Google strengthens its platform foundations by introducing a streaming music service, plus improvements to Maps, Search and Google+.
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Announcing that there have been 900 million Android activations worldwide and that Chrome has 750 million active users, Google opened its annual developer conference, Google I/O, in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, with the introduction of a series of new APIs and services for its mobile operating system and the Web.
Unlike last years' spectacle-heavy event, in which skydivers wearing Glass stole the show, Google I/O 2013 is about fortifying Google's platforms and empowering developers. It's about practical platform enhancements rather than pushing the technology envelope, at least for user-facing services.
"Our goal behind these platforms is to make sure developers can build amazing experiences," said Sundar Pichai, senior VP of Chrome, apps and Android at Google.
The real advances at Google are happening behind the scenes, in areas such as semantic search. For example, Vic Gundotra, senior VP of engineering and social, described an image-quality identification system that has been added to Google+ Photos thus: "Google can pick the best pictures for you." That's right, Google's engineers believe their software can compute aesthetic value, a determination not normally entrusted to code and machines.
Google Glass was barely mentioned during the three-hour keynote presentation.
To help developers create the amazing experiences mentioned by Pichai, Google debuted new APIs for Android, new Google Play services for developers and consumers, and major enhancements for Google+ Stream, Hangouts and Photos. The company also is re-imagining its search service, deepening its ability to understand queries and to respond to conversational queries, at least for Chrome users.
Amit Singhal, senior VP of search, called it "the end of search as you know it."
The Android APIs include Fused Location Provider, a faster, more accurate and less power-hungry location system; Geofencing, which supports up to 100 virtual location-based boundaries in an app; and Activity Recognition, which can help developers measure physical activity through phone motion.
Google is expanding Google+ Sign-In with cross-platform single sign-on, so that Google credentials can be used on Android devices and websites. The service includes the ability to prompt the user to automatically install an Android app when logging in to a related website.
Google+ gained dozens of new features. The three major ones are: a redesign of the Google+ Stream to support a multi-column format; a revision of Hangouts so that it works as a cross-platform communications service; and new image editing and organization tools for Google+ Photos.
Google Play Game Services can be thought of as Google's answer to Apple's Game Center, except that Google Play Game Services is cross-platform: It can be deployed in Android apps, iOS apps or Web games. It includes cloud game saving, achievements, leader boards and multiplayer matchmaking and coordination.
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