Google’s geeky. Its homepage has always been spartan, and even the shade of blue used on its links are tested for performance. Its HQ is known for group bikes, indoor slides, yards mowed by goats and filled with inflatable deserts, the representatives of the web giant’s robot-themed mobile OS.
But Google’s also successful, wildly so. It’s a rare day when any internet connect human doesn’t touch at least one Google products. Not because we’re forced to, but because we want to. Google Search just works, and its popularity got us to try the rest of their apps. And you know what? Google Maps, Gmail, Docs, Chrome and more all work so good, most of us choose them because they work great. They may be spartan, but they sure do the job.
That’s not enough. The new Google, one increasingly infused with Google+ DNA since its launch 2 years ago, is focusing harder than ever on design. And features. And glasses, and driverless cars, and beating Dropbox, and more. It’s a busy — and shiny — new search giant, and that’s on showcase more than ever at this year’s Google I/O developer conference.
Web Apps Don’t Have to Be Dull
If there’s one quick takeaway from the first day of Google I/O, it’s that web apps have grown up. Google’s paved the way to a cleaner web with its own spartan web apps, which dropped the flashy banners and gradients for plain white, treys, and scientifically tested blues. Google+’s launch started a new, more stylish trend for Google, one we’ve seen take over everything they offer over the past years, but even that looks quaint compared to the latest changes.
Take the new Google Maps, the star of what Google’s unveiled at I/O. The soon-to-be-released version of Google Maps is beautifully animated in Chrome, powered by WebGL, with all the features you’d expect from Google Earth right in your browser. It’s smarter, too, with location reviews and smart maps that show you points of interest along the way to the place you’re going. With prettier images, a more fluid experience, and the directions you already trust, it’s an update you’ll want to sign up for (yup, you’ll have to sign up to get early access).
But it doesn’t stop there. The poster child for Google’s new designer future, Google+, has gotten a ton of beautiful updates. It’s been almost fully redesigned, while yet recognizable as Google+, with a new 3-column plus side menu design that feels like a Googly, super-sized Pinterest. A beautiful one, though, one that’s more animated than ever.
Remember the animation in Google+ when adding new people to your circles? The new post box animation when you start to write something is even more dramatic, in a nice way you’ll have to try out to see how it works. It’s nice, but I’m not sure it’d be that fun to see animate every time you want to post something online.
Now, remember when we said we use Google’s apps because we want to? Google+ never managed to hit that level for most people, except for three things: keeping your web profile up-to-date for search purposes (useful, needed even, but not fun), Hangouts (group video chats that are useful and fun), and photo sharing (thanks to generous storage limits and Android integration). Google’s now made those last two even better.
There’s brand new Hangout apps for iOS, and it’s built into Gmail — it’s Google’s new central messaging service, and we must admit it’s a good one. Then, for photos, you can still store unlimited standard sized photos for free, with auto-backup from your phone if you want. There’s also new Auto Enhance, Auto Highlight, and Auto Awesome (really) features to help you get the most out of your pictures. Here’s more on those:
Bringing Everything Together
If there’s one thing Google hasn’t always gotten perfect, it’s pulling all of their diverse apps and services together in a way that makes sense. They’re doing far better now. First off, rather than having separate storage in Google Drive, Gmail, and more, every Google account has 15Gb of free Google Drive storage, shared between all of the services – even Gmail. You can then upgrade for more storage starting at $4.99/month for 100Gb, which is half the price of Dropbox Pro for those keeping track.
Next up, Gmail now is integrated with Google Wallet, so you can send money right inside Gmail just like another attachment to your emails. It makes Google Wallet a closer competitor to PayPal, and it gives most of us a way we could actually make use of Wallet today. As soon as it launches, that is.
Then, voice is the new big Google tech that’s already in Chrome but will soon be the killer Google feature, at least if we can all get used to talking to our laptops. The new Google Voice Search will be much more like it is on Android devices, letting you start a conversation by saying “OK Google,” and then both search by voice and get followup queries by continuing the conversation. It’s like Siri, super-powered, in your browser. If the web ever gets Google Now, you’ll have your full digital assistant in Google.com, from anywhere.
And Google’s doing everything to make sure you’ll both start your day at Google, and keep using it throughout the day. There’s search and Drive and Gmail to keep you working, but there’s also the brand-new Google Play All Access, a $9.99/month streaming music solution that lets you stream millions of songs that are ready for purchase in Google Play. If you sign up before the end of June, it’ll just cost $7.99. The streaming music playing field just got a bit more competitive.
Google’s the new Software Giant
It’s fashionable to refer to Microsoft as the “Software Giant”, but the name more aptly applies to Google these days, what with its myriad array of integrated services and apps that nearly everyone uses day in, day out. There’s all the web apps, the Chrome browser, and Android … not to mention ambitious new projects like Google Glass and self-driving cars.
Google’s one company who’s future is hard to predict, but one thing’s for sure: the future at Google will look pretty. Each of their new apps looks shinier than the last, and Google’s not about to let Apple or anyone else beat them in the design department. And they’re far more likely to work together — or be deeply tied together — than ever before.
You can watch the whole Google I/O 2013 Keynote on YouTube, if you’d like.