirely new in name, Google+ has had Hangounts since the beginning, but the problem was that it was separate from their other messaging services like gChat (in gmail) and gTalk (on Android and web). This divide between the services left most people confused leaving the services underused and unexplored.

Hangouts sets out to bring all of Google messaging services together, all you need is one app on web, tablets, and mobile to keep in touch with all of your contacts. You can drop off and pick up conversations across multiple devices without missing a thing, as well as keeping rolling conversations going with multiple people on various devices all at once. This is primarily a data based service, but Google has also announced plans for mobile SMS text support as well.

Have you visited theopensourcenoob yet?
Hangouts directly competes with group messaging services like the popular cross-platform app, GroupMe, as well as the Apple fan favorite, iMessage. Time will tell if this service will take off for Google, but having an app that integrates well into every* device on the platform seen by hundreds of millions of users seems like it would be a fairly easy slam dunk.
*The gTalk app may not upgrade to "Hangouts" if your Android device is not running version 2.2 or higher. The legacy gTalk app still functions fine minus some of the advanced features.

Google Photos: Now with Automatic Awesome!
In addition to the Google+ and messenger services overhaul, Google also announced some extensive software changes in the photo department. You can already upload your photos to Google+ instantly on your android device, but now Google can also enhance and edit your photos for you. Just barely skirting around various privacy laws they announced that they can automatically enhance all of your photos and present you with an album of what Google thinks are the best pictures of the bunch. Adding all of the HDR, vignetting, color saturation, and skin softening effects automatically could potentially save users a lot of time in posting those beautiful vacation pictures to friends and family. (And eliminate all the not-so-perfect pictures as well.) Not only do they enhance your photos, they allow you to post them in the highest quality as well. Higher resolution pictures above what Facebook and most other online/social services offers on photo quality. And, in classic Google fashion, they've upgraded your free storage limits as well.

Google Music also received some love as well, the app was reworked with a new interface and new features. I liked the old confusing interface (it was cool and futuristic looking), but I definitely appreciate that they cleaned up the cluttered look of things, as they've unified this one to match other apps/services in the ecosystem; needless to say, the desktop page has been retooled slightly to match as well. Google Music plays the same as usual but Google has introduced a new service, Google Music All Access, a feature that allows you to listen to your own music as well as any other music in their catalog in a subscription service.

Abba to ZZ all included in Google Music's new subscription service. 
For $9.99/mo you can listen to all you want as much as you want, well as much as your carrier or ISP will allow. It works across devices so you can listen to ALL THE MUSICS while at home or on the go.

Note my epic music collection. That's just the tip of the iceberg.
Other than that, not a whole ton to write home about. Every announcement seemed to mostly be significant improvements on existing services. Noticeably missing from the press event were any new Nexus hardware and Android version software announcements. They did announce that the new Samsung Galaxy S4 would be available in a stock Android flavor, possibly making it one of the most powerful vanilla android devices on the market.

Welcome to the real world of off-contract phone purchasing. 
Only available through the Google Play Store, GSM unlocked for AT&T and T-Mobile only, at $649 it is targeted to the most dedicated android fans. Another announcement of note was the Google Play Games Services introduction that finally allows for some native multiplayer on mobile devices, as well as achievement and leaderboard support. The list of supported games is pretty limited right now, but the idea definitely has legs. Not only do you have multiplayer games dominated by home console systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, you have the mobile space occupied by iOS devices.

With Android reaching widespread traction in the market with devices out there packing some serious power under the hood its about time that Google finally threw down on some serious gaming features for the devs to take care of. Don't get me wrong, asynchronous multiplayer is fine, but I'd like to get a bit more out of my mobile gaming than Draw Something or Words with Friends.

No more starting games over after resetting your phone/tablet again...

-Lots of new shiny software!
-Much needed integration and updates
-Hangouts makes chatting super easy and way less of a hassle now
-Everybody wins with Google

-No killer announcement this year- no new nexus, no keylime pie. (Spoiled nerd rage!)
-Some features being incompatible with other devices smells of Apple's forced device upgrade march
-Hangouts app seems to be problematic at times on chromebooks
-Google+ is still only popular around the tech circles and is still lacking the power to gain mainstream popularity, the upgrades around the service as a whole may go unnoticed for quite a while