This was a big week for the web and players in the mobile world. Here are highlights from the BlackBerry Live and Google I/O tech events.
BlackBerry started the boasting about the apps created for BlackBerry 10. In just 4 months they have passed the total number of apps available for BlackBerry OS. These numbers are higher than iOS and Android saw at this stage in their development life cycle.
They announced that BlackBerry Messenger is coming to iOS and Android. BBM requires iOS 6 or Android 4.0 and higher.
BlackBerry announced the new Q5 device based on BlackBerry 10. This low-end device focuses on emerging tech markets. It has a 3.1″ screen and a QWERTY keyboard. They also introduced the Flurry Analytics SDK to give developers information about users. This will allow developers to tailor apps based off region, gender, age, and device. These analytics allow developers the ability to create better mobile apps.
BlackBerry Live coincided with the release of BlackBerry 10.1. This new release brings Skype to the Z10 and the Q10.
BlackBerry highlighted Songza — a company that produces a music service that creates a playlist for users based on the time of day, location, and device you’re using. They originally developed their app for Android. They next moved to BlackBerry 10 using the Android run-time available in BlackBerry 10. Following the success for this they created a native system running on BlackBerry code. BlackBerry chose Songza to prove that the Android run-time as a successful move for the company. By including an Android run-time they were able to ease developers into creating native apps for BlackBerry.
They introduced a concept they called headless apps. Headless apps are apps that are smart enough to make choices for you. They do this based on the time of day or your location. BlackBerry referred to this as BB10’s ability to sense, understand, and adapt. An example of a headless app was the device’s ability to recognize that you are in a movie theater and automatically mute the device. They referred to this feature as geofencing. Another example is the ability automatically send calls from work to voice mail if they come in after work hours.
BlackBerry showed off their excellent support for console gaming. BlackBerry has native support for these features. Android and iOS need custom plugins for consoles. They demoed a game-pad controller that you can easily connect to a BlackBerry device. This controller had your standard buttons, directional pad, and analog sticks. The demo drove home the point that the game adjusted its behavior when the controller connected over Wi-Fi and when they connected the device to a television. These features were examples of the ability to sense and adapt.
Another useful app they demoed was Track My Car. It’s useful for users that travel often and may not remember where they parked. Simply mark your car’s location when you arrive. Once you’re done with the event it can direct you back to your car.
They highlighted their commitment to HTML5 apps. They are upgrading their WebWorks feature to use Apache Cordova. This reinforces commitment to standard HTML5 development. They have also upgraded the Android run-time to work with Android 4.2. The AIR run-time now supports version 3.5 with Stage3D with support for OpenGL accelerated graphics.
This year’s Google I/O focused on developers, and not new products. The point is to improve the products that developers can create. This means they can create better apps for users.
Google started the event talking about how the world has changed. People are using more phones and computing devices than ever before.
Google feels they are very fortunate to have created two great platforms: Android and Chrome. Android is the most popular operating systems in the world. Chrome is the most used web browser. Android has reached 900 million activations. They pointed out there are over 7 billion people on the planet so they have a way to go. They have passed 48 billion app installs.
Google Play Services is an API that Google uses for their own apps that are now becoming available to developers. They are announcing three new Location API’s. Fused Location Provider, Geofencing, and Activity Recognition. Fused Location Provider is a new way of providing access to location data that uses less than 1% of battery life per hour. Geofencing is the same as what is now available in BlackBerry. Activity Recognition is a quantified self tracker that lets you know if you are walking, biking, etc without using GPS.
A new single sign-in lets you login to a website on your desktop will also log you in on your Android tablet.
Google Cloud Messaging supports a persistent connection with servers and now allows for upstream messaging.
A new API syncs Android notifications across devices. This drew many cheers from the cloud. As a hardcore Android user I was very happy to hear this.
Google Play Game Services will have a feature called Cloud Save. You can start playing on one device and finish on another. You will pick up on the new device from the same place as you finished on the old device. They also announced Achievements and Leaderboard features which are similar to iOS. Leaderboard is even available on iOS. All of these API features are available today for Android devices running 2.2 and up.
Android Studio is a new Android IDE. The goal is to make you faster and more productive as an Android developer. This IDE is intelligent. Smart developers create apps for an international market. That means that you do not hard-code text into the app, but rather look it up from a file. The IDE will let you look up the value of that string inside the IDE to make sure you’re displaying the correct text.
The IDE allows you to view live layout changes across different devices, different orientation, and different languages. This drew a lot of excitement from the crowd.
Another new feature is Optimization Tips. Optimization tips tell you if you have many users from a country that your app is lacking a translation. It also informs you if many of your users use an app on a particular device or a type of device (i.e. tablets vs smartphones).
An App Translation Service allows developers the ability to connect to translator services who will translate the strings for them. This is not an automatic service, but companies that will translate the text by hand.
Google Analytics is now adding referral tracking. This will help developers find out what is their most effective app. Another new feature is revenue graphs that display how much money you earned each day.
Beta testing and staged roll outs is a new feature to the developer console. This makes it easy for developers to allow certain users to test new features. Stage roll outs let you or roll out upgrades in batches.
Google Play Music All Access is a subscription music service. It allows you to create playlists and sort by genre. You can view the upcoming songs in the playlist and simply swipe them away if you do not want to listen to an upcoming song. All Access works on the web, your phone, and tablet. All Access blends your personal library with the library available to Google. It costs $9.99/month with a 30-day free trial. The cost drops to $7.99 if you sign up before June 30th.
Google announced some cool new tech: a Nexus GS4 . It is an unlocked 16 GB device with LTE support for AT&T and T-Mobile and will receive updates directly from Google. This Nexus device will cost $649 and comes out in June.
Google believes heavily in education. Google Play for Education is a new initiative from Google to improve tech in schools. Teachers can select apps and text books based on the subject and grade level. When a teacher purchases an app the classroom will find the app automatically distributed to their classroom. Teachers will buy the content in bulk and the charge a school’s account. Google Play for Eduction launches this fall.
Chrome has seen 750 million users. This is 300 million users added in the last year. They are hoping to do with Chrome for the mobile web what they did for the desktop.
WebGL is a new feature in Chrome. It lets you create high-quality applications that sync between Chrome browsers. They displayed of a Hobbit app that displayed the same content on a Nexus 10 and a Chromboook Pixel at the same time.
They hyped up the difference in JPEG vs WebP files that is available in Chrome. They demoed an image that was the same quality that was 31% smaller in WebP. WebP is already been adopted in Facebook and Google+. WebP also supports animation like in the GIF file format.
Google showed off the new VP9 video format which they feel is superior to H.264. The video they demoed was 63% smaller than the H.264 counterpart. VP9 comes to YouTube later this year.
Google recognized that it is very hard to pay for things on a mobile device. The typical checkout process takes 21 steps. Chrome can now record your typical billing information. You can now just call that information and send it to the website.
The upgrades to Chrome is not exclusive to only Google tech. Chrome for iOS benefits from the upgrades seen in desktop and Android devices.
Google+ is getting 41 new features today.
The stream is the first new feature. You can now see content in a single column, or a column based approach. The column based approach looks very similar to Pinterest. Posts based on images or videos can span multiple columns. Controls disappear unless you mouse over them. Cards let you flip the story to find more information.
Related hashtags analyzes a post and finds related hashtags automatically. Click the hashtag and it will replace the story with a similar post that follows that hashtag.
Hangouts is getting an overhaul. Hangouts is now a standalone app for Android and iOS. Conversations can last a long time. They are with you across devices. You can delete or disable history if you so choose. Group video works across devices and is free.
Photos is an important feature in your life. By combing your camera and Google’s cloud you turn Google’s datacenter into your darkroom. Google highlighted that they do the least downsampling of images. They showed how they are larger than Facebook, which is larger than Twitter, which is larger than Instagram. They also pointed out that they have upped the limit of free image storage space to 15 GB.
The Highlights Reel recognizes the important people in your life and includes them in your highlights. They also highlights also recognizes if people in the photo are smiling and fix them.
New Photo Effects are available to users. Rather than finding a middle ground for an under or over exposed photo it will automatically create the best possible image. Tonal effects let you smooth out wrinkles. Rather than select a face they can detect a body to apply effects just to the right area.
Auto Awesome lets you create new content from your images. Parents have trouble taking pictures of their kids when they are looking at the same time. Google can now stitch the images together to create the photo you were hoping for. It can also create a mini movie if you so chose.
Search and Google Now
Google believes that this is the end of search as we know it. Search needs to answer, converse, and anticipate.
Voice search is available on desktops and mobile devices. Hot Wording is a new feature where you don’t need to even click the mouse button to bring up a search. Simply say “OK Google” and ask your question. Hot Wording remembers your previous search and lets you make intelligent searches. “OK Google show me fun things to do in Santa Fe” and then follow it up with “OK Google how far away is it from here”.
Reminders is a new feature to Google Now. Simply tell Google Now to remind you to call your friend when you get home and it will do this for you.
Google Maps now supports North Korea bringing them up to 200 countries in total. Over 1 million websites use Google Maps to display content. There are 40 million business precisely in Google Maps.
Google took a little shot at Apple when they reminded everyone that Google Maps is available for iOS and is more accurate than Apple Maps.
A five-star rating scale is now available on all locations inside of Google Maps. While user data is very useful, they have also integrated professional reviews from Zagat.
Offers have now been integrated into Google Maps for mobile. They showed off a half-off offer for Starbucks.
Incident alerts and dynamic rerouting information are new features to Google Maps for mobile. They can now re-route you around traffic to give you the fastest route.
These changes to Google Maps are coming this summer.
The new Google Maps is exclusively built for you with immersive imagery with controls that hide themselves when you don’t need them. Google Maps now lets you filter content based off of recommendations from friends.
Google Maps now shows a 3D view of the entire Earth with clouds in real-time. You can sign up for a preview of the new Google Maps at maps.google.com/preview. Note that this was a broken link when I went to it. This is the URL that Google published so expect it soon.
Larry Page ended this tech event’s 3 hour plus keynote by thanking his team at Google. He followed this with a Q&A session. This was a Herculean effort given the issues he has faced with his voice.