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Summary:

No new hardware appeared at Google I/O, but a recently released phone debuts as a Nexus-like device. Meanwhile, Google updated Android, without adding further fragmentation issues, through dozens of new services, apps and APIs.

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The annual Google I/O event has come and gone, with plenty of news specific to Android. While the event focuses on developers, consumers will see benefits in Android thanks to improvements in Google’s core services and many new APIs for developers to use in Android apps. There was no new Nexus phone, no update to the Nexus 7 tablet, nor a new Nexus 11 tablet. But for those willing to shell out $649, there is a modified Galaxy S 4 coming soon.

Stock Galaxy S 4Google announced that in June, customers can order the handset through the Google Play store. Instead of the phone running Samsung’s customized TouchWiz software, it will instead run on pure Android, just like the Nexus 4. That means it will get future software updates directly through Google and not Samsung or a network provider.

Of course, some of the newest Samsung features won’t be present on the phone: I wouldn’t expect Samsung’s new camera modes to be there, nor would I expect gestures to work for hands-free scrolling or swiping. Still, in light of no new Nexus hardware, the unlocked handset could appeal to hardcore Android enthusiasts.

So without the release of Android 4.3 at Google I/O, does that mean Android hasn’t improved? Not at all; in fact, Google essentially boosted Android’s software without needing to wait for carriers and handset makers to upgrade the software. How did this happen? A large part of the 3.5 hour Google I/O keynote was dedicated to new Android services and APIs, plus a new application called Hangouts.

New Google HangoutsThe new Hangouts app replaces Google Talk and is Google’s effort to unify its messaging platform. The app supports video calls with up to 10 participants, SMS notifications of incoming chat requests when offline, text chat and works across platforms: You can communication with other users on the web or on iOS devices. Hangouts also highlights a great new feature in Android: Support for synchronized notifications. If you get a notification on one device and take action, the notification won’t appear on other devices or in the Chrome browser.

Google also introduced its music subscription and discovery service called Google Play Music All Access. For a $9.99 monthly fee — $7.99 if you start a 30-day trial by June 30 — you get unlimited access to stream tracks thought the Play Music app and on the web. Human curators surface top songs and albums while music recommendations come from Google’s Knowledge Graph and your Google+ circles.

Google Play GamingGaming got a supercharge in Android as well. Developers can use the new Google Play Games services that allow cross-platform gaming complete with achievements and leaderboards. Game progress can also be saved to the cloud, allowing gamers to pick up where the left off, even from another device.

Android also saw one other big announcement this week, but it didn’t happen at Google I/O. The Bluetooth SIG announced that Android will gain support for Bluetooth Smart and Smart Ready devices in the coming months. That’s likely to be included in an actual Android release as some developers told me that Google will be completely changing the Bluetooth software stack in Android. Regardless, this means widespread support for Bluetooth 4.0 Smart and Smart Ready accessories such as watches, heart rate monitors and other low-powered companion devices.

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  1. why make this kind of announcement before it’s actually available?
    true and real shite marketing skills.

    hint: if there is a new version, it should be actionable. otherwise the genius or anus behind this move risk upsetting or turning off users. Silicon Valley is truly a place without savvy and without chicks.

    1. I wouldn’t say without chicks if you like to date from the yellow pages!

    2. Troll lo lo lo lo la….

  2. vapor ware…..probably not, the claims arent that far reaching and have a hard start date. Google tends to not sell beta software……its fully vetted months before roll out.

    1. Manohar Chapalamadug CBSAustin Wednesday, May 22, 2013

      Nope. Google apps was in Beta while it was actually selling.

  3. Scott Tanzow Saturday, May 18, 2013

    It’s getting harder for Google to impress at this conference, have you noticed? Google Glass was a surprisingly small part of this year’s agenda, I feel, given the hype Google has created for it. I was REALLY hoping they would announce to devs that it’s open season for mobile advertising, but mobile ads are still a big no-no on Glass. In my opinion, this no-no is a big yes-yes to Millennial Media, Airpush, Tapjoy and others because Google and AdMob are growing lame, out of touch with developers, and incapable of making developers the kind of money they should be making with the type of tools and resources available today. Thumbs down, Google :(

  4. instead of a special phone release it would be really cool if google/samsung offered a tool to convert any carrier branded S4 to an unbranded stock android model with an unlocked bootloader.

    i like to wait a little bit for device to show up second hand on craigslist, ebay, pawnshops, etc. at nice discounts and than unlock, and load my choice of ROM. a special branded to unbranded converter tool would be really cool.

  5. by not launching a brand new phone, maybe Google is giving Jolla a chance

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