Wednesday's spectactular "Project Glass" skydive was the biggest surprise at Google's I/O conference in San Francisco, but not the only one. Google also introduced a round of humbler products and services.
Android Jelly Bean: This 4.1 update to the 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" version of Android introduced last fall brings a performance tune-up and three noticable new features. Its voice recognition will work offline, unlike Apple's Siri. A Google Now personal-assistant app can provide personalized answers and tips based on your calendar and contacts (if you don't mind Google peering that closely into your life). And you'll be able to respond to, not just acknowledge, the notifications that appear at the top of the screen--say, sending a "running late" e-mail when Android reminds you of an imminent meeting.
But unlike Apple's iOS upgrades, you won't get Jelly Bean until your phone's manufacturer and carrier ship an update. (The only exceptions: the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus "pure Google" phones.) I asked all four carriers when they'd ship "JB"; only Sprint replied, with an odd suggestion that I ask Google.
Nexus 7: This tablet seems aimed not at Apple's iPad but Amazon's Kindle Fire, the only Android tablet to win many buyers. Like the Fire, the Asus-built Nexus 7 features a seven-inch screen, gives prominent home-screen play to a media catalog (Google's Play Store) and will sell for $199 when it ships in mid-July.
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The 7, however, features a sharper 1280-by-800 pixel screen than the somewhat plain Fire, can run far more apps than the limited catalogue in Amazon's Appstore, and sports a front camera. After trying one this morning (I'll have a full review later), it makes the Fire look old.
How can the company make money on this device? It isn't. Google's Andy Rubin told AllThingsD's Ina Fried that it's selling the Nexus 7 at cost.
Nexus Q: This $299 spherical gadget, due mid-July, puts YouTube clips and Play Store music, TV shows and movies on your stereo and TV. You control the Q (unlike most gadgets, made in the United States) with an app on an Android devices, which makes it easy for visitors to guest-DJ if you wish.
But the Q doesn't run regular Android apps, so there's no Netflix. It costs three times as much as an Apple TV, six times the cheapest Roku player. Plus, the review unit I set up this morning vanished from a home network before I could play anything on it.
Google+ Events: For years, I've wondered if Google would take on Evite by shipping its own invitations app. Now it has. Google+ Events lets you craft artsy invites like Pingg but also allows guests to share photos on your event's site in real time.
But event hosts must use Google+, and that year-old social network hasn't exactly been making a dent in Facebook's dominance. And the first version allowed complete strangers to stuff your calendar with spammed invites, freaking out high-profile G+ users like Wil Wheaton and Robert Scoble.
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Google Docs offline: Google Docs is a fine little word processor, but you've needed an Internet connection for it. Now you can work on a document offline, if you run Google's Chrome (just shipped for Apple's iOS) and enable this feature from the gear-icon menu on your Google Drive page. This feature will come to Google's spreadsheet and presentations apps later.
This overdue addition makes Google's "Chromebook" laptops running Google's Chrome OS more relevant. It's also a minor godsend to reporters dealing with flaky Wi-Fi at tech events.
Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery