Planet GOOG

Hello, Computer! At I/O, Google Debuts Upgraded Maps and ‘Now’ for Desktops

"Robert, I didn't appreciate the shower picture."
(Photo: Screencap)

(Photo: Screencap)

Google made no attempt to top last year’s I/O keynote, featuring skydivers. Instead, viewers were treated to a long, rambling meditation on progress from Google CEO Larry Page, who seemed none too keen on talking about Google Glass.

“Technology should do the hard work,” Mr. Page informed us all, “so that people can get on with doing the things that make them happiest in life.” He also suggested that, “being negative is not how we make progress.” Somehow we doubt that outlook inspires Mr. Page to let his underlings off lightly when they screw something up.

The closest thing to a skydiver was when Robert Scoble popped up at the front of the line for Q&A, announcing himself as “one of the first glassholes.” “Robert, I didn’t appreciate the shower picture,” Mr. Page replied.

But there were a few big announcements.

Google Maps Revamp The company has spruced up its flagship Maps product. Power the old gal up, and you’ll get personalized recommendations and reviews from friends. Plus, you can now click on any point on the map and you’ll get an info card with the option to get directions or open up StreetView–no more click-and-dragging the little orange man.

You also have the option of “EarthView,” which is basically just Google Earth integrated into the service–no more downloading a separate app. You can now zoom all the way out to space and, apparently, see real-time weather conditions. (Not that that’ll tell you whether you should wear a sweater tomorrow or not.)

Search You know that scene in Star Trek: The Voyage Home where Scottie picks up the mouse of the Apple II and tries talking to the computer? “The keyboard? How quaint.”

“I dreamed of building that computer one day,” admitted senior VO of search Amit Singhal when he took the stage to introduce today’s big roll-out. “Little did I know that I would grow up to become the person responsible for building my dream.” Google Now’s conversational search is now available on the desktop (via Chrome), complete with voice recognition. You just say “OK Google,” and away you go. This will make it incredibly easy to research luxury vacations while lying in bed eating leftover pizza, so thanks, Mountain View!

Plus Google Now is getting things like voice reminders and public transit info.

Google + A redesigned, card-based interface. Looks like the love child of Google Now and Pinterest. Photos look better. There are some hashtags. Zzz. Their “machine-learning algorithms” are also going to help you weed through your vacation photos. Thanks, HAL 9000! Also, they rolled out Hangouts as a cross-platform messaging app, available on Android, iOS, Gmail, etc.

Also among the announcements: a new subscription music service, atrociously named “Google Play Music All Access,” to compete with Spotify; Google Wallet integration with Gmail.

Next year, Larry, bring the car.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com