Google unveils Android 4.1, Nexus 7, Glasses pre-order

So yeah, Google totally just won the conference showdown by easily beating both Apple and Microsoft. Not only did Google announce Android 4.1 with some really cool new features, a cheap but non-crippled tablet, and a new Android device called the Nexus Q, but they also opened up pre-orders for Google Glass. So yeah.

I honestly have no idea where to start. Android 4.1 (more here)? Sure. Android 4.1 is, as its version number suggests, a point release, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry a punch. First, there’s Project Butter, which is a combined effort to speed up the user interface of Android. Vsync timing, triple buffering, synchronised touch, and others work together to significantly improve rendering speed and responsiveness on Android 4.1. High speed camera material confirmed that, indeed, it’s a hell of a lot smoother.

The notification system has been overhauled as well, and applications can now include controls, images, and other more useful information in notifications. They’ve become expandable as well, so your drawer doesn’t clutter up with all this new stuff. The home screen has been improved as well, as widgets will now magically move out of the way or resize while organising. The camera and gallery applications have been improved as well.

Android 4.1 will also introduce application encryption with device-specific keys to prevent piracy. In addition, Smart App Updates will bring delta application updates to not just Jelly Bean, but also Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich, which should make updates a lot faster and smaller.

The SDK is available today, and the update will be pushed to Nexus devices – Xoom, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S – mid-July. The code drop will be mid-July as well. New is the Platform Development Kit, which like an SDK for OEMs and board developers. The PDK will, from now on, be available months ahead of any new Android version to speed up device updates. Fingers crossed, but I expected more on this front.

There’s more though. Two big announcements were a completely revamped Google Search and something called Google Now. The latter has its own video which tells you all you need to know.

The revamped Search combines Siri-like functionality with Google’s immense amount of information, and seems to be working just fine. It helps organise the information it shows in cards, with the traditional Google search results listed below those cards. Google’s voice typing has improved considerably, and, to one-up Siri, works offline as well. Google has made the software small enough to fit on the device itself, so even without connectivity, it’ll work.

There’s more, but this is what stood out to me.

Moving on, Google announced its own halo device for Android 4.1: the Nexus 7, built by Asus. It’s a 7″ tablet with a 1280×800 display and 1GB of RAM, running on a Tegra 3 quad-core 1.3Ghz processor, sporting a 12 core GPU (again, whatever that means in GPU terms). It weighs 340 grams, and promises 8-9 hours of active use battery life (again, whatever that means). It’s been designed with the revamped Google Play in mind, which now offers a truly vast array of music, movies, books, magazines, games, and, of course, games.

The best part? The 8GB version is only $199, and the 16GB version only $249. And remember, this is not some neutered tablet without Android proper and low specifications – this is a real tablet, with real specifications, and real Android. The Kindle Fire could be in trouble. In addition we now know why Microsoft was in a hurry with its Surface event: the Nexus 7 is available for pre-order today, and will ship mid-July, in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada, with more countries to follow. I’m going to see if OSNews’ owner – hi David! – can order me one (don’t worry, I reimburse him for stuff like this). Why a Surface when I can get this much tablet for – estimated – half the price?

The third big part of the announcement was the Nexus Q, a weird-looking settop box that brings Google Play content to stereo systems and TVs. It runs Android, and is controlled through Android devices. You don’t stream content from your tablet or PC to it; instead, it receives its content directly from the internet. I personally don’t have much use for it, but it certainly looks cool.

Google’s one more thing-moment came when it started to just, you know, show off: Google Glasses is going into very limited pre-order. Attendees at Google i/o who are residents in the US can pre-order Google Glasses today for $1500, and it’ll ship early next year. It’s clearly not a product for the masses just yet, but Google really wants more testers and input. To illustrate just how awesome this stuff is: on stage, Brin held a Hangout with several Google Glass wearers livestreaming video from their glasses, as they jumped out of a plane and landed in San Francisco, and with a few people making large jumps on bikes, and with people going down the side of a building. All live. Pretty amazing and cool.

Overall, this was an action-packed Google i/o keynote. There’s one bit that stood out to me, in a positive way. When describing the Nexus Q, the person on stage (forgot his name) stated: “…and a micro-USB port to promote general hackability”. If you ever wondered why geeks tend to like Google, that’s it right there. Like any company, they’re not to be trusted and far from perfect, but at least they put a decent amount of effort into giving us control over out the stuff we buy.

Can’t wait for my Nexus 7 to arrive. Did you order it already, David?

160 Comments

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