Google I/O day 1: Android 3.1, Ice Cream Sandwich, movies and more

Google I/O 2011

Whew! Google just wrapped up the opening keynote session for day one of its -- and boy oh boy, is there a lot of Android news.

Here's a quick wrap of all the highlights.

Google I/O: The Android Numbers

It wouldn't be a modern mobile event without some proper bragging, and Google certainly seized the opportunity. According to Android Product Management Director Hugo Barra, more than 100 million Android devices have now been activated worldwide. Google is currently seeing more than 400,000 new activations every day -- up from 300,000 in December 2010; 200,000 in August 2010; and 100,000 in May 2010. That's some serious growth.

In terms of apps, the Android Market now has 200,000-plus programs available.

Google I/O: Android 3.1

The next version of Honeycomb, Android 3.1, starts rolling out to Motorola Xoom users on Verizon's 3G network today. Some of the new features in Android 3.1:

  • Android 3.1

    A scrollable task switcher that lets you access all of your recently used applications from anywhere in the operating system

  • Support for resizable and expandable widgets

  • The ability to turn an Android device into a USB host, allowing you to connect devices like digital cameras (to directly import photos, for example) as well as keyboards, mice, trackpads, joysticks, and game controllers

  • A host of UI tweaks and improvements

  • Updated Browser app with expanded controls and options

  • Updated Gallery, Calendar, Contacts, and Email apps

Android 3.1 will also be coming to Google TV, as will full access to the Android Market.

[RELATED: How to force your Xoom to check for the Android 3.1 update]

Google I/O: Ice Cream Sandwich

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

We've heard about it for months, and today, Android Ice Cream Sandwich -- a mouthful in more ways than one -- is finally official. The next-gen Android release is set to launch sometime in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The goal of Ice Cream Sandwich, according to Google, is to create "one OS that runs everywhere" -- on phones, tablets, and any other type of Android device. That means, as we've long heard, the overall look and feel of Honeycomb will eventually reach phones: Google says the UI, launcher, multitasking interface, and rich widgets from Honeycomb will all make their way into Ice Cream Sandwich.

Google also says Ice Cream Sandwich will be open source, unlike Honeycomb, which the Android team has so far kept under lock and key.

Google I/O: Google Movies

Google Android Movies

Google is now offering streaming movie rentals directly from the Android Market. You can browse through titles online or via your Android device, then watch any movie online or stream it wirelessly to your tablet or phone. You can also "pin" movies to your Android devices in order to be able to watch them without an Internet connection.

The update that enables this feature will be included in Android 3.1. It'll also roll out to phones with Android 2.2 or higher "in the coming weeks."

Google I/O: Google Music

Google Music

Google's answer to Amazon's Cloud Drive service is here. Google Music launches in beta mode today; you can sign up for a free invite at

Google Music will allow you to store up to 20,000 songs in the cloud free of charge -- for now, at least -- and then stream the music to any PC or Android device. It automatically syncs your library and playlists and makes them available as soon as you sign into a phone or tablet.

You can listen to music while offline with Google Music, too: The service automatically keeps a device-based cache of your most recently played songs, and you can manually set it to store specific albums or playlists for offline use as well.

Google Music is available only in the U.S. as of now. You can download the Android app on any 2.2+ device in the Android Market right now.

Google I/O: Better Upgrades

Android upgrades have long been the Achilles' heel of Google's mobile platform; as many of us know all too well, some manufacturers and carriers aren't always on the ball when it comes to delivering software updates. It looks like we may finally have a solution.

Google has established a team of industry leaders that's creating guidelines for how quickly devices will be updated after Android updates are released. The team will also set standards for how long devices will continue to receive regular upgrades after their initial launch.

So far, Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodaphone, Motorola, and AT&T are all involved in the committee. Google says more partners may join as time moves on.

To start, the group has committed to providing Android updates for at least 18 months from the launch date of all new Android tablets and phones in their control.

Google I/O: Android Open Accessory and Android @ Home

A new initiative called Android Open Accessory will allow Android devices to interact with everything from exercise bikes to physical games. Developers can use a new tool kit to create compatible hardware.

Google is also working on an "Android @ Home" program that'll turn Android phones into full-fledged household controllers. Android devices will be able to discover, connect, and interact with a wide range of appliances, including lights, alarm clocks, thermostats, and dishwashers. Some of the first compatible hardware is expected to be out before the end of the year.

Google I/O: What's Next

So, is your head spinning yet? Steady yourself fast, because there's much more ahead. The next big Google I/O keynote session is Wednesday morning.

From the sounds of it, that talk will likely focus on Chrome and Chrome OS. Google also teased a big Android Market announcement that'll be made later in the day on Wednesday.

Stay tuned -- we're just getting started.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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