Google unveils maps, photo, music features

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Google’s sixth annual conference for software developers opened Wednesday with a chance for the company to showcase its latest services. Announcements included new features for online games, maps and search, a new music-streaming service and enhancements to its Google Plus social network, including tools for editing and sharing photos.

The audience of about 6,000 people at “Google I/O” included engineers and entrepreneurs who develop applications and other features that can make smartphones and tablets more appealing. Reporters from around the world were also on hand, giving Google a chance to generate more hoopla about its latest innovations. The keynote was also available live on a YouTube webcast.

Android already has been activated on 900 million devices made by Samsung Electronics Co., HTC Corp. and other manufacturers. Android devices are the chief rivals to Apple’s iPhones and iPads. Android has helped Google make more money because its search engine and other services, including maps, are usually built into the devices. That tie-in drives more visitors to Google and gives the Mountain View, Calif., company more opportunities to sell ads.

The keynote kicked off at about 9 a.m. PDT and lasted about three and a half hours. The conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco goes through Friday.

Here’s a running account of the event, presented in reverse chronological order. All times are PDT. Presenters included CEO Larry Page; Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president for engineering; Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for apps and Chrome; Hugo Barra, vice president for product management for Android; Ellie Powers, a product manager at Google; Brian McClendon, a vice president who oversees Google Maps; and Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps.


12:30 p.m.

Page complains about how laws haven’t kept up with the pace of technology. He says trying to create a Google Health service for keeping track of medical records hasn’t been easy because of regulations.

He also says it’s necessary to start earlier to get girls and young women interested in technology. And he says smartphones need to become more affordable in poorer countries.

Page closes the keynote with a remark about being able to use his phone for just about everything he needs to run the company. He says it’s remarkable to think of what can happen when more people can have such access.

As Page walks off the stage, Google announces that Billy Idol is the featured performer at Wednesday’s after-hours party.


12:15 p.m.

Google offers no new details on its Google Glass, which is an Internet-connected device and camera that can be worn on a person’s face like a pair of spectacles. At last year’s conference, Google co-founder Sergey Brin teased its potential by conducting a live video chat with a group of skydivers who were in a dirigible hovering above the convention. When they jumped, the skydivers’ descent to the rooftop was shown live through the Google Glass camera.

Google Glass is now being tested by developers who bought a prototype edition, and Page doesn’t know when it will be available to the general public. Page says Google is relying on developers to come up with scenarios on using the product.


12:10 p.m.

Page takes the unusual step of inviting questions from the audience.

During the question-and-answer session, he talks about the importance of making rival systems work together rather than one company milking off another for its own benefit. Page takes aim at Microsoft and says, “We certainly struggle with people like Microsoft.” Google says it recently made its chat service work with Microsoft’s service but wasn’t able to get Microsoft to reciprocate. Google didn’t immediately elaborate.

Page also addresses Google’s interest in developing super-fast Internet services in a few cities. He says it’s sad that there’s a lot of computing power out there, but “they are connected to each other through a tiny, tiny pipe that’s super slow.” He says that means most of those powerful computers “can’t be used for anything useful.”


11:55 a.m.

Page complains about “the negativity of stories” in the news media. He says, “negativity isn’t how we make progress. It’s not zero-sum.” He describes as “dumb” the stories that focus on rivalries, such as one between Google and Apple.

He also mentions his vision of driverless cars that will save people time and notes that “we are just scratching the surface of what is possible.” Page says Google cooperated with Hollywood for the upcoming movie “The Internship” in order to address “a marketing problem” with technology.


11:45 a.m.

Page appears on stage, a day after the CEO disclosed a problem with his vocal cords that makes it difficult for him to speak and breathe occasionally. Page has said he remains fit enough to keep running Google. Page doesn’t always appear at Google conferences, and his appearance Wednesday could be meant to reassure people.

On stage, he talks about how his dad was interested in technology and once drove him across the country to attend a robotics conference. He says it’s important to focus on technology and get more people involved.

He says, “Technology should do the hard work so people can get on doing the things that make them happiest in life.”

His voice sounds raspy, but that is usual.


11:40 a.m.

Google is also making images from its Google Earth service available on the Web browser. Before, you had to install separate software to use Google Earth. Google also demonstrates the ability to see a view of earth from space and rotate it around.


11:30 a.m.

Google introduces new features for its mapping apps on Android devices and iPhones.

When you search for restaurants in a city or neighborhood, you’ll get the names of the restaurants along with their ratings at the bottom of the screen. You can swipe through the results horizontally. The mapping app will also include Google Offers — deals akin to those from Groupon Inc. and LivingSocial.

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Article by Associated Press – Michael Liedtke