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At Google I/O: New Spotify Rival, Maps Revision, More

At Google I/O: New Spotify Rival, Maps Revision, More
By Barry Levine

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Among the announcements at Google I/O are a new Google Play for Education initiative, with the ambitious goal of putting Android tablets in all U.S. schools. To speed loading times in its Chrome browser, Google is introducing WebP as an alternative to JPEG, which the company said could cut image sizes by as much as a third, and VP9, a new video codec.
 



The Googlepalooza for developers, Google I/O, opened Wednesday in San Francisco, and the expected stream of announcements has begun. The current lineup includes a new music service and a redesigned version of the company's popular Maps application.

The new streaming music service, with the mouthful name of Google Play Music All Access, is priced at $9.99 monthly after a one-month free trial, matching the premium level pricing of competitor Spotify. Users can get a free, one-month trial, and sign-ups by the end of June will be charged only $7.99 monthly.

Initially, the service will offer 22 top-level genres, and curated playlists will be offered. The Google service arrives before an anticipated Apple streaming service, expected to be unveiled at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference next month.

Rebuilt Maps

Google Maps has been entirely rebuilt, in the largest redesign since the product was launched eight years ago. Users will see frequently visited places highlighted when they log on, obtained by Google via info about that user from all of its services. When a user travels to a new city, Maps will make recommendations based on preferences and on travel selections from others who frequent the same kind of places.

Maps will be modified in real-time to reflect a current selection, such as all museums being highlighted when you select a museum. Google Earth is now being incorporated into the online Maps, so landmarks can be explored in 3D, and other users' uploaded photos will allow views of the interior of many local businesses.

Also announced were a variety of updates for Google+, including a redesigned screen layout, automatically generated hashtags, and a revamped Hangouts that brings together the existing video chat service with Messenger and Google Talk. Additionally, Google+ offers two new photo editing tools, Auto Enhance and Highlights.

Auto Enhance allows a user to adjust exposure, lose wrinkles or red-eye, and lower the visual noise in low-light photos. Highlights automatically creates albums by weaning out duplicates or badly focused shots. Other automatic tools include Motion, which creates optional motion GIF sequences when it notices that several shots have been taken at the same time and place.

Google Play, Chrome, Search

A new Google Play for Education is launching, with the ambitious goal of putting Android tablets in all U.S. schools. To increase download speeds in its Chrome browser, Google is introducing WebP as an alternative to JPEG, which the company said could cut image sizes by as much as a third, and VP9, a new video codec that is supposed to halve the bandwidth requirement of the popular H.264. YouTube, owned by Google, will begin supporting VP9 later this year.

Chrome will also offer the ability to sync payment and shipping information across devices which, Google said, could cut the average 21 steps required to buy something on a smartphone to 3.

Remember Google Search? The company made sure that its original application didn't get left out of all the first-day announcements. Audible search is being rolled out over the next few weeks to the Google browser, with search terms preceded by "OK Google."

Additionally, since 85 percent of Google's daily searches have been Googled before, the search engine will now be offering predictive content. The search engine will suggest the next search, based on past patterns, and will utilize the company's growing Knowledge Graph, which detects relationships between search terms.
 

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