If Google is going to lead, if not dominate, the technology industry's transformation in the era of mobile computing, it's going to need partners. Lots of them.
With that subtext in mind, the company put on quite the show Wednesday morning, with an impressive pitch for the hearts and minds of developers on the first day of its I/O 2013 conference in San Francisco. This was a hybrid of class lecture, sneak peek tease, and big vision bloviation-fest as Google strutted its stuff for almost three hours. The lengthy laundry list of announcements was impressive, with a succession of Google executives taking the stage and serving up a fat menu of news nuggets to whet the appetites of the roughly 6,000 attendees and an estimated 40,000 other developers in 90 countries who tuned in at so-called watch parties.
All in all, it was quite the show, as Google put its tech prowess on display. If Apple wasn't worried before, it ought to now.
"At the heart of this journey is the impact you can have on people around the world," said Sundai Pichai, Google's executive in charge of Android and Chrome. He added that there are now 900 million mobile devices powered by Android, a tidbit that underscored the reach of Google's mobile platform. For perspective's sake, consider that Google announced at last year's I/O conference that it had activated 400 million devices at the time.
As the demonstrations and product pitches were rolled out, Wall Street took action, bidding Google's shares beyond the $900 mark for the first time. But this show was aimed at developers, and Google, keen to keep the momentum, had a lot to talk about. And just to focus the audience's attention, the company early in the day pointed out that creating apps for its platform continued to be a winning proposition: Android developers were paid more money in the last four months than they were paid in all of 2012, with revenue-per-user now two and a half times what it was a year earlier.
Among the highlights:
- Google Plus The company redesigned its social network with an impressive set of automated filters and hashtags . Google said it was adding 41 new features and menus that slide in and out, along with a share-box that moves from left to center, and posts (cards) that flip. You can now click Google+ cards to see related ones. The crowd seemed especially impressed by the Knowledge Graph feature that lets people click through automatically discovered related photos. Hangouts will also be a standalone app. On the numbers front -- always a background topic of conversation given the competition with Facebook -- Google+ now has 190 million monthly active users, with about 390 million total users when including people brought in from other Google services like Gmail.
- Google Maps Apple never lets on whether it's worried about a competitor. When it comes to mapping software, it better be. More than a billion people now use Google Maps, which is getting a revamp complete with a new interface, 3D, and social search. (On a related note, more than 1 million Web sites are using Google Maps.) Pins are going away, with map information about the venues themselves being surfaced in their place. Also, a new feature that should warm the cockles of anyone who drives in congested areas: Google Maps will feature live incident reports and crunch the traffic data to reroute users to reach their destinations faster.
- Google Play There are now 48 billion app installations on Google Play, which is getting a new look that Google execs say will help people find apps more easily. The platform is also getting updated with new APIs for game services, that, among other things, will let users invite friends -- or connect with other challengers. The service will let you save games across the cloud so you can finish on one device and then pick up later on another device, thus eliminating any need to start over.
- Google Play Music All Access As expected, Google is stepping up its competition with music streaming companies. As our CNET colleague Jessica Dolcourt astutely pointed out, Google is taking on apps that heavily contributed to the success of Android's app store. For $10 a month, All Access will feature music you've chosen as well as titles it thinks you'll like. If you start by June 30, you get it for $8 a month, $2 less than what Pandora charges.
- Google Cloud Messaging Google said approximately 200,000 GSM push messages are being sent per second, or more than 1 billion per day.
- Google Chrome A year ago, Google announced 450 million monthly active users. The new number: 750 million monthly active users -- and counting. Google also talked up the product's rendering capabilities as well as new developer tools meant to result in faster downloads. Pichai also noted that the $249 Samsung Chromebook has been No. 1 on Amazon's laptop section for 180 consecutive days.
- Android Activity recognition will help people understand whether someone is driving a car, riding a bike, or walking. The OS will also get updated with cross-platform single sign-ons, which will let people get into several services with their Google log-on info. (Facebook already does this.)
- Google Search Voice recognition and natural language understanding are coming to desktops via Chrome.
- Google Now Seriously beefed-up personal assistant features for Google Now. Voice search will be available on the desktop via Chrome and the Chrome OS. Also, Google Now gets new cards for public transit commute times and for movies, TV shows, and video games.
- Android Studio A host of developer tools elicited warm applause from the audience as Google detailed a checklist of new features. Again, the idea is to make the process of app development faster and easier (spot a theme here?). Among other features that Google is adding, developers will now be able to edit layouts and compare how they'll appear across different devices and in different languages.
CNET's Dan Farber, Josh Lowensohn, Jessica Dolcourt, Marguerite Reardon, Seth Rosenblatt, and Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.