Google has found dozens of new ways to cash in on the operating system it gives away for free.
Google’s annual developer conference kicked off in downtown San Francisco on Wednesday with a slew of announcements related to virtually every product and service the company offers – especially those related to the wildly popular Android operating system for mobile devices. From “conversational” voice-search to photo-enhancement tools to a brand new streaming music service, Google’s onslaught of product upgrades means that almost all its major services will look and feel significantly different by the end of the week.
The announcements come at a time when Google is facing serious competition on several fronts. Social-focused sites such as Facebook and Twitter have managed to snatch a significant portion of the online search advertising market, as users opt to conduct many of their searches by asking friends and colleagues rather than the entire Internet. Google has not been able to claim its competitors’ turf as easily – the company’s social networking efforts, such as Google+, have not attracted anywhere near the number of users that Facebook has. And while the Android operating system has been a huge success in the smartphone market, Google’s purchase of phone-maker Motorola has yet to show positive results.
Yet Google shares rose past $900 (U.S.) for the first time, a sign that investors are optimistic about the company’s direction. “Investors are responding to the overwhelming evidence presented today that Google is keeping up with – and in some cases staying ahead of – its major platform rivals,” said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. “To see such a large company attack so many fronts with such agility is rare and, evidently for the market, inspires confidence.”
In lieu of one major announcement, Google delivered a series of smaller upgrades and launches. The company announced a new music subscription service called Google Play Music All Access. For $10 a month, users will have access to millions of songs from Google’s database, as well as streaming radio stations and music suggestions. The service will compete directly with start-ups such as Spotify and Pandora.
Google also announced a stunning 41 different upgrades to its struggling Google+ social networking service, including an improved video chat feature and expanded photo storage and manipulation tools. The company is overhauling the design of Google+ as well as the far more popular Google Maps service.
It is also expanding the use of voice-activated search across multiple platforms. Originally designed with mobile devices in mind, voice-search will now be deeply integrated with both the Google Chrome browser and the Google Now database – a listing of facts about people, places and things that Google uses to allow for more “conversational” search requests. In a demonstration on Wednesday, a Google executive used voice-search to find out how tall a person must be before they can ride a particular roller coaster at an amusement park in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Despite their disparate nature, many of the announcements had a common element – Google’s Android operating system. The company revealed that Android has now been activated some 900 million times, making it one of the most popular operating systems ever. Google makes almost no money from the software directly, but derives considerable revenue from the apps developers create and from mobile search advertising.
“As our developer audience knows, Android is more than simply a phone or tablet,” said Hugo Barra, Google’s product manager for Android. “It’s a platform, an ecosystem, and an opportunity for developers around the world to build exciting services and apps that reach millions of people every day.”
Google also announced new software tools for developers looking to take advantage of the myriad sensors inside most modern smartphones to build applications related to health-monitoring and physical activity. The company is also launching an education-specific application and media store – part of Google’s attempt to convince educational institutions to use its software.
Chief executive officer Larry Page made a surprise appearance after the three-plus-hour keynote address, which was delivered by various executives from across the company, to take questions from the audience.
Aimed primarily at the millions of software and hardware developers who use Google’s products, the annual I/O conference buzzed with activity on Wednesday. Outside the main auditorium in which the keynote presentation took place, dozens of developers set up booths to market their various products and services. The showroom floor included myriad eye-catchers, including a skydiving game that utilized Google Maps, a custom Mercedes coupe with Google-powered dashboard computers and an automated, sword-fighting robot.
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