Google has unveiled how it plans to introduce virtual reality to the classroom and to YouTube this year, as well as the much rumoured new photo-sharing service Google Photos.
The range of announcements came at the opening of I/O, the technology giant’s annual developer conference held in California, and also included a first look at the next version of its Android mobile operating system, but it is yet to reveal the name.
Still simply known as Android M, the new version will launch in the third quarter of this year to add what Android’s Sundar Pichai called “polish and quality”, rather than a major overhaul.
M comes with a new web experience, with Google Chrome custom tabs being added to apps so all links that take a user to a browser will now use Chrome as a base.
Google has also simplified the app links system so users will no longer be asked to choose which app to show the link in.
Google’s mobile payment system Android Pay will be built into M, and now supports all Android devices with fingerprint scanners.
Android’s Dave Burke said the aim of the update was to “improve the core user experience”.
Google also said M will have a big focus on power, with a new feature called Doze that uses motion detection to work out when a device has been left for a long time, and it will then cut power usage to save battery.
Dave Singleton, from Google’s Android Wear division, also took to the stage to give an update on wearables.
He said: “Today we’re evolving Android Wear even further, inspired by something we already do – checking the time.”
Mr Singleton said Google wants to make using Android Wear devices “glanceable, actionable and effortless”.
He went on to show new features for smartwatches that enable users to keep the screen on within apps for the first time, as well as users being able to swipe through different screens with a flick of the wrist.
“We know wearable technology is evolving fast,” Mr Singleton added.
Google is locked in a battle with Apple, which launched its first wearable the Apple Watch earlier this year, and is looking to regain the initiative.
The firm’s Google Now service was also given an impressive update, as the feature’s “language and context engine” was shown off.
A new feature called Now On Tap was announced – and will roll out alongside Android M later this year. It has new understanding of context, and an on-stage demonstration showed someone listening to Skrillex, and then asking “What’s his real name?”. The app now knows the context of “he” and produced the correct search results.
“Bringing answers proactively” was also discussed, with users able to tap and hold on the home button within apps and get contextual results. Those in attendance were shown an email exchange about seeing a movie, with holding the home button instantly bringing up reviews for the film in question.
This also works for reminders during text message conversations should someone ask you to do something.
Now is a key area for Google; the voice prompt within the app places it in competition with Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana – which earlier this week was confirmed as coming to Android.
The much rumoured revamped photo service was also unveiled as Google Photos was announced. The new service will be available for free from today on iOS and web as well as Android, and will give users the ability to save unlimited amounts of photos and video for free.
The new service automatically backs up and saves all images to the cloud, and also groups them according to place, time and by faces, and does not need them to be tagged. The app also contains a search engine and can find images based on key terms.
A Photos Assistants feature will also suggest collage and montages based on your habits with the app.
Google is clearly keen to expand its appeal, and the launch of the firm’s first major photo service is likely to turn consumer heads. Photos will be in direct competition with Apple’s iPhoto, and the ability to use the service across devices could tempt consumers to use it over rival products, particularly with the lack of a price tag.
Google also touched upon virtual reality, and introduced a new programme called Expeditions, which will provide their Cardboard VR headset to teachers and students so they can take “field trips to anywhere from the classroom”.
The technology giant also unveiled something it calls Jump, a way to capture VR video and then share it. The system uses a rig made up of 16 camera spaces, and then software that can convert the captured video into 3D video for virtual reality.
Google announced that they have partnered with action camera firm GoPro, who will built versions of the Jump rigs for their cameras.
YouTube will then begin to support Jump video this summer, requiring users to have the app downloaded and then the Cardboard headset.
With Apple due to hold their own developer conference next month, the pressure is on Google to show consumers and developers that their platform is best. The tech giant has also come under fire from the European Union in recent weeks following confirmation of an investigation into alleged anti-competitive behaviour.
Announcements on virtual reality, the new Android and Google Photos appears to be the search engine firm’s response.