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The Most Important Details From Google I/O So Far

At its annual developers conference, Google announced an overwhelming number of updates to search, maps, games, and music. Here’s a guide to the features you’ll want.

The highlight of Google‘s year is the I/O developers conference it hosts each May. Today, 6,000 people converged on San Francisco’s Moscone Center and more than one million tuned in to the YouTube livestream of the conference keynote to hear about the newest Google products and services. And during Wednesday’s marathon three-and-a-half-hour opening keynote, Google delivered. And delivered. The sheer number of new product features was staggering–engineering director Vic Gundotra unveiled 41 new features for Google Plus alone–but only a few made the cut for being truly innovative. Here are the most important features and products that you’ll want to know about.

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Google Plus


The Best: Hangouts, a new standalone, unified messaging app for Android, iOS, and Chrome. Hangouts is organized by conversations, not contacts, and is designed to feel like everyone in a given hangout is in the same room. To achieve that feeling, the Hangouts mobile app shows participants’ icons on the bottom of your screen, when they’re typing, and how far they’ve read. A one-touch video button seamlessly brings everyone in a hangout into a group video chat.
The Rest: Of all the verticals presented during today’s keynote, Google Plus got the largest number of feature updates. Among the best: Powerful, “auto-awesome” photo tools that deliver professional-grade editing features, such as skin softening and tonal distribution; auto-added hashtags that Google will tack onto content you share on Google+ (a photo of the Eiffel Tower, for example, will automatically get an #eiffeltower hashtag); and a new, mosaic-style design that presents content on Google+ in a multi-column layout.

Maps


The Best: Highly customizable options in the ground-up redesign of Google Maps for desktop and mobile allow you to create maps that product management director Bernhard Seefeld says “should look as if it had been designed specifically for you.” The locations of your home and office, your favorite neighborhood hangouts, your normal driving routes–Google Maps will take all of these into consideration when delivering you directions or suggesting new spots to try.
The Rest: Google Offers, Zagat reviews, and restaurant ratings will all be accessible within the Maps app. An iPad version of the new Google Maps is expected to arrive in the summer.

Games


The Best: Cloud Save, a feature within the new Google Game Services API that allows players to save their progress within a game and pick it back up on another device.
The Rest: Game Services also delivers multiplayer functionality with features designed to boost player-to-player engagement, such as in-game achievements and a leaderboard system that taps into your friend circles–on Google Plus, naturally.

Music


The Best: Google’s long-awaited subscription music service, Google Play Music All Access, features a built-in Radio option that not only creates customizable stations but lets you preview all the songs queued up in a given radio playlist and re-order or entirely get rid of tracks as you please. Android and Play’s director of engineering Chris Yerga called it “radio without rules.”

The rest: All Access sports a combination of features we’ve seen in other subscription music services–the human experts-powered recommendations of Songza, an “Explore” feature similar to Spotify‘s Discover tab. All Access is available in the U.S. to start, at $9.99 a month, or $7.99 if you sign up before June 30.

Hardware


The Best: Samsung Galaxy S4 running pure Android. Samsung’s hardware is loved, but its TouchWiz interface often gets panned. Google solved that problem by plugging its Nexus user experience into a Galaxy S4 form factor that includes LTE and 16GB of memory. It’s available starting June 26, and it’s unlocked (supporting both T-Mobile and AT&T). The only drawback is the price: $649.
The Rest: Everyone in the audience received a Chromebook Pixel, Google’s high-end laptop, which was released in February and sells for between $1,299 and $1,499.

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Search


The Best: No single search announcement from today’s keynote struck us as a breakout feature. Much of what Google’s Johanna Wright shared onstage followed up on Google Now’s “predictive search” abilities to queue up information you need when you need it.
The Rest: Wright showed off “OK Google,” the no-touch voice prompt that triggers the Search function in Chrome. And Google Now got some new cards with public transportation information and recommendations for movies, music, and books.

People

The Best: In a surprise stage appearance, Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page hosted an even more surprising Q&A with the members of the 6,000-person audience at the close of I/O.
The Rest: Of all the presenters during I/O Day 1, Google’s SVP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, won over the audience with his warm stage presence and humanizing flourishes, such as photos of his family on vacation during his Google Plus demo. Our question for Google: Where are the ladies? Only two–Ellie Page and Johanna Wright–gave demos today.

Android


The Best: Android Studio. This is a completely new development environment–remember, Google I/O is a conference for engineers so that they can build cool stuff. This tool includes the ability to render updates to live code in real time on the developer’s screen, preview layouts for different device screen sizes, and a plug-in for translating apps.
The Rest: Staged rollouts allow developers to update an app with a percentage of their users in a beta test before sending the final version to everyone.

And in an attempt to connect all these features together, Google is taking a unified approach to design, read more about it here: How Google Unified Its Products With A Humble Index Card.

[Images Courtesy of Google]

About the author

Christina is an associate editor at Fast Company, where she writes about technology, social media, and business.

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