The keynote was packed with announcements of enhancements to Google services. For example, Google Maps now shows clouds hovering over the world in real time and displays how Earth looks in the Milky Way as the sun sets. Google+ has 41 new features. The company announced impressive stats about the popularity of its applications, and there was even a rare Q&A session with Google CEO Larry Page. However, we didn't see a new Android tablet launch, an operating system update or more details surrounding Google Glass.
Here's a look at highlights of Wednesday's keynote.
Google+ Redesign and Photo FeaturesGoogle+ added 41 — yes, really — new features to its social network to make it smarter and more intuitive, with the inclusion of bigger pictures and related hashtags. The image-focused design looks a lot like Pinterest and Facebook.
The update includes a multi-column layout for pictures and related hashtags. If you're following a sports team, Google+ will tag it for you by adding, for example, #SFGiants. It also rolled out a new way to improve photos. Auto Awesome — yes, it's actually called that — uses a set of photos in your library to create an animated GIF.
Meanwhile, Auto Backup automatically backs up mobile pictures as soon as they are taken, and Auto Enhance acts like a filter to correct color and saturation of pictures.
A new stand-alone Hangouts app was announced for web, Android and iOS, and it's available starting on Wednesday. Vic Gundotra, senior VP of engineering, told attendees it will focus on conversations, rather than contacts. Contacts will be ranked by Google according to how often you talk to or chat with those contacts.
Users will be able to use text, photos and video within the app, and it will all be stored so you can go back and retrieve that content any time. There is also an option to delete what is shared with others during a Hangout.
Google MapsAfter a string of rumors that the company was readying a new Google Maps design, it announced a spectacular new look for the platform. In fact, Google said it rebuilt Maps from "the ground up."
The new Google Maps has Google Earth and Street View baked into it. With stunning Google imagery, as well as user-generated photos that can be uploaded and submitted to Google Maps, the platform has never looked better.
Now, you can create a tailored map for each search and click you make, and it incorporates Zagat badges and restaurant reviews. Offers from retailers such as Starbucks can also be integrated directly into the site, and it makes smart recommendations specifically for you. The more you use it, the better it gauges your interests.
Overall, Google Maps also aims to be a GPS device killer. You can re-route directions based on traffic conditions seen on the Map and view side by side how long each route takes to select the quickest and shortest one.
Unlocked Samsung Galaxy S4
An unlocked "Google edition" of the Samsung Galaxy S 4 smartphone made an appearance during the keynote. The model will be available on AT&T and T-Mobile and tout LTE support, 16 GB of RAM — which is expandable with an SD card — and its bootloader unlocked. This will allow it to receive system updates "promptly with every Android platform update."
The device will be available starting June 26 on Google Play for $649.
New Gaming APIsNew tools have been introduced to help developers make their Android games more social. The suite is a part of updates to the Google Play Developer Console, which developers use to organize their apps released onto Android.
Some perks include the ability to add leaderboards and achievements games within Google Play, giving players the ability to compete against friends through high scores.
Another new API lets gamers play the same game across multiple devices, allowing the game to move from a smartphone to a tablet and so on.
Check out this awesome Google Racer app which creates a track across devices.
More Location-Based ServicesAndroid location services also got a refresh with three new APIs. First, the Fuse Location Provider can acquire locations faster and more accurately — all using less battery power than before.
Another API relies on geofencing by embracing what Google is calling "virtual fences" around geographical areas. It will allow developers to add up to 100 geofences for each app.
The third is an activity recognition feature that lets users track their physical activities. It senses whether a user is walking, riding a bicycle or driving, thanks to accelerometer data and other classifiers.
Android and Chrome StatsGoogle announced there have been a total of 900 million Android activations, which is a huge increase from 400 million activations it said it had last year at Google I/O. Although this is impressive — the operating system launched only four and a half years ago — Apple is reportedly close to 50 billion app downloads for iOS.
Google is also proud of its browser Chrome, and it should be: it now has 750 million active users. This is up about 300 million users from the same time last year. Chrome, which launched in beta in 2008, became the most popular browser used worldwide last year, beating Internet Explorer for the top spot.
Chrome Voice CommandsGoogle is also adding voice commands to Chrome. By saying "Okay, Google" and then asking a question — such as "show me things to do in Santa Cruz" — the Google results page will speak back to you. It comes from its knowledge graph and knows Santa Cruz is a place. It then pulls related things to the city. Users can also make more narrow voice requests, such as "show me pictures of the Santa Cruz boardwalk."
Users can also ask how far away a point is to their location and where to eat nearby.
A Spotify Killer?On the heels of rumors of launching a Spotify competitor, the company announced the Google Play Music All Access, which "blends your music collection with ours" across multiple devices. Despite its clunky name, the streaming platform is strategically priced at $9.99 — the same as Spotify's monthly subscription service. For those who sign up by June 1, Music All Access Plus will go for $7.99. It comes with a 30-day free trial and is now available in the U.S. It will eventually roll out to more countries soon.
Google hasn't said which record labels have signed on; it's been rumored that deals with Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment are in the works.
Google Cloud ImprovementsGoogle Cloud Messaging just got a big revamp during the big Google I/O conference held in San Francisco on Wednesday, and it's now a whole lot faster.
Last year, Google Cloud Messaging — which lets you push data from servers to apps — was announced, and now 60% of the top 100 apps in the Google Play store use it. The company is expanding this service by supporting connections between a persistent connection from servers to many devices.
This means you can upstream messages to send data in both directions, from servers to apps and then from apps to servers. It also is launching a new API that syncs notifications across devices.
"All of the new features are rolling out progressively, and all you have to do up is sign up starting today," Google said.
Google Play for EducationA new program called "Google Play for Education" was discussed during the event and is designed for making devices and software affordable for educators. Teachers can now buy apps and push then to a classroom of tablets at once, which then can be charged to a school account.
Last year, over a thousand schools in the U.S. are using Chromebooks and more than 2,000 new schools this year.
"Chromebooks have gone mainstream in education — not just in US, but around the world," a Google spokesperson told attendees.
Larry Page Speaks
In an unusual move, Page fielded questions from attendees after the keynote presentation and delivered a passionate speech about the importance of technology and programming's "image problem" and took questions from the audience.
Page, who is battling a medical condition related to his vocal cords, spoke softly as he discussed how his father influenced his love for tech: "My dad was really interested in technology. He drove me and my family all across the country to go to a robotics company. Then we got there, he thought it was so important his son would go to the conference."
He also discussed the industry's competitive nature and the company's role in the upcoming Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson film The Internship to help shatter consumer opinion that computer programmers and scientists are "nerdy curmudgeons."
"When I read about us in the press, it's always us vs. some other company or some stupid thing," Page said. "I just don't find that interesting. ... [The] most important things are not a zero-sum game. There's a lot of opportunity out there."
Thumbnail via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, and images via Google and Mashable