Google tools up against Spotify, Facebook and WhatsApp

IO, IO, a-Googling we go
IO, IO, a-Googling we go

If there's one thing Google CEO Larry Page hates, it's stories talking about Google versus other companies.

Unfortunately he said that after Google introduced a whole bunch of things to take on Spotify, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and WhatsApp. That can only mean one thing: it's Google IO time!

Google IO is Google's developer conference, but it's still a place where it reveals a lot that's interesting to all of us.

There wasn't much on the hardware front this year - last year we got the Nexus 7 and the ill-fated Nexus Q - but we did see a Nexus-ised version of Samsung's Galaxy S4: this Google S4 dumps TouchWiz, runs Android 4.2 and costs $649 unlocked.

IO, IO, a-Googling we go

Destination will be on the right (credit: Google)

This year's Google IO was all about services - and "the end of search as we know it". Google doesn't just want to answer your questions. It wants to anticipate your needs - so for example if you search for the population of India, Google knows your next question might well be how that number compares to other countries. You won't even need to use your fingers: in the Chrome browser and Chrome OS you'll be able to bark Glass-style commands: "OK, Google," followed by whatever you're looking for.

As Matt Swider and Michelle Fitzsimmons explain, it's really very clever: "While traditional search typically relies heavily on keywords, the future of Google's core business will attempt to define 'it'. For example, with as little information as 'how far is it from here', voice search can collaborate distance and directions with current traffic conditions highlighted as well."

Hang with Google

Google+ is getting a massive makeover too. There's a radical redesign, hashtags for finding related content, a new Hangouts app and significantly improved photo features - including Auto Highlight, which judges your photos and picks the best ones, and Auto Awesome, which can create collages, panoramas and animated GIFs.

The Hangouts app is going to be a big deal: it's the project we knew as Babel, and it's going to replace Google Talk - not just on Android, but on iOS and in Chrome too. It combines text, photo and video, moves from device to device and includes the all-important Emoji characters too.

IO, IO, a-Googling we go

Hey! Let's Hangout! (credit: Google)

Google Play Music has been upgraded as well. The new and terribly named Google Play Music All Access service is "a music service that's about music", which we think sounds like a much better idea than a music service that isn't about music. It's a Spotify-style music subscription offering and it'll cost US$9.99 (around AU$10, £6) per month.

You've got to feel sorry for IO attendees - at over three hours, the keynote was a real bum-number - but the Google goodies did keep on coming. Fancy better Maps? Google has better Maps! The new Maps app brings Google's iOS design to Android, the app to iPads, real-time traffic improvements for everyone and much more information on the desktop - and unlike Apple's maps, when you ask for directions to the shops you won't end up on the Moon. We particularly liked the new Photo Sphere, which can provide 360-degree tours of landmarks - so you might virtually wander around a gallery to check out the masterpieces.

Nokia light up

Did someone say "masterpiece"? Yes, us, just there - and that's the word Nokia's using to describe its new Lumia 925. Does it make Nokia the Michelangelo of mobiles, the Stravinsky of smartphones, Leonardo Da Vinci with da Lumia? No! But it's very good. As Gareth Beavis explains, it's "a tricky beast to rate... but there's no doubting that it's going to be a market-leading cameraphone." We'll get our hands on it properly in June, so watch this space.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.