May 15, 2013 -- Google today announced several new software features at its Google I/O conference in San Francisco that spanned from a brand new music streaming service to new ways to "explore" on its popular Google Maps app.
With a heavy emphasis on innovation through its Android operating system and Chrome, Google's web browser, the theme of the tech giant's sixth annual conference for software developers was providing new features to "make people's lives better," said Google CEO Larry Page.
"Technology should do the hard work so people can get on with doing the things that make them happiest in life," Page said.
Let's break down the major highlights Google unveiled, many of which are available today:
Google All Access Music: 'Radio Without Rules'
Google announced today it jumped on the online music streaming bandwagon with a new service through its Google Play -- its Android store for apps, music, movies and other multimedia.
Previously, users could only stream music they purchased from Google Play. Now, as with other Internet radio providers, the All Access service lets users stream music they haven't purchased, pick different genres.
"We set out to build a music service that didn't just give us access to great music but to help guide you to it," said Google engineering director Chris Yerga.
The All Access service costs $9.99 per month and users get a 30-day free trial. Available today, users who sign up by June 30 will get the service at a discount for $7.99.
This move into the rapidly expanding music sharing industry makes Google competitive with other Internet radio streaming companies, including Pandora and Spotify. It also potentially beat Apple, who has been rumored to be building their music streaming repotoire, to the punch.
Google+ Redesign: New Interface, 'Auto Awesome' Photo Feature
Google announced 41 new features on Google+, the tech giant's 2-year-old social network, over three key areas: Stream, Hangouts and Photos.
Even with 190 million active users, Google+ is still not as widely used as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, but these newly unveiled software updates will make it more competitive.
First, the user interface change, which rolls out today. Instead of a singular content stream, which was similar to the old Facebook news feed, Google+ will now feature up to three columns of updates from you and your friends on Google+ and have photo tagging.
Second, Google revealed new photo editing features, which will be available today to all photo albums uploaded to Google+, which will please photographers, both amateur and professional.
The "Auto Awesome" feature "creates a new image from one that did not exist," he said. Its features include motion, which makes a motion photo of different photos from the same scene -- a .gif, essentially. "Pano" will stitch together photos into a panoramic automatically. "Smile" will find the photo in which you were smiling and then combine that with another photo when you might not have been smiling.
"Auto Highlight" shifts through hundreds of photos, say from a recent vacation, and pulls together the photos the program thinks are the most beautiful and most important automatically, disregarding blurry images and duplicates.
And what good is uploading all these photos if you can't do it for free? Google boosted its free cloud storage space for users from 5BG to 15GB, which allows users to keep the real resolution of your photos stored, unlike Facebook or Instagram, which shrinks the resolution.
Google Hangout App Upgrade
Part of the Google+ experience, the tech giant announced upgrades to its Hangout App, available today on all Android and iOS devices as well as the web.
Users can have group video chats, with participants' faces will switch back and forth depending on who is talking, for free on their mobile phones and tablets.
Notifications in the app are synced so that messages, chat requests or shared photos will follow you from your desktop to your smartphone.
The app also allows users to save their conversation histories so they can go back and rewatch them -- this might be a cool feature for college lectures.
Google Search Updates: Conversation Search
Google revealed its new "Conversation Search" feature, seemingly the tech giant's answer to Apple's Siri, coming soon to Chrome and supported mobile devices.
Conversation Search allows users to speak to Google to search. To launch the tool, users simply say "O.K. Google," and a microphone icon appears. Then users can ask Google questions such as, "Who was the 20th president?" as well as conduct personal tasks -- looking up flights, recommending restaurants, providing directions, setting reminders, even sending emails.
"A really smart assistant to do all these things for you since you don't have to worry about it," said Page.
The "Knowledge Graph," the feature on Google's search bar that helps answer questions users type in the search bar, also got a makeover. Now it will make comparisons between popular search results automatically. For example, searching for the population of India will also return a search for the population of the United States, a common comparison that is searched for.
"Very soon you will start to get important statistics powered by the Knowledge Graph," said Amit Singhal, a senior vice president of search.
Google Maps: 'Explore and Discover Your Surroundings'
Google announced today they rebuilt their popular Google Maps app "from the ground up" and that it will now be included on tablets.
Company execs said they thought three things were missing from Maps: Maps built for you, the user, immersive maps and a new user interface.
For the web, Google Maps will now incorporate points of interest -- restaurants, landmarks, etc. -- on the map directly. When users click on a spot, the map will adjust, showing a Street View-like image and offer directions to that specific destination from your current location, and include a comparison between driving times and public transit times.
One of the most exciting new features is the "Explore" experience, which travelers will fall in love with. Coming to Android and iOS devices this summer, users will be able to type in a location name and the word "Explore" in the Google Maps search bar, and the app will bring up several links, photos and ratings grouped by food, lodging, fitness location, popular tourist destinations and others.
"We're going beyond navigation and direction," said Brian McClendon, a vice president who oversees Google Maps. "It's about exploring."
Another cool feature is that the Google Earth view is now part of Google Maps, allowing users to zoom in on buildings and streets, or zoom out to see the entire planet as a whole, while getting a realistic feel for what they look like -- even clouds are in real time. In addition, buildings will have 3-D photo tours generated from images users upload to the Google Maps app -- think of it as a user-generated Street View.
This is launching today for people who attended the conference. Everyone else can sign up at maps.google.com/preview to sign up to try it -- the invites go out tomorrow.
Noticeably absent from the conference were big announcements about new Android phones or tablets, new enhancements with its operating system, including the next full version of Android -- Android 5.0, also called Key Lime Pie -- and Google Glass. But the year is still young.