Chris Nuttall Closed Google I/O 2013 – as it happened

Google shares rose past the $900 mark on Wednesday as it announced 900m Android activations at its annual developer conference, Google I/O, in San Francisco. Google also launched a new subscription music streaming service, Google Play All Access, and a bunch of new services for developers, including improved gaming capabilities, mapping services and voice-controlled search tools.
Here’s a transcript of the liveblog by Chris Nuttall and Tim Bradshaw, who were reporting from the Moscone Center.

Welcome to the keynote hall at the Moscone where more than 5,000 developers and press are trying to get the best seats for the main event – a two-and-a-half hour presentation where Google is expected to unveil its latest and greatest gadgets and services.

We’ve managed to grab seats centre stage on row 7 after a very civilised wait in line, with seats provided.

There’s an impressive amount of whooping going on behind us as we approach the beginning of the keynote. One chap in an Android hat is getting particularly overexcited. Never let it be said that Apple has all the fanboys.

Google’s giving us a little taste of life with Google Fiber here in the press area, with a nippy 60 megabit-per-second connection. For once this liveblog will not be at the mercy of Moscone Center’s flaky wifi connection.

The keynote is starting with a video montage of developers’ services: SoundCloud, Charity:Water, Endomondo… a lot of them have a musical theme.

Vic Gundotra, Google’s usual MC, takes the stage. More than 1m are watching live on YouTube, he says. Hi!

Vic starts by thanking developers. “We hope that we at Google will continue to earn your trust.”

He introduces Sundar Pichai, the new head of Android

He says we’re at a critical moment in computing. Goes through the history of personal computing in 30 seconds from PCs to smartphones, shows a pic comparing how smartphone cameras captured the announcements of the last two popes on camera, just a single clamshell in 2005, a sea of smartphones in 2013.

Sundar shows images of smartwatches and other internet-of-things devices.
“When you look at all these computing devices it’s a multiscreen world… They have sensors, they can listen, they can feel, they can hear and the amount of computing power in these screens is incredible. Users are really adopting these computing devices. we at Google are incredibly excited. this is one of the most important moments in computing. At the heart of this journey is the impact that we can have on people around the world.”

Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world. Chrome is the most popular browser in the world.

An update on Android activations, 400m a year ago…now 900m today.

A map of the world shows where penetration is less than 10 per cent. Africa…and Greenland..stand out.

Hugo Barra, VP Andoird product management, takes the stage. Google Play has just crossed 48bn app installs. Er, that’s just behind Apple, closingin on 50bn:

Hugo Barra says users have downloaded 2.5bn apps from Google Play in the last month alone.
“Over the last 4 months we’ve paid out more money to Android developers on Google Play than in all of last year. Revenue per user is 2.5x what it was a year ago, globally.”

Google Play has just passed 48bn app downloads, he says – slightly behind Apple which is closing in on 50bn.

Nerdy stuff on three new location APIs for developers. A new API Fused Location Provider makes location faster to acquire and easier on your battery. Geofencing lets you set up triggers when users enter a particular area. Activity recognition uses the accelerometer to figure out whether the user is walking, driving or cycling. Should lead to some interesting new apps.

Now Google Cloud Messaging – announced last year, it lets you push data to your Android apps, 17bn messages are being sent a day now, he says. three new features will be persistent connections allowing a large number of messages to be sent very quickly. Upstream messaging lets you send data from the app to your servers. Then, something that allows notifications to be dismissed easily. Developers are oohing and aahing here, press are nonplussed.

Gaming – a new family of APIs built specifically for game developers. Google Play game services. Cloud save lets you save levels in games across devices. Achievement and leaderboard APIs too. So, Google upping its game versus Apple’s Gamecenter.

Google’s new gaming capabilities also lean heavily on Google+ and offer a way to match multiplayer games for “head to head” competition. So that’s a shot across the bow to Facebook – which saw a huge amount of growth from games in the early days of its platform – and Microsoft’s Xbox Live. This will come as a huge boon to developers of Android-based gaming devices such as the Ouya, too.

Oh dear, curse of the demo hits Google.
The onstage demonstration of the new multiplayer services – and the first live demo of the day – fails to connect.
“This isn’t the most networking friendly room is it,” says Hugo Barra awkwardly, before abandoning the demo to some groans from the back of the room.

Google promised this IO would be a return to the developer focus after last year’s Glass stunts and tablet launches…. and they weren’t kidding. Much of the first half hour has been very geek-centric. There is actual code on the screen right now.
It seems to be working – lots of cheers from the dev crowd.

Barra: “Half of the game is building awesome apps – the other half is about distribution and monetisation.” Ellie Powers, product manager from Google Play, takes to the stage to explain how to “make more money on Android”, in what is an area where Google is still seen as lagging Apple, despite its much larger install base.

Google Play will now offer optimisation tips for developers, providing “insights” on how to improve sales and distribution, such as recommending that devs upload tablet screenshots.
Another suggests where users are in the world and if your app supports their language. A new app translation service will provide “professional” translations.

I’m feeling pretty API’d out, says Hugo Barra. That goes for the whole of the media here.

Chris Yerga, engineering director at Android, takes to the stage to discuss consumer-facing improvements to Google Play.

“The new Play store is designed to help you improve discovery for your apps,” says Yerga, with personalised and social recommendations. “These personalisation features are going to be rolling out over the coming weeks.”

Here we go… “Do you guys want to hear about music?” asks Yerga.
“With ubiquitous mobile devices there’s the potential to bring music to wherever you are.”

“We set out to build a music service that didn’t just give you access to a world of music but also helped guide you through it,” says Yerga.
The locker service launched two years ago. Play Music is now in 13 countries.
“What if we gave you access to millions of access from the store with your personal music library… a music service that is about music and the technology fades into the background.”
He announces the launch of Google Play Music All Access – a uniquely Google approach to a subscription music service (confirming the FT’s recent scoop).

It’s a jukebox, radio and download store combined – so Google is now competing with iTunes, Spotify and Pandora.
“Anything I can play I can make into a personalised music service.” Upcoming tracks on the radio service can be reordered or vetoed.
“This is radio without rules,” he says. “It’s as lean-back as you want it to be or as interactive as you want it to be.”

Google also believes that it can solve the “16m songs but nothing to listen to” problem. Discoverability is something Spotify has tried to tackle with its app platform.
“‘Listen Now’ brings the power of Google to surface music we know you are going to love.”

All Access is priced at $9.99 a month in the US, with a 30 day free trial.
A discount for early adopters will see the price at $7.99 if you sign up before the end of June.
It will roll out to more countries “soon”.

Now onto some hardware. We’re being shown a Galaxy S4 from Samsung with a special feature – an S4 running 4.2 Jellybean with the same interface as on a Nexus device.

This is one for the geeks too, it’s bootloader unlocked, on sale June 26 for $649 on Google Play.

It will also be sold through the Google Play Store. This seems intended to demonstrate that Google is on friendly terms with Samsung, rather than being in nervous competition with Android’s biggest handset maker.

Now a commercial break for Chrome – video of its capabilities

Sundar Pichai is back. More than 750m active users of Chrome, with 300m added in the past 12 months. It’s increasingly being used on mobile.

Chromebooks are growing in number and brands. Sundar is praising the high-end Pixel version’s screen and the apps it might create.

There’s a Hobbit game demo that shows Chrome performs as well on a Nexus tablet running Android as on a Chromebook Pixel with the Chrome operating system.

Linus Upson, Engineering vice president for Chrome, says the speed of the browser has increased 25 per cent in the past year on the desktop and 50 per cent on mobile.

We’re getting a demo of how Google’s Webp image compression can replace jpegs and pngs. Then WebM video versus H.264 – a demo of its VP9 codec shows the quality can be just as good as H.264, at almost a third the size.

Abandonment of shopping carts on mobile is about 97 per cent – there are around 21 steps to complete in a transaction. But Chrome’s storage of billing information is going to reduce this to three steps. Applause.

We’re an hour into Google I/O & nobody onstage has even mentioned Glass yet, let alone launched them out of a blimp. It’s a very different affair to last year’s splashy event.

Now Racer – a Chrome experiment, it’s a multiplayer game, hope it works better than the last multiplayer demo.

This is taking place on five different smartphones and tablets. It’s like a virtual Scalextric track, which is spread out across the screens of the five devices, which are all in sync, very impressive.

Sundar Pichai, head of Android and Chrome, is back. He announces the first giveaway – a new Chrome Pixel for all the developers here.

Moving onto education and how Google Apps can help. Chris Yerga is back on stage.

He announces a new initiative for schools to make it affordable to put Android tablets into the hands of kids – Google Play for Education.

We’re seeing an education-focused section of the Play store with apps for maths, science, social studies and other subject categories. Download an app to all the tablets in a class when you select one.

The service will launch in the autumn, haven’t heard about making the tablets themselves affordable, although we are down to $199 prices.

Meanwhile on the stock market, Google is holding firm above $900, up 2.2 per cent at the time of writing. However, Apple investors – hit by a spike in short-selling yesterday afternoon – are suffering in the wake of Google’s music and app-store announcements. Apple’s decline has accelerated during the course of the keynote and is now down almost 4 per cent so far today.

Sundar Pichai back, talking about Chromebooks becoming more common in schools. A video about schools in Malaysia using them.

Vic Gundotra is coming back onstage next to talk about Google+ and its other homegrown services.

“Hundreds of millions” have joined Google+ in the last two years, he says (wearing glasses, but not Glass). Today we are introducing 41 new features: a newly designed stream, a new Hangouts app, and redesigned photos.

The new Google+ looks remarkably like Pinterest – with, it must be said, slicker animations.
“It’s not just about design, it’s about depth,” he says, hoping to “fix” discoverability. “Related hashtags” will scan a post and automatically tag them – even recognising images.
It will also rank the “universe” of Google+ in a personalised fashion – not unlike what Twitter does with its search pages.

“We deeply respect the content producer,” Vic says, so you can opt out of these “related hashtags”.
Next: the new Hangouts, arguably Google+’s killer app.

More than half of all sharing through Google+ is done to private Circles, Gundotra says.
“Despite 50 years of work in realtime communication products we are still stuck with gadgets that get in the way” of talking to friends, he says. “Why should OSs matter? People matter.”

“Frankly even Google’s own services have been fragmented and confused at times,” he says. “We want to fill in all the boxes” so “technology can just go away”.

New Hangouts app shows a list of conversations, not contacts.
“We think we’ve built a product for conversations that last with people you love,” Gundotra says. “The focus is on those conversations.”

in a fashion akin to “intimate” mobile social network Path, new Hangouts will save those conversations – across devices and on Android and iOS – in a stream and automatically add photos shared to albums.
“Imagine that you have your family in a conversation for many months or a year,” says Gundotra. You can still chat in private, he adds.
The new Hangouts app is out today.

Free mobile group video calling is also part of the new Hangouts app – so taking on Skype as well as the many chat services like Whatsapp and WeChat… not to mention Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime, which are of course iOS-only.

Next: photos. Google wants to help organise all your digital images. “By combining your camera with our cloud we can do some of those labour intensive tasks for you,” he says. Google’s datacentres are “your new darkroom” – going beyond backup. Providing 50GB free, up from 5GB before, storing in full resolution too. Dropbox offers 2GB free, although you can earn more, or pay for “pro” packages, starting at $9.99 a month for 100GB.

Google Highlights looks good – eliminates blurry, duplicative, badly exposed photos to reduce 100s of photos taken on holiday to the 30 best ones. to view

Google’s algorithm will help prioritise the most interesting pictures based on quality and what’s in them. Gundotra says Google can even recognise “who is important to you – who is in your family circle – so your wife and your children are in the highlights”. Eric Schmidt once talked about a “Google that knows you”. Well now, it knows who your family are too…

There are new automated editing tools, too, from balance and contrast tweaks and noise reduction to effects like “skin softening” and HDR. This is all done by the algorithm “recognising the human face… like a professional would in a tool”, Gundotra says. “Our algorithms take into account human taste.”

Gundotra summarises: “Today we’ve shown you a new modern multicolumn stream… so you can explore your interests on Google+. A new Hangouts app about conversations that last. And a new photos experience that shows what happens when Google becomes your darkroom…
“Collectively we think we just put the Google into Google+.”

Next: search.
Amit Singhal comes on to discuss “the end of search as we know it”.

Three search experiences are being extended, he says, updating us on the knowledge graph, which gives us those nice summaries on the right hand side of search results.

Google will anticipate your follow-up search query, say providing the population of India on a search for India, several Knowledge graph languages are being added.

You will be able to ask about your trip plans, vacation photos, a package that’s due to arrive – lots of personal stuff.

Chrome will be adding voice-powered search for the desktop, conversational search, that is, there’s already a microphone there.

“Ask Google a question and have Google speak back an answer.” Hello Siri, is that you….?

There are new cards for Google Now, including public transit, music, TV shows, video games and books

Google’s new voice control is triggered by “OK Google” – akin to the “OK Glass” call-and-response interface of its sci-fi specs.
This is Siri on steroids: ask Google “how far is it from here” and Google knows “it” is the place you just searched for (in this demo, Santa Cruz) and “here” is where you are right now. The answer is read back to you and displayed on a card.

If your travel details are in your inbox, you can ask Google, “When does my flight leave?” and get a detailed response read back to you.

Google wants to “Answer, Converse and Anticipate” your search needs.
Singhal says: “This [new search] experience is rapidly developing… It will take some time before it becomes the core search experience…. But our investment and commitment to getting there sooner rather than later are immense.”

Ambitious and utopian pitch from Singhal: “Everyone can easily access all of humanity’s information and get what they need to improve their and their family’s lives. That is the power of the new search experience we are building at Google; It will change how you and I experience this beautiful journey we call life.”

We’re well into hour three here at the Google I/O keynote and some of the press pack are starting to suffer from one technology Google hasn’t (yet) revolutionised: battery life. Stay with us at the FT as we carry on into Google Maps.

50 countries are now on Street View, its all-seeing cars covering 5m miles.

Google is talking up the way it bundles data from lots of different sources – local data, imagery, Street View and maps – 40m precise geocodes make “the most comprehensive dataset of local businesses”, Google’s mapping chief says – without mentioning the problems that Apple has had with accuracy on its Maps app.
More than 1m websites now use Google Maps.

Now comes Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps, to talk about the next generation of maps for mobile.
He starts with a sly dig at Apple Maps. “People called [Google Maps for iOS] slick, beautiful… and let’s not forget, accurate,” he says to cheers from the Google crowd.

Improvements to Google Maps for Mobile on Android and iOS. Searching for restaurants or local places now comes with recommendations from Zagat and more detailed reviews. A new map UI makes it easier to swipe between different places to see where you want to eat. It also integrates a new “offers” experience – deals and coupons along the lines of Groupon, Yelp or Foursquare. Starbucks is among the first offer providers.

Directions: over 1m transit stops are already covered.
Google Maps on mobile will now offer “incident alerts” and “dynamic rerouting”.
Maybe this is part of why Facebook wants to buy Waze, which offers this kind of crowdsourced traffic data – or, indeed, why Waze might want to sell.

There’s an improved tablet version of Google Maps for mobile too. No word on if it includes cycle directions on iOS, which is something I personally miss from Android.

Next, back to the desktop version. “Google Maps has defined modern mapping and we are about to reinvent it again.” Designers Bernhard Seefeld and Jonah Jones come on to talk about personalisation, “immersive imagery” and UI changes.

“We’ve rebuilt Google Maps from the ground up.” Faster, more vibrant colours and textures, offering vector maps in a browser.

Yes, it still looks like a map. But there’s more info displayed on the map, less need to click on all those pins for things like restaurants. And you can filter results based on what your (Google+) friends recommend.

With Google now trading at $903, one analyst, Scott Kessler at S&P, calls the top, downgrading Google from Buy to Hold just now.

Following a year-to-date rise of 28%, compared with a 16% increase in the S&P 500, GOOG is now within 2% of our 12-month target of $925. We continue to see healthy growth from the core Google segment, and have been encouraged by efforts to streamline the Motorola business. We still see mobile as a considerable opportunity for the company, but view Motorola as contributing to significant operational and strategic challenges. Our calculations indicate the stock’s P/E and P/E-to-growth multiples are well above those of its peers, and we now see it as more of a market performer.

Back at I/O, Google has just matched Apple Maps only killer feature: 3D imagery in the mapping. A demo flies over the Vatican in the same slick 3D rendering that Apple wowed with a year ago (before its flaws emerged). But then Google goes one better by going inside the basilica, using crowdsourced imagery.
Apple still has the edge by having this on mobile, thought, which Google doesn’t seem to have.

Larry Page just came on stage to whoops and cheers. Yesterday he detailed his health problems with his vocal cords but he’s here to round off this long, long keynote.

He’s talking about his childhood and his father, who was a “communications scientist”.
“One of the themes i want to talk to you about is how important it is for us and the developers in the room to focus on technology and get more people involved in it,” Page says.

“Everyone today is excited about technology, we don’t have to worry about that anymore. It’s amazing what we have in our smartphones.”

Page: “We have a lot of devices that we use interchangeably. Tablets, laptops, even Google Glass. That’s why we put so much focus on our platforms, Android and Chrome. it’s really important in helping developers and Google built great user experiences across these different devices.”

Despite his soft voice, Page is here to bring the big, inspirational rhetoric.
“The perfect search engine is the Star Trek computer. The Knowledge Graph brings that a lot closer. Google Now understands the context of what came before – you can use pronouns, it’s amazing. Think about a smart assistant doing these things for you so you don’t have to think about it… We haven’t seen this rate of change in computing in a long time, probably since the birth of personal computing…. We are only at 1 per cent of what is possible, possibly even less than that.”

Page is taking on the haters:

“In every story I read about Google, it’s about us versus some other company or some stupid thing. I don’t find that very interesting. We should be building great things that don’t exist. Being negative is not now we make progress. Most important things are not zero sum. There is a lot of opportunity out there. We can use technology to make important things to make people’s lives better.”

“Sergey and I talk a lot about cars. Imagine how self driving cars will change our lives – more green space, fewer hours wasted behind the wheel of a car, fewer accidents.”
“To get there we need more students graduating with science and engineering degrees, more people working on important technological problems.”
“But computer science has a marketing problem. we are the nerdy curmudgeons. We are still just scratching the surface of the problem.”

Larry is now going to take questions from the audience.

“Over 1m people are watching this live on YouTube,” he says.

Robert Scoble asks the first question.
“Robert I didn’t appreciate the shower picture,” says Page, referencing his Glass “experiment”.

Asked about Glass sensors, Page says: “That context that’s in your life, all these different sensors are going to make your life better. We are in the very early stages.”

A Mozilla employee asks about if the open web can become the centre of Google’s mobile platforms.
Page replies:

“We’ve been really excited about the web, having been birthed from it as a company. We’ve invested a lot in the open standards. I’ve been quite sad about the industry’s behaviour around all these things. Take something as simple as IM. We’ve had an offer forever that we would interoperate on IM. Microsoft interoperated with us but did not do the reverse – that’s really sad. We need interoperation, not people milking off one company for their own benefit. I’m sad that the web’s probably not advancing as fast as it should be. We certainly struggle with people like Microsoft. We have a great relationship with Mozilla. I’d like to see more open standards. In the very long term i don’t think you should have to think about, as a developer, am i developing for this platform or another – you should be able to work at a much higher level and software you write should be able to run anywhere.”

A woman from Columbia asks, “how will Google let us protect our freedom of speech on the internet?”
Page replies:

“We at Google have a strong desire for the free flow of information. We make sure we talk to government leaders and help advance that. We are working very hard on that, making sure we are protecting your private information and providing computer security. And making sure we are being as transparent as we can about the requests we get from government.”

A man from Provo, Utah, where Google Fiber has just been announced, asks – in effect – what gigabit connections are for.
Page replies:

“As a computer scientist i view it as sad that we have all these computers connected to each other though a tiny tiny little pipe that’s super slow. All the computers we have in the world, most of them are in people’s houses and can’t be used for anything useful. It’s obviously a ways to go from where we are now – we don’t have software designed to use those things yet. But we know if we build that capacity we’ll be able to use those computer for all sorts of interesting things. Gigabits are just the beginning for that. We need low latency connections that operate at computer speed.”

Someone from Vancouver asks about Google’s hardware initiatives.
Page replies:

“Google X is focused on atoms and not bits. We feel there is a lot of opportunity there. Sergey is having a great time doing that. I think the possibilities for some of those things are incredibly great. Technology for public transportation hasn’t really started yet. Self driving cars are just one thing we could do. We are very excited about that area. We think it’s a way that the company could scale. All our products are interrelated, we need to do a fair amount of management to ensure you get a seamless experience. Cars have a longer time frame and less interaction. I encourage more companies to do things that are maybe a little bit outside their comfort zone because I think it gives them more scalability in what we can get done. We are surprised, even when we do things that are kind of crazy – the technology for mapping and automatic cars turns out to the same. A bunch of developers just moved over [between those]. When we launched Gmail people said we were nuts – we understood things about datacentres and storage that we applied to email. Almost everytime we try to do something crazy we make progress. Not all the time, but almost all the time. So we’v become a bit emboldened. No matter how much money we try to spend on Gmail, they end up being small so they don’t cause a business issue either. We are at 1 per cent of what is possible.”

A developer asks about the future of Glass:
Page replies:

“Glass is a new technology to existing computing devices – our main goal is to get happy users using Glass. We can get going on it and work on it for the next 10 years. Part of the answer is we don’t know [where it will go]. I love taking photos of my kids, for me that’s enough.”

A developer asks about Android’s legal troubles, with Oracle and Java.
Page replies:

“I think we’d like to have a coopeartive relationship with them. It doesn’t seem possible. It seems that money is more important to them than having any kind of collaboration or things like that. It’s been very difficult. I think we’ll get through that.”

One developer asks for advice to young technologists.
Part of Page’s reply:

“Making a smartphone for a dollar is almost impossible to do but if you took a 50 year time frame and start to make the investments you needed to, along the way you would learn how to make money. I encourage non-incremental thinking and a deep understanding of what you are doing.”

Page keeps referring back to his 50-year vision for Google.

“In my longterm world view, hopefully our software understands deeply what you are knowledgeable about and what you’re not, and how to organise the world so the world can solve important problem. People are starving in the world because we are not organised enough to solve that problem.”

Kevin from New Jersey asks for advice about focusing on positivity in the tech industry, rather than negativity.
Very interesting answer from Page:

“People naturally are concerned about change. Not all change is good. the pace of change in the world is increasing. Part of what I would think about is we haven’t adapted mechanisms to deal with that. Some of our old institutions, like the law, aren’t keeping up with the rate of change we’ve caused through technology. The laws when we went public were 50 years old. Law can’t be right if it’s 50 years old. Maybe more of us need to go into other areas and help those areas and understand technology.

The other thing in my mind is we haven’t maybe built mechanisms to allow experimentation. There are many exciting things you can’t do because they are illegal and not allowed by regulation. That makes sense – we don’t want the world to change too fast. But we should set aside a small part of the world – like going to Burning Man for instance – That’s an environment where people could try out different things.
Technologists should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out the effect on society and people without having to deploy it on the whole world.”

He says that Google Health’s limited progress is a prime example of this legal constraint.

“All the issues were regulatory. It’s very hard to get technological levers there. The kinds of things we were working on, we weren’t able to move on from that due to all the constraints we were under. We will see amazing things in healthcare. There will be things that have technological levers like DNA sequencing. We’ll all have that, it will cost a dollar, and something amazing will happen.”

is Google going to do anything with DNA sequencing?
Page: “I don’t have anything to announce at this time but we have felt it’s a difficult area for us to work in. It’s worth doing though.”

And finally, that’s it – after three and a half hours, the Google I/O keynote is over.

We’ve heard about new milestones for Android and Google Play, all sorts of new hooks for developers in areas like games, a Chromebook Pixel giveaway, redesigned Maps and Google+ and Larry Page’s 50-year vision for Google and innovation.
Thanks for sticking with us through what must surely be a new record in tech keynote longevity. See you back here at the Moscone Center for Apple’s WWDC in June and keep an eye on for more coverage from Google I/O.