Google is never shy when it comes to announcing and backing new innovations, but last week's slate of announcements at the I/O Conference - and this week - was fairly staggering even by their standards. Where to start...
How about Android 3.1, code-named "Ice Cream Sandwich" for some reason. This is an update to their 3.0 "Honeycomb" platform coming to a tablet and some smart phones near you. Ice Cream Sandwich improves on the 3.0 in a number of ways, including new customization features for widgets that third-party companies have been asking for. There are new tools for app developers that will allow you to use your Android 3.1 device to control just about anything - musical gear, exercise equipment, robotics, etc. A new app called "Android@Home" will communicate with appliances and electronic gadgets - new LED light bulbs controllable wirelessly will be available some time this year, for example. It can also handle more input devices, like USB peripherals, joysticks, mice, etc.
As well, and maybe most importantly, 3.1 bridges the gap between Android and Google TV products. Sony, Samsung, Logitech and Vizio are all building Google TV products this year, and 3.1 will let your Android device control or talk to your television/Google TV box.
It's all part of Google's larger plan to reign-in and unify all of the different versions of Android that are already out in the wild, and that are currently creating a lot of confusion.
Also announced last week, Google plans to stream music and video. The Music Beta by Google allows users to "store" their music collections remotely and access their tunes from anywhere using Google's streaming music player - a nice little cloud-based feature that phone and tablet owners with access to wi-fi and limited on-board memory will no doubt appreciate. Although it's not available in Canada yet, this could be the start of a whole new market for Google which has yet to offer anything that can compete with Apple's iTunes music store - some experts are predicting that Google will announce music downloads or a subscription service by the end of the summer.
There's also been some suggestion that you won't really upload your songs to Google - you're really just showing Google what songs you own and it finds matches in its own library that it will link to your account. The approach makes sense, because otherwise Google would have millions of copies of the same popular songs clogging up servers.
As for movies, thousands of titles are being added to YouTube.com for streaming rentals, and Google has also created an Android app that allows people to rent movies from $1.99 to $3.99. (No list of titles yet and, again, not yet available in Canada.)
Google also announced a few new upgrades to Gmail and Google Docs, such as plug-ins that allow you to chat through AIM with a click of a button and the ability to colour code just about everything.
One of the most out-there concepts announced by Google is the coming of "Chromebooks," laptop computers that run on a Google Chrome browser-based operating system instead of Apple OSX, Windows, Linux, etc. Both Samsung and Acer will be releasing models in June.
The promise of Chromebooks is the ability to boot your computer straight to the web, no operating system required - an online version of apps when you're not connected. One benefit, according to Google, is that it will only take seconds to start up and do things compared to minutes for other systems.
Another benefit is the fact that the operating system is not a version-based system - it's continually updated along with other web 2.0 technologies that get faster and better over time. No anti-virus software is necessary because everything is online and security is built-in.
As for system specs, we'll have to wait for those but the idea seems to be that everything will exist in the cloud, all the time. You'll have some hard drive space to host apps and media files when you're offline, but it will merge seamlessly with the web next time you wander into a hotspot.
It may sound confusing. To better understand what this is and how it works, go to YouTube.com and type in "Chromebook" to watch the video Google put together.
A few tech pundits are concerned by just how much information people are sharing with Google. Google already knows what you're searching for online, and they can access all your personal and business information in Google Docs. If you do Google Buzz social networking (and nobody really does), then they know what you look like, where you live, work and play, who your friends are, etc. With the most recent announcement they could find out what appliances and electronics you own, and what your taste is in music and movies.