Google wowed application developers at its Google I/O conference in San Francisco June 27 by introducing what it called an entirely new consumer electronics product, Nexus Q, a small bowling-ball-shaped media hub for the home controlled by an Android tablet or smartphone.
Nexus Q was a surprise announcement that followed anticipated introductions of the Nexus 7 tablet, to be manufactured by Asus, and multiple improvements to the Android 4.1 operating system, dubbed Jelly Bean, the successor to Android 4.0, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich.
Enhancements to Jelly Bean include improved performance, added search capabilities, a more flexible way to arrange application icons on the home screen, voice typing that can be done offline and an improved notifications interface that lets users respond to calendar reminders, emails and texts without having to open each of those applications.
Both the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q are media-focused, offering users access to TV shows, movies, magazines and other content through Google Play, the companys online media store.
Nexus Q is a small Android-powered computer thats designed to live in your home, said Android engineer Joe Britt. He said Nexus Q will connect to a home entertainment centers TV and speakers and goes to the cloud to deliver content acquired from Google Play. Google will sell for $299, is taking preorders now through Google Play and will begin shipping the device in mid-July.
The device can be controlled by an Android smartphone or tablet, but the content is not streamed through those devices, but from the cloud through the Nexus Q to the home entertainment system. Around the equator, if you will, of the ball is a tiny LED band that pulses along with the music being played.
The Nexus Q unveiling followed the introduction of the Nexus 7, a 7-inch screen tablet that will come with Jelly Bean installed. It will be powered by a Tegra 3 chipset from Nvidia, will deliver 16-core processing capabilities and features a battery that lasts for up to nine hours playing video, said Hugo Barra, director of Android product management at Google. It also will be available in mid-July at a list price of $199, including a $25 credit for buying content from Google Play.
The conference is intended to give developers training to create software applications that will be optimized to run in Android 4.1. Google I/O, which runs June 27 to 29, caps a trifecta of developer events in San Francisco for the three most competitive mobile operating systems in the business, following the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference from June 11 to 15, where details of the new Apple iOS 6 were revealed, and the Microsoft Windows Phone Summit on June 20, where details of the coming Windows Phone 8 OS were discussed.
Android Jelly Bean Includes New Interface Features
Android 4.1 will offer several new performance improvements under a program called Project Butter, said Dave Burke, an Android engineering director. The upgrades include an improvement in the frame rate at which images are seen on the device to 60 frames per second. And that frame rate will be consistent across all uses, including video, touch-screen reaction and display refresh. Project Butter also improves touch-screen responsiveness and dials back CPU cycles when the device is idle.
Among other new features that wowed the crowd of an estimated 6,000 attendees at the Moscone Center in San Francisco are improved text input for composing emails, text and calendar entries, including voice typing even when the device is offline. Improvements to the camera include easier ways to review previously taken photos and to delete unwanted ones with a flick of the finger.
Bara also demonstrated improvements to the notifications app that tells the user when a voice mail, text or email has arrived and reminds them of upcoming appointments. If the user has missed a call, they can see that notice in Notifications and tap it to call the person back, without having to exit Notifications and open the phone app, he said.
Android 4.1 adds a new search user interface that includes Google Now, which offers search results related to what the user is doing now and what is in their calendar. If they are headed to an appointment, Google Now can tell them how much time they should leave to get there on schedule, whether they are traveling by car, bus or subway. If, by their search history, Google Now learns that the user is a fan of the San Francisco Giants, it will tell the user the start time of todays game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Updates to Android 4.1 will become available for over-the-air download for Galaxy Nexus, Motorola Zoom and other hardware platforms. Google will release Jelly Bean to the open-source community, starting in mid-July, Bara said.
Jelly Bean will be available for wide beta release immediately, Bara said. Besides the software development kit (SDK) preview that developers can begin using immediately to start building apps, Google is also releasing a platform development kit (PDK) for device designers to build Jelly Bean into their products.
The global population of Android-powered devices has now reached 400 million, up from 100 million just one year ago, said Vic Gundotra, a senior vice president at Google and the highest-ranking company executive on the stage. He added that today 1 million new Android devices are activated per day globally, up from 400,000 per day at Google I/O 2011.