The keynote speech that opened Google's I/O developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday did not feature any new phones or tablets, new versions of its Android operating system or any wingsuited skydivers landing on the roof of the Moscone West convention center. Even its already overhyped Glass eyewear didn't factor into the presentation much.
Instead, the Web giant announced an ambitious lineup of services and apps that would anticipate our interest, curiosity and concern and act accordingly.
* Its Google+ social network now features a greatly improved set of photo-sharing tools that use software algorithms to pick the best photos out of hundreds from a vacation, then automatically enhance pictures to improve contrast, exposure and focus and even smooth out wrinkles. In the bargain, its social network now generates hashtags automatically for things you share and tries to surface related posts based not just on their text but by analyzing their images.
* The Play Store's new All Access Music Web radio service will follow the practice of Pandora's Web radio by creating stations for you based on individual songs or artists (if perhaps not with the same perceptiveness), then also suggest more music you might like. It will cost $9.99 a month, or $7.99 a month if you start a free trial before June 30.
* Google searches will become more conversational, allowing you to initiate them in Google's Chrome browser by saying “Okay, Google" followed by your question. And if you use Google's calendar, e-mail and other services, the search engine will be able to respond to vague queries like “when does my flight leave?" and “show me my pictures from New York last year" — like the Google Now assistant software for Android, but even more aware of your interests.
* An upcoming update to its Maps app for Android and iOS will add one desperately needed feature: automatically rerouting you to compensate for traffic and other incidents up ahead. (In the browser, a new version, already open to some users while others can request an invite, lets the map fill the page and incorporates Google Earth's 3-D views in Google's Chrome browser.)
The lengthy presentation also included many less dramatic announcements that may make more of a difference in the short term. For example, better location-aware software will make it easier for Android apps to take specific actions when you enter or leave a given location and do the sort of GPS-free activity tracking that's now often done with devices like a Jawbone Up wristband. And upgrades to Google's tools to develop and market Android programs may help programmers ship more elegant apps that yield more profit.
Some three hours into the keynote, the discussion zoomed all the way out with Google CEO Larry Page's appearance on stage. Page, with his voice raspy from the vocal-cord ailment he disclosed on Google+ on Tuesday, testified to his long-term belief in the ability of science and technology to abolish much of today's scarcity.
“The opportunities we have are tremendous," Page said. And if things continue along the lines he sees, good things will come: "Technology lets us free up ourselves to do more important things."
If that sounds like the utopian economic future of Star Trek, it should. But how much more of our data will we have to trust Google with first?
Credits: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery