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SAN FRANCISCO – It's all things Google in California today.
The sixth annual Google I/O conference for software developers opened Wednesday in San Francisco, where the web giant showcase the latest Chrome-powered laptops, new software for Android phones, a new music service -- and oh yeah, some stuff for software developers.
Expectations and rumors of "leaked features" ran high in the days leading up to the event, and Google was quick to announce some fun new software. First out of the gate: "Google Play Music, All Access," which combines a user's music library with a wide array of songs the company has licensed, explained Chris Yerga, engineering director at Google.
"It allows you to explore millions of songs across devices, effortlessly. Radio without rules," he told the crowd. The service costs $9.99 per month and launches today in the U.S., he said.
The company also announced a customized version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 that will be available from Google’s store on June 26, for $649. It will run not Samsung’s version of the Android operating system but the latest version, direct from Google, sans the many apps that reviewers have criticized Samsung for larding its gadgets with.
“It’s Google’s take on Android, and it feels really awesome on the Galaxy S4,” said Hugo Barra, vice president for product management at Android.
Much of the event's focus was on tools for the audience of about 6,000 engineers and entrepreneurs who develop applications and other features that can make smartphones and tablets more appealing. But many announcements were clearly aimed at the reporters from around the world who were also on hand, giving Google a chance to generate more hoopla about its latest innovations.
Google Play for Education was aimed at both. Organized by subject matter and grade level, the custom version of the company’s app store will have not just apps but also books and YouTube education videos, all of which can be easily pushed to a student’s tablet, explained Chris Yerga, engineering director at Google.
“It's built from the ground up to meet the unique needs of educators," he told the crowd. The software will launch in the fall, he said, but information is available online at developer.android.com/edu.
Next on the product map: maps. Google announced a new version of "the next major release" of Google Maps for Android and iOS phones, which includes an entirely new look and feel for the software, as well as the ability for companies like Starbucks to "offer" a new product or deal to searchers.
“A map built for you,” explained Google mapper Bernard Seefeld. The next version of the software will be easier to use, more customized, and more immersive, he said. Seefeld didn't say when that would be released, but a brand new app for tablets will be available later today.
There were also updates announced to Google+, the company's answer to Facebook. Google's social network has struggled to gain a toehold among users, despite tens or even hundreds of millions of users.
“Today we’re introducing 41 new features across Google+,” explained Vic Gundotra, senior vice president, engineering for Google.
A redesigned version of Google+ adds a multicolumn design that changes based on screen size, unlike the current single column design. The new site, which will go live later today, also features more dynamic tiles that flip over to reveal information.
Google said it would use hashtags on posts to automatically search “the entire universe of Google content”; when a card flips over, it reveals related content to allow someone to explore a topic.
“It’s very easy to see a long list of things shared with you, like a never-ending newspaper. But it’s nearly impossible to go deeper on a topic or interest you have. We think we can fix that,” Gundotra said. He also announced a new standalone "Hangouts" app to enable online conversations.
Google unveiled several new tools for sharing photos on Google+. One feature will pick out the best shots from a wide assortment of photos: Just upload a bunch, and Google's machines will reject ones that are blurry or don't have people smiling.
If the photos don't look quite right, Google is promising to enhance them, taking over a job that typically requires people to use special photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. Computer-controlled editing tools will automatically soften skin tones and sharpen colors, for instance.
Google calls the software "Awesome."
Speaking around damaged vocal chords, Google head Larry Page stepped out on stage at the end of the event to herald the rapid pace of change not just at Google but in the world in general.
“Think about a really smart assistant doing all that stuff for you so you don’t have to think about it. And we’re just getting started,” Page said. Technology frees people to do more, he said.
“Technology should do the hard work so that people can get on with doing the things they like in life.”