Google I/O, day two: And now, Android?
SAN FRANCISCO -- Remember how yesterday's blog post had a headline suggesting news about Google's Android smartphone operating system? Although the keynote that opened that company's Google I/O conference here ran more than half an hour long, it barely touched on Android. That news, it's been strongly suggested to me, has been saved for this morning's keynote, starting at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. I'll be there -- hopefully with a more cooperative WiFi connection than Wednesday's gruesomely awful service -- to write up whatever happens.
(One programming note: After seeing your responses to my query about this on Twitter last night, I'm going to try writing this live blog with the most recent entries at the top. Then after the keynote ends, we'll flip them around, so you can read the whole thing straight through from start to finish. Let me know how that works for you.)
(Update, 3:45 p.m. EDT: The posts have been duly rearranged and moved after the jump for your reading pleasure.)
8:35 a.m. PDT: And we're off. Google's vice president of engineering, Vic Gundotra, is out to welcome the developers and note all the people who viewed yesterday's keynote on YouTube. (You can watch today's online, too.) He talks about meeting Andy Rubin, the Google developer widely regarded as the father of Android, and asking him why the world needed yet another mobile operating system. Rubin's answer: The world needed an open-source system, and that if Google didn't act we'd be stuck -- in Gundotra's phrasing -- with "a future where one man, one device, one carrier would be our only choice!" A slide reads "Not the Future We Want," with "1984" below it. Raucous applause.
8:40 a.m. PDT: Time for statistics. Gundotra says that Google is now seeing more than 100,000 activations of new Android devices a day. Surveys have Android as either first or second in sales and Web use, and people have obtained a billion miles' worth of navigation directions from Android's Google Maps app. And there are now more than 50,000 applications in the Android Market. (Apple's App Store now stocks more than 200,000 titles.)
8:43 a.m. PDT: Google is launching the next release of Android, Android 2.2 -- or "Froyo," as in frozen yogurt. Google names Android versions after desserts: Cupcake (1.5), Donut (1.6), Eclair (2.0). Presumably Gelato comes next.
8:46 a.m. PDT: Froyo features start with speed; Gundotra claims that it runs individual programs two to five times faster, thanks to a "just-in-time compiler" that handles the Java code of each app much faster. (Sorry if your eyes glazed over from that.) It brings more complete support for Microsoft's Exchange server, allowing IT departments to sync and, if necessary, wipe phones remotely. It will back up your settings and preferences, remedying a major issue with current Android releases (users installing the Android 2.1 update for the HTC Hero that Sprint released yesterday, for instance, have to wipe their devices in the process of installing this, losing existing preferences unless they add a third-party backup tool. It will include a "cloud to device" notification system that lets you send information -- say, driving directions -- from a computer to an Android device and have the phone instantly respond. (Gundotra throws another jab at the iPhone, saying "this is not ... designed to compensate for the lack of multi-tasking in the operating system.")
8:51 a.m. PDT: Froyo will also bring a feature so far only available through add-on software, and conspicuously unavailable on the iPhone in the United States: tethering, the ability to share its Internet connection with a nearby computer. Froyo will let you turn an Android phone into a portable WiFi hotspot, something Gundotra demonstrates by sharing its connection with "a device that doesn't have an Internet connection" -- an iPad. (Oh, snap.)
8:56 a.m. PDT: Froyo's browser will also hook into more of the phone's sensors -- for instance, rotating a Google Maps page automatically as you turn around in place. Its speech recognition is improved and hooks into more Web services, as demonstrated by having Google's site translate the phrase "can you help me find the nearest hospital?" into French.
9:00 a.m. PDT: Here comes what may be Steve Jobs's least favorite part of the keynote: Details about Froyo's inclusion of Adobe's Flash Player. "It turns out that on the Internet, people use Flash!" Gundotra says. "Part of being open is being inclusive." (I had a chance to play with a Nexus One running Froyo yesterday and can report I had no trouble viewing our video retrospective on the history of the 9:30 club.)
9:03 a.m. PDT: Searches in Froyo now look into the data of every app. You can install apps on SD Cards instead of just a device's own internal storage (which will allow for data-heavy apps like GPS programs that include their own offline databases). An "Update All" button will let you install every available update for your programs -- or you can tell the phone to update them automatically. App developers will be able to look up detailed crash reports on their apps, so they can fix problems faster. And you'll be able to shop for apps on the Market in a regular computer's browser, then send them to the phone of your choice -- no need to plug the device into the computer to sideload the app.
Thought: Maybe Google should have given Froyo a version number higher than 2.2 if it's going to be such a big change.
9:10 a.m. PDT: Here's something new: The Android Market will also let you shop for music downloads on a PC or Mac and send them direct to your phone. Add-on software will also let you stream your entire computer's music library to your phone; a few seconds after clicking the appropriate button on a Mac onstage, Earth Wind & Fire's "Shining Star" comes out of the Android phone's speakers.
9:13 a.m. PDT: The discussion turns to in-app advertisements. "We know a thing or two about advertising," Gundotra notes. The ads showed off here: plain-text banners, graphic banners, an "expanding" ad that provides more marketing if you tap an arrow icon, a click-to-call ad that varies based on your location, an interactive one with a map and directions to a nearby establishment. Gundotra also notes how developers can publish ads created by other agencies. (How do you rank them on your own annoyingness scale?)
9:19 a.m. PDT: Gundotra touts one of the newest Android devices, HTC's Evo 4G for Sprint and says it's giving one to every attendee. Note: I won't be picking one up, as Sprint's PR department has already shipped one my way.
9:22 a.m. PDT: Product manager Rishi Chandra comes on stage to introduce a new Android product: Google TV.
9:24 a.m. PDT: Why Google TV? "Video should be consumed on the biggest, best and brightest screen on the house": the TV, not the laptop. Not everybody clusters around to watch a laptop. Chandra says existing attempts to fuse the Web and TV "try to dumb down the Web for TV" (he compares it to WAP, the compressed Web language once used to craft mobile-specific pages for phones); "they're all closed" (you can only go to some sites); "many make you choose between TV or Web," hitting an Input button to flip between one and the other.
9:27 a.m. PDT: Google TV starts with an interactive guide to TV programs that simply lets you type a search for what you want to watch. Unintentional hilarity ensues when the TV feed shows an especially unsubtle campaign ad from Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman -- and then the first wireless keyboard remote doesn't work. Ouch.
9:34 a.m. PDT: You can click on a listing for a future program to have your DVR record it when it airs. But then ... in a series of cringe-inducing moments, presenter Vincent Dureau keeps having trouble with the Bluetooth and asking "Can we switch to the other box?" Then Chandra -- I am not making this up -- asks people if they can turn off their phones to free up the Bluetooth airwaves. Ouch. To add to the awkwardness factor, the TV stream keeps showing some of the weirdest footage imaginable for daytime TV, like an MSNBC bit about Nicolas Cage's "animal sex diet," whatever that is.
9:40 a.m. PDT: Now that the demo hardware is working again, we can see how a search can lead you to TV and Web content: a search for "House" includes links to streaming copies of old episodes from Amazon's video-on-demand service, which plays back right on the screen -- as if you were watching it on a computer. So Google TV apparently includes Adobe's Flash player, which leads to the inevitable question: Will Hulu work on this, or will that site's corporate overlords try to block that?
9:45 a.m. PDT: Another examples of using Google to personalize TV: searching for "Elmo" to get a YouTube playlist of clips of the Sesame Street clips, then searching for "2010 State of the Union" to view the speech at a choice of sites (not just the usual YouTube, but whitehouse.gov) or read a transcript. "We have effectively gone from the usual 100 or 200 channels on your TV to a million overnight," Chandra says.
9:50 a.m. PDT: Sports nuts, take note: Google TV will show live TV in a corner of the screen, then let you look up statistics or follow a game thread on a discussion site on the rest of the screen. Advertisers can take advantage of this, too.
9:52 a.m. PDT: Google TV also connects to any other site, as seen in a demo of browsing a photo album off Yahoo's Flickr site. You can listen to Web radio at Pandora, you can go shopping, etc. -- because it's a regular Web browser inside Google TV.
9:55 a.m. PDT: Dureau explains the Google TV hardware: a TV, Blu-ray player or set-top box that connects to your existing cable or satellite feed (or, presumably, over-the-air antenna). Whatever your hardware, it will feature wired and wireless network connections to your home network, a fast processor and a remote that includes a keyboard of some sort -- or you can use an Android phone. (Dureau says he used his own phone in place of the keyboard to salvage the demo.) Using an Android phone as a remote brings other benefits: spoken-word searches and the ability to send a YouTube clip from the phone to the TV.
10:00 a.m. PDT: Chandra says Google TV is built on the Android operating system, its full Chrome browser and Flash. Because it incorporates Android, you'll be able to download and run Android apps, too. As long as the app doesn't require any phone-specific features, it should work in Google TV as is. Google developer Brittany Bohnet shows how you can also send an app from the PC-based Android Market we saw earlier right to the TV. I can't imagine that the product managers beyond Yahoo's Connected TV platform are enjoying this part of the demo too much.
10:05 a.m. PDT: YouTube director Hunter Walk introduces "YouTube Lean Back," a simplified, TV-friendly version of YouTube that streams personalized content based on your preferences and viewing history plus suggestions from friends. Remember when I wrote that as a general rule, Google likes to see people spend more time online? This fits right into that.
10:10 a.m. PDT: After another request for the audience to turn off their Bluetooth phones that caused more than a few palms to hit foreheads in disbelief, we see how the NBA's site looks and works in a Google TV-optimized form. Then Bohnet returns to show how Android apps function within Google TV (after another couple of software hiccups); for example, a search will return podcasts downloaded with the Listen app.
10:18 a.m. PDT: Chandra returns to say that Google TV's software will be open-sourced by the summer of 2011 for other companies to use and revise. Google TV hardware, in turn, will debut this fall from Sony, in the form of an HDTV and a Blu-Ray player, and Logitech, with a set-top box. All three devices will include Intel's Atom processor. Dish Network will also adapt its digital video recorders to work "seamlessly" with Sony and Logitech's devices, and Best Buy will join in the marketing push.
10:26 a.m. PDT: Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, comes on stage to sum things up (or so we can hope, as this keynote is now half an hour into overtime). He says "We've been waiting a long, long time for this to happen," and, to demonstrate the cooperation needed, invites the chief executives of Google's Google TV partners to join him: Paul Ottelini, Intel; Howard Stringer, Sony; Gerald Quindlen, Logitech; Charlie Ergen, Dish Network; Brian Dunn, Best Buy; Shantanu Narayen, Adobe.
10:32 a.m. PDT: Schmidt is asking each CEO to testify about their plans and hopes for Google TV. I won't say this is the most riveting part of the keynote.
10:45 a.m. PDT: And that's a wrap. Somewhere, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, whose CES keynote seemed tragically snakebit until today's exhibition of technical malfunctions, must be laughing bitterly right now. What did you think? Interested in putting Google TV in your living room? The comments are all yours.
May 20, 2010; 10:19 AM ET
Categories: Gadgets , Mobile , TV , Video
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