Google held its big I/O press conference today — that’s the event at which it announces some of the most exciting new things it’s working on and releasing. The notables today almost all had intersections with downloadable or streaming entertainment. The company announced the Nexus 7 tablet, the Nexus Q streaming media box, a new version of its Android operating system called 4.1 Jelly Bean, and some new content and features in the Google Play multimedia marketplace.
It’s a lot of stuff, but let’s sort through it. You can now purchase feature-length movies on Google Play (previously only rentals were available) either on the web or from any relatively recent Android smartphone or tablet. Magazine subscriptions are an option now too.
More notably, TV shows are now available on Google Play. The content producers that have partnered up with Google include NBC Universal, AMC, Paramount, Disney, and Sony. Disney includes ABC, but Fox, Warner Bros., and CBS are notably absent. It’s going to take time for Google to catch up to the libraries offered by competitors Apple and Amazon.
Also critical is the announcement of Jelly Bean, the new version of Android. Jelly Bean will run on the two big new devices announced (the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q), but most of its new features are not directly related to digital media.
Google’s Android software powers a lot of tablets made by other manufacturers (like Amazon’s Kindle Fire), but the software company has never released its own tablet. But it just announced the Nexus 7, and while the Nexus 7 is technically built by computer manufacturer Asus, it’s the closest we’ll probably get to a Google tablet.
Sized at seven inches and priced at $199 with 8 GB of storage and $249 with 16 GB, its closest parallel on the market right now is the aforementioned Amazon Kindle Fire. The Nexus 7 is meant for digital media consumption: reading books and magazines, watching TV shows and films, listening to music, and playing games. It also comes pre-loaded with a new, post-beta version of Google Chrome for Android as its default browser.
The tablet also has a front-facing camera for video chat and a suite of apps like Google Maps and YouTube. Google claims it gets 9 hours of battery life playing HD video, which is pretty impressive. The HD video will look just fine on the 1280 x 800-resolution screen, and games should be pretty zippy with its quad-core processor.
If you get your games, movies, and books from the Google Play store, the Nexus 7 looks to be the best available device for consuming that media. It will will ship sometime in July.
The Nexus Q is a Roku or Apple TV-style streaming box that can deliver Google Play or YouTube content to either a TV or a set of external speakers. Unlike those devices though, the Nexus Q only serves content from the platforms run by Google itself. That means no Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon support — at least not yet.
The $299 price tag is intimidating also (given that Apple TV costs $99 and so do most Roku boxes), but it’s in part thanks to the fact that the device is manufactured entirely in the United States. Labor costs drive up the cost of manufacturing, but you don’t have poor work conditions and terrible scandals like Apple has faced with its Chinese factories via Foxconn.
That said, the Nexus Q does offer one cool feature that its competitors don’t: social playlists. You can have a bunch of friends over to your house, and as long as they have Android phones or tablets on them, they can add their own music choices to the playlist that’s streaming over your home speakers.