(SAN FRANCISCO) — Google executives took the stage today at the company’s annual Google I/O developers conference to announce their newest Android products, including the Nexus 7 Tablet, a new $199 Android tablet built in partnership with Asus to run the latest version of Google’s operating system, Android 4.1 or Jelly Bean.
The tablet has a 7-inch, IPS (In-Plane Switching) 1280×800 HD resolution display, Tegra 3 clip set with a quad-core processor and a 12 core GPU, which makes everything, including games, run quickly and seamlessly.
“Everything works smoother,” said Hugo Barra, director of product management for Android.
The other specs include a micro USB port, a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, 1 GB of memory, WiFi, and Bluetooth. It also uses NFC, or Android Beam, a system to allow users to transmit data from one device to another simply by tapping them against each other.
The super-thin handheld tablet is about the size of a large greeting card, 10.45 mm thick, and weighs just under 0.8 pounds, about as much as a small paperback book.
Nexus 7 is now available on the Google Play store for pre-order, starting at $199 for a version with 8GB of storage and $249 for 16GB, and the devices will ship in mid-July.
But hardware isn’t the big story with the Nexus tablet. Google is putting the focus on the tablet’s software and price.
Like the Nexus phones Google has released in the past, Google isn’t making the hardware, but instead worked very closely with Asus, a large Taiwanese computer manufacturer, to craft the hardware to work with the new software.
In keeping with the theme of alphabetically naming its Android operating systems after sweets — Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich — Google’s latest version, Jelly Bean, features a new technology dubbed Project Butter, which it says allows for a smoother experience overall.
The Nexus 7 tablet will be the first device to run Jelly Bean. It will have Google’s Chrome as its default web browser. Google also said the device would have up to nine hours of battery life.
Google engineers showed Jelly Bean could recognize the touch of a finger more easily than previous devices. They said it displays app pages in a neat, clean “card” layout with seamless swipe-through capabilities.
But perhaps its most exciting feature is the new search experience with Google Now, the company’s answer to Apple’s Siri. Google Now uses your search history, location history and calendar to help you get around.
Smartphones are only as smart as you tell them to be,” Barra said. “But with Google Now that starts to change.”
Google Now will tell you when to leave for appointments based on traffic times and transit routes. For example, when you commute to home and back, Google Now will track your route and offer a faster one, or if you take public transit, it will tell you when the next bus or train will come. It will work with flights too, keeping you up-to-date on status, updating you if there’s a delay. Sports fans will go gaga for Google Now’s automatic score updates for their favorite teams, the company said.
“You don’t need to set up your favorite teams. You’ve already done that by searching for them [on Google],” Barra said.
Jelly Bean also includes improved voice-recognition software called Google Speech, which Barra said was “shrunk” to fit on the mobile device. If users have a poor wireless connection or are offline, they can still dictate by voice to their device, which will recognize and transcribe their words.
Smartphones had been able to take dictation for years, but usually the voice-recognition software was too complex to be included in a phone’s operating system. Jelly Bean also introduced the “gesture mode” so that visually impaired users can use gestures on the phone, as well as voice recognition.
A surprise to many developers was the announcement of Google’s Nexus Q, which engineering developer Joe Britt called the “first ever social streaming device.”
Designed to live in your home, the small, spherical Android-powered computer can communicate with your phone using NFC or Android Beam to stream music to your speakers, or video to your television, from your Google Play library, simply by tapping on the screen of your phone or tablet.
Nexus Q will be sold for $299, with pre-orders taken today, and units shipping in July.
“It plugs into the speakers in your house and is always connected to the cloud to stream music,” said Matt Hershenson, Google’s Senior Vice President of Hardware. “You use your phone or tablet to control the cloud.”
Nexus Q makes listening to music or watching a video interactive. Friends with the Nexus 7 device can add videos or music to your queue, and can move songs around in real time.
“It’s a cloud-connected jukebox,” Britt said. “Everybody that has the device can see the music that is about to be played … [and] your friends can add their own music to the Nexus Q’s music queue.”
“It’s pretty cool that my friends can play their music in my living room,” Britt said. “No more passing around a keyboard or laptop, everyone is in control.”
Google tablets have been hampered by a lack of applications. While there are a number of Android tablets currently on the market, there are fewer than 10,000 tablet-specific apps for Android tablets. That’s compared to the more than 225,000 apps written only for the iPad.
Just last week, popular social news magazine Flipboard co-founder Evan Doll told ABC News that he was still not convinced there was a market for Android tablets.
“We are still in a wait-and-see mode with Android tablets,” Doll said. “The iPad is the flagship tablet and we are going to stay focused on it.”
The Nexus 7 faces steep competition not only from the iPad, which remains the most successful tablet on the market, but also from its own Android kin. Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which is priced at $199, is built on Android, but isn’t an official Google Android device since it doesn’t have access to Google’s own Play Store or other Google apps.
But the Nexus 7 could be a contender because of new features from the Google Play online Store. Users can now browse through interactive magazine covers and jump to different articles and back without leaving the main page. Through the cloud, the store will also offer recommendations for apps, books and more. Google said the recommendations will “get smarter and more accurate the more you use them.”
Microsoft announced its own Windows 8 Surface tablets last week, which are expected to hit the market later this year.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Heather Hourigan, CNN
Kathryn Vasel, CNN