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Google Reveals the Future of Android

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Google's heard our cries and complaints -- Less fragmentation! OS update timelines! Music in the cloud! -- and aimed to deliver those and more at today's keynote presentation at the Google I/O Conference. Mountain View execs took the stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and showed us what the future of Android has in store.

First up, like Apple, the company was set to tout some numbers. Globally, Android has racked up 36 OEMs, 215 carriers, 450,000 developers -- culminating in 100 million activations in 2011 alone. There are currently 310 Android devices spread throughout 112 countries, and Google is now seeing 400,000 activations per day.

As for apps, the Android Market now holds 200,000 apps and has seen 4.5 billion installations to date. And to give you an idea of the explosive rise of Android, the last billion took place over the course of only two months.

Next, Honeycomb 3.1 was announced and made available to Verizon Xoom customers today. Among the new features: expandable widgets, hosting capabilities, and expansive support for USB devices like Xbox 360 controllers. The new OS will also be coming to Google TV devices shortly.

Honeycomb was followed up with the official debut of the Ice Cream Sandwich logo -- the mascot for the next dessert-themed Android OS.

Although a version number wasn't applied to Ice Cream Sandwich, Google is tackling the fragmentation problem that still plagues Android devices. Rather than have different versions spread out over numerous manufacturers and carriers, the company is aiming to have "one OS that runs everywhere," according to principal software engineer Mike Claron. Google's investing heavily in framework, overhauling APIs so that developers can optimize their apps across any device, and making it all open source. (Given recent criticism on the lack of actual "open source" ability, let's hope that really happens.)

To that end, Google has forged partnerships with carriers and manufacturers -- LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, AT&T, Vodafone, Sprint, Samsung, HTC, and Verizon Wireless -- to lay out timelines for OS updates. It's also promised to deliver timely updates for "at least 18 months" as long as the hardware can handle it.

If true, that'll certainly make a dent in the persistent fragmentation complaints.

One of the biggest surprises of the keynote was Google's apparent foray into home automation. The upcoming service Android@Home will become a central hub for tasks in the home. The demo showed off an ability to control lights and home entertainment systems from an Android device. This could mean an alarm system that slowly turns on the lights in your bedroom or -- as the company joked -- a real-life Farmville app where your sprinkler system waters your actual garden.

But aside from the exercise and goofy facemaker apps, the biggest stars of the show were Google Movies and Google Music.

Becoming ever more like the iTunes Store, the Android Market now hosts movies to buy or rent. Over a 30-day rental period, customers have 24 hours to view a movie on any supporting Android device or on the web in the Market. Movies can be streamed or "pinned" -- remember that term, as you'll hear it again -- so that it's stored on your device or computer.

And then it was time to show off Google Music, now in Beta.

With information already leaked this morning to numerous outlets, Google Music allows users to upload their entire libraries -- up to 20,000 songs -- to the cloud for streamable access. Traditionally organized by artist, album, song, and playlist, Google Music syncs across your smartphone, tablet, and computer instantaneously. If importing from iTunes, track info and play count is carried over. The app also includes an Apple Genius-esque feature called Instant Mix which automatically creates a playlist based on similar tracks. And, based on recently played music and user selection, tracks can be cached or "pinned" -- see? -- on your mobile device for access in places where connections are spotty.

But as welcome as this service is, there are two catches. One, it's still invite-only as the service rolls out. (You can sign up here for an invitation when they become available.) And two, it's free "for now" while it's in beta. No word on how much the service will cost in the future.

Here's a video of it in action:

So there you have it. A pretty momentous keynote presentation on the past, present, and future of Android.

As more surprises are slated to come this week at Google I/O, all eyes are looking ahead at Apple's upcoming WWDC for the inevitable response.

Things just keep getting better.

(See also: AT&T: No New iPhone Before August and Apple, Google Now Trailing Amazon's Cloud)
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