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Google launches cloud music, previews next Android, promises OS updates for 18 mos.

Google launched the invite-only beta of its new cloud music streaming service Tuesday, along with Android movie rentals, and Honeycomb 3.1 for tablets. It also previewed Ice Cream Sandwich, the next major Android release, and promised that devices will receive future Android updates for 18 months after they launch, through a new agreement with carriers and device makers.

Music Beta by Google, Android movie rentals

As was previously announced, Google on Tuesday launched its new Music service, a streaming product that will remain free while in beta. Initially, the service is only available to those who are given an invite.

The license-free cloud product allows users to upload their library of music to Google's servers, and stream those tracks to Android devices and computers, on both Windows and Mac. The Music Beta software allows users to upload all of the music within their iTunes library and access it on the go.

The search giant unveiled the new product as part of its I/O 2011 conference on Tuesday. It boasted that the music service, when synced to the cloud, means users will never have to sync with a cable again.

Music Beta by Google also lets users "pin" their music for offline use, allowing content to be accessed when a data connection may not be available. Music Beta can be used on Android devices running Froyo or Gingerbread.

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Music Beta by Google. Google I/O 2011 photos via Gizmodo.


Google also unveiled movie rentals for Android devices, with thousands of movies available to rent for $1.99 A new movies application for Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom allows users to watch movies on the go as well.

Like with music, users can "pin" their movie and download it, even if it's rented and streaming, for playback when a data connection may not be available, such as on a plane ride.

Movies are now available on the Android market, and the official Movies application is available as part of today's Honeycomb 3.1 release, while smartphone users with Android 2.2 will receive the application in the next few weeks.

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Android movies. Google I/O 2011 photos via Gizmodo.


Android Honeycomb 3.1, coming to Google TV

Google also announced that an update for Honeycomb, its tablet-centric mobile operating system, is available today for Verizon customers. Those who own a Motorola Xoom will be able to update to Android 3.1.

The new update adds the ability to make Android devices act as USB hosts. In one example, they showed an Xbox 360 wired controller being used with an Android tablet via USB.

With the update, users can also stretch widgets horizontally or vertically to make them fit their needs.

Android 3.1 will also come to Google TV this summer, and bring the Android Market with applications. Google also revealed that there are now more than 200,000 applications available on the Android Market.

Ice Cream Sandwich, streamlined updates, accessory support

Google's philosophy with the next major release of Android, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, will be "one OS everywhere," across a range of devices. That would mean that Android phones and tablets would be running the same operating system, unlike the current landscape where Honeycomb is restricted only to tablets.

Google said it would have an "advanced app framework" in the next release of Android, allowing developers to scale their software to different platforms. They also boasted that their mobile operating system will "all be open source."

Ice Cream Sandwich is also said to include a new user interface, new widgets, and new applications. It said the next user interface would be "state of the art."

In one demonstration, Google showed off 3D headtracking on a Motorola Xoom using the hardware's forward facing camera.

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Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Google I/O 2011 photos via Gizmodo.


Google also vowed to streamline the updating process for Android devices. Carriers and device makers have agreed to provide new updates for 18 months after devices are launched, provided the hardware can support the newer versions of Android.

The company also showed off a new standard called Android Open Accessory. Using this, external can be connected to Android handsets and be supported by third-party software.

The search giant provided a demonstration of Android Open Accessory by connecting an Android phone to a stationary bike. It also demonstrated home automation integration called Android @ Home, with Android-compatible lightbulbs from Lighting Science set to go on sale by the end of the year.