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June 28, 2012

Google unveils a hardware extravaganza

As CBR predicted yesterday, Google used its Google I/O 2012 developers conference to unveil a host of new hardware, software updates – and a few surprises.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

The Google Tablet – Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7 tablet

The company’s star attraction (and worst kept secret) was the new Google Nexus 7 tablet. As CBR discussed yesterday, it has a 7-inch, 1280×800 screen, was built by ASUS with a NVidia Tegra 3 (ARM based chipset, quad core) running at 1.3Ghz with a 12 core NVidia Geforce GPU, with 1GB of RAM. It has a front facing camera only (1.2MP), and will support Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi (no mobile networks). Google claims its battery can take 9 hours of continuous HD video play.

IDC’s research shows that there are around 1m Android activations per day – unfortunately around 98-99% of these are smart phones. Tom Mainelli from IDC predicts that there will be 107m tablets sold in 2012 (83 million tablets were sold in 2011). Gartner has similar figures, of around 113m. Both expect Apple to retain market share of around 60% – so the trip ahead remains tough for the Nexus 7, and it appears to be positioning itself more at the low-mid end of the market rather than aiming for the premium segment. At this stage, that means it is battling Amazon’s Kindle Fire. The Fire is little more than a media consumption device for Amazon, and Google’s added power and feature set (as well as the removal of the Amazon walled garden) should mean it does good business. Google Play has even been redesigned as a more media savvy outlet – magazines and TV shows are now more prominent in its design, which again is key.

However, Google appears to have gone down the same road as Microsoft and is not offering the device for sale in retail environments – presumably to protect grumpy hardware partners. It will be available from the Google Play store only. However, unlike Microsoft’s work-in-progress tablet, it is available for pre-order now. The Surface has no release date or price.

As CBR has noted in the past, tablets – even more so than smart phones – need to be sold through a hands-on, tactile experience; users literally need to have the devices in their hands to play with to understand how the product works if Google wants to sell beyond the hardcore fanboy core.

This certainly limits its earning potential, but makes sense if the point of the device is to simply inspire hardware developers to utilise the Android platform properly for tablets, especially important as Jellybean (Android 4.1; also announced) appears now to be a tablet centric version of Android.

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Android OS 4.1 Jellybean

The Android Jelly Bean statue at the Googleplex, California
Google’s Android ‘Jelly Bean’ statue at the Googleplex, California

Much of the change in the OS upgrade appears to be to ensure fluidity, usability and performance of the interface, a problem Google has struggled with in its fragmented market. Google’s "Project Butter" has been integrated into the new OS, utilising triple buffering and a fixed frame rate of 60 fps to create a smooth UI (see Feature Box).

Google has also jumped in on the voice based personal assistant game with Voice Search, which operates a big like Apple’s Siri when searching for information – utilising Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha, among others.

This is combined with a new tool, Google Now, which draws on your personal information, such as your calendar, location, and search history to automatically present information it believes might be important. An example is such as the best route to an appointment logged in your calendar.

"Google Now figures out when you commute from home to work and back, tells you how long your commute takes usually, and give you a faster route if there’s lot of traffic. On public transit, if you’re on the platform at a subway, Google tells you wen the next bus or train will arrive," said Hugo Barra, director of product management, in the opening keynote.

It will also give you updates on your favourite sport teams and TV shows, for example – but this kind of functionality may produce some worrying personal privacy headaches for Google down the line.

Jellybean also features a more visual search function, with results drawn from Google’s knowledge base and presented in an almost magazine form. These ‘cards’, as Google calls them, can be anything; from a map showing the quickest routes to the nearest McDonalds, or link back to Bob Dylan’s offerings in the Google Play store alongside lyrics sheets. These can be swiped away if you prefer normal Google results.

Other tweaks were also included, such as Google Beam. Users will be able to pair with a device like an NFC enabled speaker, or transfer photos and videos by simply tapping their device against the target.

Interestingly, Google made no new announcements concerning its Google Wallet, or NFC payment capabilities – a surprise given Microsoft and Apple made mobile payments a key part of their presentations.

App developers will be happy to note that Jellybean now offers app encryption to developers, which will help stop piracy, and ‘smart app updates’ will allow users to update specific aspects of their apps, rather than having to rerelease the entire package, which will ensure updates will be able to be rolled out much quicker and use less bandwidth.

Project Glass and Nexus Q Media Player

The Nexus Q Media Hub

Google also unveiled the ‘Nexus Q’, a media hub. Its shaped like an orb (with some cool LCD effects) that then plugs into speakers and televisions. Music and videos are managed via Google Play through the device, similar to Apple TV and controlled with Nexus smartphones and tablets through Jellybean.

The biggest problem is that it remains very expensive at $299, and $399 for the added speakers. The Apple TV is just £99. It does look like a high end build, so it may be worth it – but there is no UK release date as of yet.

‘Project Glass’ is Google’s long standing R&D project to bring computing via augmented reality to a pair of eyeglasses. Google co-founder Sergey Brin demonstrated the tech in action in the most extreme way possible – skydiving while wearing the glasses, which then fed live video back to the event.

For the longest time the project has been considered R&D and high tech tinkering, rather than an attempt to bring a realistic product to market. But once again, Google surprised, announcing that the glasses will be offered for $1,500 to developers at the I/O event, with an eye to shipping them in early 2013.


? Vsync timing across all drawing and animation done by the Android framework
? Triple buffering in the graphics pipeline
? Enhanced accessibility
? Bi-directional text and other language Support
? User-installable keyboard maps
? Expandable notifications
? Automatically resizable app widgets
? Multichannel audio
? Bluetooth data transfer for Android Beam
? Offline Voice Dictation


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