Well, that was all rather much. Google just held its keynote speech thing during the opening of the company’s I/O conference, and they announced some pretty spectacular stuff. Aside from Android 3.1 for tablets and Android Icecream Sandwich which will unify the tablet and phone versions of Android in Q4 in 2011, Google announced an internet-based music service. And a video service. And an Arduino-based accessory development kit. And Android@Home. And an alliance of device makers and carriers to bring timely Android updates to devices for a minimum of 18 months.
Let’s start with the new Android releases first. Android 3.1 is available for the Xoom starting today, which brings a number of important features to the platform, such as an USB host API, input from mice, joysticks and gamepads, the Open Accessory API (more on this further down), and more. Android Icecream Sandwich will unify the phone and tablet versions of Android, and will therefore bring several Honeycomb features to smartphones. It’ll launch in the last quarter of 2011.
Google has also launched a music service, simply titled Music Beta by Google. With it, you can buy music from the Android market (or upload your own music from iTunes, Windows Media Player, or any other source) and stream it to any device – be it smartphone, tablet, or regular computer. Anything you add to your local music library will automatically be synced to Google’s servers, and become available on all devices – including playlists. Recently played music will be cached locally for offline access, and you can manually make songs available offline as well.
For now, Music Beta by Google is, well, in beta, and you’re going to need an invite. Sadly, it’s also limited to customers in the United States.
Google also launched a movie rental service. It sports the same restrictions as the recently launched YouTube rentals, so we’re looking at a 30-day window to watch your rented film, and once you started watching, you’ve got 24 hours to finish it. It’s all cross-device, of course.
The biggest news – for me, at least – and also by far the coolest stuff, is the Android Open Accessory Development Kit. This kit allows you to create all sorts of extravagant (and basic) accessories for Android, which are recognised by the operating system in a special accessory mode. While this in and of itself isn’t new – you can make accessories for iOS too – the really cool bit here is that there’s no certification process or other such nonsense, so aspiring basement hackers can get cracking right away.
All this is made possible by the hardware side of things, which is based on the well-known and loved Arduino open source electronics prototyping platform. You can buy an Arduino board for Android – if you don’t already own one – and then download the software side of the equation for free. You can basically use this combination to build whatever accessory you want.
Google too this a step further with Android@Home, which is basically Google’s vision of every device in your house being a potential Android accessory. For instance, they demoed how while playing a game, the mood lighting in your house can respond to the events in the game. However, the most impressive demonstration was that which combined Music Beta, near-field communication and Android@Home: CDs equipped with NFC chips, which you could then tap against a mini hifi set. This would immediately make the music on that CD available using Music Beta – on all your device. A second tap, and the music started playing.
Lastly, Google announced it is building an alliance of some sorts of device makers and carriers who will pledge to support each device with timely updates for at least 18 months. Details on this were still parse, though, as that’s about all we know – well, that, and a list of companies involved: HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, Motorola, as well as the four major US carriers and Vodafone. Anybody is free to join this alliance.
All in all, that’s a lot of very cool stuff coming from Google. I’m particularly interested in what the massive body of clever developers and Arduino hackers can do with the Android Open Accessory Development Kit.