Google I/O 2012 – the Hits and the Misses

Google’s developer conference, Google I/O, went down this week at the Moscone West Convention Center in San Francisco. The result? A mixture of sweet and sour from the tech giant, with new hardware and software that aims to make the company a little more competitive with Apple and Amazon by providing more content – and offering up a couple new gadgets to grab that content. One of those gadgets is tantalizing – one is prohibitively expensive. Here’s a rundown on all the big announcements from Google from Google I/O.

Google Nexus 7 Tablet

When you imagine a Kindle Fire competitor, what’s the first thing you think of? Many might answer with “price.” They’d be on the same page as Google – Google’s upcoming Google Nexus 7 Tablet will sell for $200. Now, with a $200 tablet, you might be fairly thinking more about what this tablet doesn’t do than what it does do. Make no mistake, though – the Nexus 7 isn’t designed to be a budget tablet. It sounds like it won’t feel like a budget tablet, either – it boasts an aluminum construction with a rubber back.

The Nexus 7 tablet will run on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which we’ll get to a little bit later. Suffice it to say that it’s much more faster and fluid than Ice Cream Sandwich. The hard specs are top-notch, too – a 1.3 GHz quad-core CPU, a 12 core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, 1 GB of RAM, NFC, a 1.2 MP front-facing camera (no rear-facing camera), and storage options of 8 GB or 16 GB. This will be a 7” tablet with a 1280 x 800 resolution display. There will be no SD card slot to expand storage, though – Google is pushing its new content and cloud services with this device, which we’ll also discuss a little later. That last part is important, though – just the fact that this is running a full Android OS, unlike the Kindle Fire, makes the Nexus more attractive, as does the more impressive specs. What could still make the Fire more attractive is the amount of content Amazon can provide – a place that Google hasn’t been too competitive in to this point. Still, a lack of local storage options could be a turn-off for many.

It’s worth pointing out that no, Google is not manufacturing its own tablet hardware. That part will be handled by Asus, though the Nexus 7 will be branded as a Google device.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

The newest version of Android has officially been announced, and it looks to be very speedy. Animations should be more fluid, which has long been a problem for Android.

Google Now sounds like an interesting feature, depending on where you are. Google Now will use your location at all times to provide real-time local updates and information – a little bit like what was seen on that Project Glass demo video a while back. Examples cited were expected wait times at subway stations, dish recommendations at individual restaurants, and flight information. For that last one, you can search for a specific flight, then receive updates, like if there are any delays.

When updating apps, there will be selective downloading – only the parts of the app that are being changed will be downloaded, rather than the whole thing.

On the home screen, widgets can be re-sized or thrown off the home screen with a swipe gesture. Jelly Bean will automatically re-size a widget to fit the home screen, if necessary.

Google was able to shrink down its voice recognition technology to fit on mobile devices, rather than needing to communicate with the Google servers. In a nutshell, that means offline voice typing.

Jelly Bean’s search engine can, like Apple’s Siri, understand natural language, providing an information card answering your question, as well as a verbal answer from the unnamed Jelly Bean lady voice. A swipe to the right brings up the familiar list of Google search results.

Jelly Bean will be out very soon, too – as early as mid-July for owners of the Motorola Xoom, Galaxy Nexus, and Nexus S as an over-the-air update. One last thing of interest – as of now, Jelly Bean will not have Flash support.

Google Play and the Nexus Q

Google Play, the app store formerly known as the Android Market, is receiving a lot more content – users can now purchase TV shows, movies, and magazines. That’s crucial for Google for a couple reasons. It helps Google to get at least closer to on par with the amount of content Apple and Amazon provide. That means the Nexus 7 Tablet will be in a better position to take on the Kindle Fire, but it also leads to another device – the Nexus Q. The Nexus 7 Tablet looks like a winner. The Nexus Q, not so much.

Put bluntly, the Nexus Q is next to useless. Like a Roku Box or Apple TV, it’s a device that streams content to other devices – namely, your television or speaker system. There are a few problems with this. The most obvious is that Smart TVs exist, and are not going to stop existing. Why buy something that lets you stream music or movies to household devices when those household devices will already be able to do those things by themselves? Well, maybe you don’t have a Smart TV and don’t plan on getting one. Then, you need to consider that the Nexus Q is all Google. You’ll need an Android tablet or smartphone (better put, you’ll need access to Google Play or YouTube) to handle the streaming, and content will only be coming from the Google ecosystem (possibly the most consumer-unfriendly trend to ever see the light of day), which is still very much lacking.

A half GB of RAM on-board makes future video game streaming highly unlikely. A lot is being made of the Google Nexus Q looking cool – a black sphere with a fancy band of light. The fact that a relatively small number of people can even use the Nexus Q, let alone how many of those people will actually find it useful, is decidedly uncool, however.

The orb houses a 25 watt amp to help facilitate music playing to high-quality speaker systems. Social playlists can be created by multiple people using Android devices to add songs from the Google cloud to the Google Nexus Q. If your friends aren’t Android users, you can ignore that part.

You might find some uses for the Google Nexus Q. But, being that it’s limited to working only with Android devices and Google content, how many people are going to find justification to purchase this thing for $300? That price seems insane. Google is touting the fact that the Google Nexus Q is manufactured in the United States, but it’s hard to tell how much of that decision is noble and how much of it is a cynical attempt at marketing for an overpriced device.

The Google Nexus Q might have the makings of a horrendous flop, barring any changes in the future, but do keep an eye on that Google Nexus 7 Tablet – if Google Play finally comes into its own as a media store, it’ll be hard for many casual tablet users to buy anything but the Nexus 7. The very slick and very useful Android 4.1 Jelly Bean might just seal the deal for many.

Keep an eye out for more information about all three of these new Google announcements.

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