Google I/O so far: Android, 'Chromebooks' and smarter cars

Android@Home, Ice Cream Sandwich and the Chrome Web Store among highlights at Google's annual developer conference

The logo for the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google Android.

The logo for the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google Android.

Google's I/O developer conference, held 10-11 May in San Francisco, has already been the site of a swathe of announcements by the search giant and its partners.

Google has previewed the next major update to Android. It's dubbed "Ice Cream Sandwich" and will be released later this year, though there are no details yet of when the update will be available to end users. Unlike Google Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb"), which is used by tablet devices including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the recently released Motorola Xoom, Ice Cream Sandwich will target both smartphones and tablet devices, unifying the mobile platform.

There will also be an incremental Android release: 3.1, which will include some interface tweaks and add support for a range of USB-based peripherals and other accessories that use the Android device as a host. Developers will be able to use the new Open Accessory API to interact with accessories.

According to Google 100 million Android devices have been activated and 4.5 billion apps downloaded from its Market app store.

Android is also branching out into home automation, with a new software framework, Android@Home, designed to control electricity-powered devices around the home. Partners in the initiative include toy maker Hasbro and the Lighting Science Group, which will release a light globe compatible with Android@Home.

New music streaming and movie rental services have been unveiled by Google. Google Music will offer Cloud storage for your albums, letting you access them from a PC or Android device. The beta of Google Music is only available to US users. The music manager software can run on Mac OS X and Windows, but there is currently no application for Linux. However, browser-based playback is possible. Users can currently upload up to 20,000 tracks to their account. The company's new movie-rental service is also only available in the US. Rentals will be available from the Android Market and will start at $US1.99.

Ford Motor Co. has revealed it will use the Google Prediction API to process information about drivers. Ford will use Cloud computing to analyse an individual's driving habits, allowing the company's hybrid cars to automatically adjust their performance and increase efficiency.

Acer and Samsung will begin selling notebooks running Google's Chrome OS in the US in June. Samsung will sell two Chrome-based laptops, one with Wi-Fi connectivity and one with both Wi-Fi and 3G through US telco Verizon. Acer's Chome notebook will also offer 3G connectivity through Verizon. Google will sell Chrome laptops on a subscription basis in what Sundar Pichai, the company's senior vice-president for Chrome, describes as "software and hardware as a service". Businesses will be charged $US28 per notebook, which will include support and end-of-life equipment replacement. Schools and the public sector will be charged $US20 per notebook.

Google's new Chrome Web Store will open later this year, offering users of the Chrome browser access to a range of Web apps, which their developers will be able to charge for. The Native Client SDK will let applications developed in C and C++ run in browsers. Most importantly: Angry Birds will be available. (That's the sound of a thousand managers screaming in anguish over lost productivity.)

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Tags smartphonesAndroidGoogle AndroidGoogle Chrome OSGoogle IO conference

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