Google gives Android music, movies and gadgets

At Google I/O 2011, the web giant announces its Android roadmap and tools for integrating with devices and the home

Google opened its fourth I/O developer conference in San Francisco on Tuesday with a series of Android announcements updating the mobile OS's roadmap.

To date, there have been 100 million device activations and 4.5 billion application downloads from the Android Marketplace, said Hugo Barra, director of Android product management, in the event's initial keynote.

Andyb Rubin at Google IO

Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president of mobile, made a series of announcements about Android at Google's I/O conference. Photo credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET News

Barra was followed by Mike Cleron of the Android engineering team, who said Google will be updating its Honeycomb tablet OS to 3.1, with updates initially rolling out on Verizon for the Motorola Xoom.

The new release adds a task switcher, as well as tools for resizable widgets. Android devices will be able to become USB hosts, supporting "a ridiculous number of USB devices". The company's parallel tablet and mobile-phone Android variants, along with the Google TV platform, are going to converge in the next Android release, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, Cleron said, giving Google TV Marketplace access.

Ice Cream Sandwich will be released in the fourth quarter of 2011, with a new 'holographic' 3D user interface, face detection in video calls, virtual camera operators for focusing on speakers, and desktop integration of Android music and films. Andy Rubin, senior vice president of mobile, confirmed that Ice Cream Sandwich "will be the next big open-source release, for all three platforms".

Google media services

Jamie Rosenberg, director of digital content, announced two new media services to add movies and music to the Android platform. These would integrate Google's YouTube service and the Android Marketplace to stream content to devices, as well as allow local caching. "What you saw today becomes a very compelling platform for distributing music," he said.

The Google Music Beta will allow users to upload up to 20,000 tracks from their own music libraries to a cloud service, with streaming playback at 320Kbps and local caching. Local and cloud music will be accessible through a single interface, with automated tools for generating playlists based on music similarity. "With these enhancements it's a much more convenient experience for consuming music across a multitude of devices," said Rosenberg. Both media services are initially only available in the US.

Announcing the formation of a steering group of major Android vendors and operators, Google said it would clarify the update process for Android devices. Describing the new process, Rubin said, "At least we will establish an expectation for the community, users and developers... We are the facilitator for this, it's for all customers."

All new devices will be supported for 18 months, with updates being delivered in a common time frame, Rubin said. "We want to get updates out. It's essentially a logistics problem, complex from a global perspective, over 300 phones and tablets, with everyone committed to the best of their abilities to get this into users' hands," he added.

Accessory kits

Google also announced the launch of the Android Open Accessory platform, a set of APIs for applications to use to interact with non-Android devices of all kinds. During the keynote, a Google employee demonstrated this by peddling hard on an exercise bicycle connected to a Google app called CardioQuest.

Along with the software tools, Google also announced its hardware Accessory Developer Kit, based around the open-source Arduino controller chipset, describing it as completely open, with no NDAs, no fees and no approval process.

Android At Home

Describing homes as the biggest possible accessory, Google also announced the launch of Android At Home, integrating Android devices with home control systems using a new wireless protocol. At the same time, Google gave details of a partnership with Lighting Science, which will be including Android At Home support in its controllers and LED light bulbs by the end of 2011.

What Google does is shine a spotlight on the opportunity. This is the centre of opportunity, but there are a bunch of things orbiting it.

– Andy Rubin, Google

"We are extending the platform into the home; with the Android team doing it, it becomes a standard for all manufacturers," Rubin said. "What Google does is shine a spotlight on the opportunity. This is the centre of opportunity, but there are a bunch of things orbiting it."

Google also unveiled a prototype home controller, Project Tungsten, running Android At Home software. Integrated with Google Music Beta, Tungsten controllers can be controlled from Android phones and tablets, giving Google a multi-room, streamed media platform to compete with Apple's AirPlay and higher-end systems like Sonos.

Google ended its keynote with a giveaway of a 10-inch Samsung tablet device, running Android 3.0 Honeycomb, for its developer audience.

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