This Week in Android: Google I/O Special

Google I/O week is a time in which we’re always promised a bunch of news from everyone’s favourite Mountain View-based company. While some rumoured announcements, especially in regards to hardware, failed to show, the week was still filled with a whole host of interesting Android news. Let’s jump in and take a look!

BBM Coming to Android and iOS this Summer

BlackBerry announced this week that their iconic messaging service and spiritual predecessor to services like iMessage, Kik and other platforms, will be released as an Android and iOS app in summer.

BBM will run on iOS 6+ and Android 4.0+, and naturally integrate with native BlackBerry user’s messaging apps.

BlackBerry Messenger running natively, as well as introducing new platforms Android and iOS. (Photo credit: The Verge)

Initially, the service will feature more basic messaging features of the product, but will be expanded with additional features such as voice and screen sharing in the future.

Android 4.3, White Nexus 4 MIA

One anticipated announcement that didn’t show up at Google’s I/O keynote was Android 4.3, an update expected to include some optimisations such as Bluetooth Low Energy support and OpenGL enhancements.

Android 4.3 didn’t show up at Google I/O (nor was it silently announced afterwards), although it has been spotted in some of Google’s own search results for

The alleged white model of LG’s Nexus 4. (Photo credit: Android and Me)

Now, new reports have tagged Android 4.3 and the release of a white model of LG’s Nexus 4 with a release date of June 10th. June 10th is also the date of Apple’s opening keynote at WWDC, where a new version of rival iOS is expected to be unveiled.

900M Android Activations, 48Bn App Installs

Google’s newly installed head of Android and Chrome, Sundar Pichai, announced on stage at Google I/O that the company had hit a milestone of 900 million Android device activations to date.

Google also announced that over 48 billion apps have been installed on Android devices so far. However, in a show of competitive spirit, Apple also announced they’d crossed the 50 billion threshold the same day.

New Google Play Developer Tools and Services

Of course, Google I/O is ultimately a developer event so the opening keynote was filled with a bunch of major announcements for Android developers.

To kick things off, the company announced Google Play Game services, a set of tools, APIs and services for powering games on Android, with cross-platform compatibility with iOS and the web. I took a look at this announcement in depth in a recent article.

Android Studio is already available as an early access preview.

Google also announced Android Studio, its new development environment for the OS. New additions include refined layout tools for devices and realtime updates in the integrated simulator, as well as better tracking of advertising metrics. Android Studio is available as an early access preview now!

Other API announcements included new Google Maps and Location services with advantages in lower power consumption for location detection and geofencing. Google+ single sign-on has also been extended to advertise a website’s Android app and encourage a user to download it when they use the service.

Finally, Google will also be redesigning the web-side of Google Play to better reflect recent changes to the Android app, in addition to the introduction of tablet-specific listings — which you can read more details about in Rita’s article — finally catching up to one of the basic launch features of the iPad App Store.

Subscription-Based Google Play Music All Access

Google also used I/O to unveil its new subscription-based music service, Google Play All Access, to compete with the likes of Spotify.

Google Play Music All Access’s Android form (Photo credit: The Verge)

Google Play All Access will offer users access to a wide library of streaming content that works in conjunction with locally-stored content to offer one, central music app for Android users. All Access is available in the United States for $9.99/month, after a 30-day free trial. Early adopters who start a trial before June 30th will be able to take advantage of a time-sensitive $7.99/month price.

Samsung Galaxy S4 With Stock Android

In one of the more surprising moves of Google I/O, a new piece of hardware that isn’t a new model of Nexus 7 or any other rumoured device was announced. Rather, it’s a Samsung Galaxy S4 running stock Android and completely unlocked, with a promise for timely software updates.

The Galaxy S4 running stock Android. (Photo credit: Engadget)

Google will be selling the device as with its previous Nexus devices on Google Play on June 26th for $649. Due to minimal amounts of marketing likely ready to be put into this phone, it’s unlikely this model of S4 will see the same popularity as the main one, but it’s an exciting step forward into a future utopia of powerful, sound devices without ugly skinning and manufacturer bloatware.

Google Unifies Messaging in Hangouts

Google has announced the unification of its messaging and chat efforts into a single Hangouts product for Android, iOS and Chrome. Available already, Hangouts replaces its namesake Hangout product in Google+, Google Talk, Google+ Messenger and, eventually, should expand to cover all communication platforms bearing the Google nametag including Google Voice.

In addition to boasting a plethora of messaging features to complete with other non-native apps on all three platforms, Hangouts also sports the much-loved 10-way video calling function. In the future, Hangouts will also feature integration with outgoing calls and SMS. Hangouts will also be available on Glass, Google’s Android-powered, wearable computer.

Google Redesigns Maps

Google announced changes to its Maps app on mobile platforms including Android, reflecting some of the design changes first available on iOS. Google Offers will also now show promotions and deals from retailers and allow access to ratings and reviews from Zagat.

Other Updates

  • HP announced this week the SlateBook x2 and Split x2, a new 10″ tablet product running your choice of Android or Windows 8. The Android version, available August, will cost $479.99.
  • The Nvidia Shield handheld gaming console, powered by Android, has been announced to go on sale in June. Preorders will start May 20th for $349 at a number of retailers.
  • Sony has announced the Xperia ZR, a waterproof (to 1.5m) phone with a 4.6-inch screen, 1.5GHz quad-core processor and Android 4.1.
  • EA has announced it’s working on a mobile version of its Frostbite engine, Frostbite Go. The engine is said to be in development for “all major mobile platforms”, including iOS and Android. No timeline has been given for release.
  • Google Play has been refined to allow all developers to respond to customer reviews, completing a roll out program that began last year.
  • Google Play Books has also been updated, enabling support of user uploads of e-books and integration with Google Drive.
  • Verizon has pushed up its release date for the Galaxy S4 to one week earlier than planned. The handset will now launch in just four days, on May 23rd.
  • In other S4 news, Samsung’s co-CEO Shin Jong-kyun has announced his expectation that the Galaxy S4 will have sold 10 million units by “next week” given that it had been “selling much faster” than its predecessor.
  • Google Glass is getting a number of high-profile app releases, as announced at Google I/O. The device will soon see clients for Facebook, Twitter, Evernote and Tumblr, amongst others.

Catch us next week for a return to your regular scheduling of This Week In Android!