AP Technology Writers
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Google used its annual conference for software developers to unveil several new products, services and features. They include enhancements for online games, maps, search, music and photos and are meant to help the company cement its role in people's technological lives. Here's a look at some of the announcements made at Wednesday's keynote at Google I/O.
All Access will blend songs you have already uploaded to your online libraries with millions of other tracks for a $10 monthly fee. This puts Google in competition with paid subscription plans such as Spotify and Rhapsody and free music services such as Pandora.
All Access became available in the U.S. on Wednesday and comes with a 30-day free trial. If you start the trial by June 30, the monthly fee drops to $8. That's $2 cheaper than leading competing plans. It is expected to roll out soon in 12 other countries where Google currently sells music -- 10 European countries such as the U.K., France and Germany, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
The new service will allow you to search for songs, albums or artists directly, or peruse 22 different genres. Google curators will also offer recommendations based on your listening behavior and your existing library of songs. You can listen to any available song right away, or switch to a "radio" format that creates a playlist of songs that you might like. Radio playlists can be adjusted on the fly by deleting or re-ordering upcoming songs. Google describes all of this as "radio without rules."
By combining an unlimited-access subscription plan with music sold through Google's online Play store, All Access covers any gaps. Some artists, including Taylor Swift, keep recent releases away from streaming services for several months in order to boost download sales. All three major recording labels -- Vivendi's Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group Corp. -- are participating in All Access.
Google is adding 41 features to its Google Plus social network as it tries to turn it into a more formidable threat to Facebook. The new features started appearing Wednesday and draw upon the computing power, algorithms and other innovations that have made Google the leader in search.
A new photo-management tool will pick out the best shots from a wide assortment of photos. Just upload a bunch, and Google's machines will reject ones that are blurry or don't have people smiling. Another factor is Google's knowledge of who's important to you -- so family members or close friends are more likely to make the cut.
If the photos don't look quite right, Google is promising to enhance them, taking over a job that typically requires people to buy and master special photo-editing software. Computer-controlled editing tools will automatically remove red eyes, soften skin tones, sharpen colors and adjust contrast. Google offers something similar through an "I'm Feeling Lucky" button on its Picasa editing software.
Another feature promises to stitch together a sequence of photos taken of the same group of people or a panoramic scene. This stitching system can be used to create a single photo that pulls the best shots of everyone featured in a series of pictures. It will also produce an animated clip featuring the motions of people captured in a succession of photos taken against the same background.
Google is also expanding the storage limit for full-resolution photos. Instead of five gigabytes for free per account, you'll get 15 gigabytes.
Other enhancements to Google Plus include a newly designed stream of content, which moves away from the list of posts found on Facebook. It will also automatically add hash tags to identify the main topic being discussed in a post or featured in a photo, and it will use those tags to bring you related posts. Facebook doesn't use hash tags, though Twitter and Instagram do.
Google is adding leaderboards and the ability to match players in online games to its Android operating system for smartphones and tablet computers. The new features match those available in Apple's Game Center for the iPhone and iPad. Google is also making it possible to save game progress online, so players can pick up games where they left off, even on other devices.
Getting into gaming gives Google an opportunity to participate in one of the most popular activities on mobile devices.
Google says the leaderboards will also be available through a browser on regular computers. Apple's Game Center works on Mac computers, too.