It's been a slow couple of weeks here through the beginning of May. Everyone, it seems, was saving up to pile all of their announcements at once, leaving us scrambling and our RSS feed spinning. Over the past few days, new phones were announced by BlackBerry, Nokia, Sony and Samsung while Google has been dropping all sorts of stuff in our laps at I/O and even Microsoft got in on the game by confirming Windows 8.1 will be shown next month. Surely someone could have made a few phone calls and maybe pushed their bit of news up or back a week or two.
As I write this, late at night in a hotel in San Francisco, it's Google I/O that's dominating the headlines. New Android boss Sundar Pichai promised a very dev-focused event, moving away from the consumer-heavy fireworks of years past, and that's exactly what we got, with Google spending far more time talking APIs and IDEs than tablets and smartphones.
That's not to say there wasn't anything to talk about for phones. Google unveiled a special edition Samsung Galaxy S 4 running stock Android 4.2. People in the audience cheered wildly when it was announced -- and then groaned when they heard the price: $649. If you have the scratch, it hits the Play store on June 26th.
Instead, the biggest news at I/O was on the software and services front, with Google Play Music All Access getting the most hype. It's a subscription-based music service, as is all the rage these days, priced directly to compete with Spotify and the rest: $9.99 a month. For this you can stream whatever you want and download stuff too, again just like the rest. Google tried to talk up the recommendations and the easy radio station-creation aspect of the service, but just how well that pans out remains to be seen.
Samsung Galaxy S 4 running stock Android at Google I/O
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Google+ Hangouts app hands-onSee all photos
Google also launched a Hangouts app for iOS, Android and the web, enabling dynamic, asynchronous chats with individuals or groups on Google+. The idea is to break down the platform-specific barriers that other communication systems hold up. Sadly, to embrace that will require moving to yet another chat program, and we're not entirely sure how many people are willing to do that. Again.
And last up, Google totally re-vamped Maps and Google+. The latter got a fresh look and, interestingly, a seemingly powerful Auto Enhance function that takes Picasa's venerable "I'm Feeling Lucky" filter to another level. Maps, meanwhile, gets a fresh, minimalist UI and a lot more smarts.
It's something that should have been done years ago.
BlackBerry had its own dev conference going on this week, where it did choose to launch new hardware. The Q5 is basically a low-cost version of the Q10, with a QWERTY keyboard and 3.1-inch display. No word on price, but expect it to be cheap: it's intended for developing markets. BlackBerry also made the long-expected move of pledging to develop a dedicated BBM app for iOS and Android. It's something that should have been done years ago.
Nokia, too, threw a new smartphone into the world. It's the Lumia 925 and, while in many ways it's very similar to the 920, it is strikingly different in one major area: materials. This is an aluminum-bodied device and is drastically (50 grams) lighter than its polycarbonate predecessors. The phone also features an improved camera lens array said to fix the sharpness issues of the 920. It's to be priced around $600 in Europe, but we're happy to say that T-Mobile is pledging to bring it to the US -- for an as of yet undisclosed sum.
Will people actually use them? Putting $5 worth into the virtual wallet of every Kindle Fire owner is a good start.
Finally this week, Amazon made some interesting moves. First, it confirmed the purchase of Liquavista from Samsung. Liquavista has a very low-power color display technology that might make sense in future Kindles. Meanwhile, the company went ahead and launched its own currency, called Coins. (Coins that, predictably, feature an Amazon warrior on the front.) With these coins you can purchase apps and media and other digital goods on Amazon, much like Microsoft's Xbox points and the various other virtual, retailer-specific currencies out there. Will people actually use them? Putting $5 worth into the virtual wallet of every Kindle Fire owner is a good start.
Google Play Music All Access hands-onSee all photos
Nokia Lumia 925 hands-onSee all photos
In this week's Distro we're diving deep into another virtual currency: Bitcoin. Dan Cooper tells you everything you need to know before you clean out your life savings and turn it digital. We have reviews of the HP ElitePad 900 and Sony Xperia SP, an interview with Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski, Q&A with NYC's Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot and a trio of editorials. Our advisers agree that all are a good investment of your time.
This piece originally appeared in Distro #91.