Google opened its biggest I/O developers conference on Wednesday with new features for its Android and Chrome operating systems, as well as a new streaming-music-subscription service that will go head to head with services such as Pandora and Spotify.
Called All Access, the new service blends songs users have already uploaded to their online libraries with millions of other tracks in an attempt by the world’s dominant Internet company to carve itself a bigger piece of the digital music pie as more people listen to streaming music on mobile devices.
The announcement Wednesday at Google’s annual developers conference in San Francisco kicks off a wave of developments as technology giants go beyond core music fans and look to entice more casual listeners.
Google is playing catch-up in the digital music space after launching its music store in November 2011. Apple’s iTunes Store, which launched in 2003, is the leader in song downloads and Spotify claims about 6 million paying subscribers worldwide.
But Google’s massive reach on mobile devices that use its Android operating system means it could narrow the gap quickly. Some 44 percent of active smartphones in the U.S., or about 53 million, are powered by the Android software, according to research firm eMarketer. Google said about 900 million Android devices have been activated worldwide.
Google’s All Access allows users to search for songs, albums or artists directly, or peruse 22 different genres. Google also offers up recommendations based on your listening behavior and your existing library of songs.
“This is radio without rules,” said Chris Yerga, engineering director of Android. “This is as lean-back as you want or as interactive as you want.”
According to research firm eMarketer, more than 96 million Americans are expected to stream music on mobile devices at least once a week in 2013, up from 85 million a year ago.
Several top executives participated in the three-and-a-half hour I/O opening keynote presentation. CEO Larry Page made an unexpected appearance at the end of the session, delivering a speech about the state of technology and taking questions from the crowd, which numbered more than 6,000 at the site.
“We’re just getting started. The opportunities we have are tremendous,” Page said. “We haven’t seen this rate of change in computing in a long time. But when I think about it, we’re all here because we share a deep sense of optimism for technology to improve peoples’ lives and the world as part of that.”
The company revealed some new search tools Wednesday at I/O. Taken together, they are another step toward Google’s trying to become the omnipotent, humanlike “Star Trek” search engine that its executives say they want it to be.
When people ask Google certain questions, it will now try to predict the person’s follow-up questions and answer them, too.
“The ‘Star Trek’ computer shouldn’t just answer questions; it should make you more intelligent, should anticipate what you expect next,” Amit Singhal, senior vice president for search at Google, said in an interview before the conference.
Google is also trying to make search more conversational by encouraging people to talk to their phones and computers and hear answers out loud. Google announced that people can now talk to its Chrome browser to perform a search, by saying, “OK Google,” similar to the command used to activate its Internet-connected Google Glass.)
The upgrade to Google Maps provides more context and recommendations, whether for a particular restaurant or museum, according to Jonah Jones, lead designer at Google Maps.
Keeping a fresh lineup is critical as Google vies with Amazon.com, Apple and Microsoft for Web consumers of information and entertainment.
Google shares rose past $900 for the first time, a sign of shareholders’ optimism CEO Page will outpace software and services competitors.
“Investors are responding to the overwhelming evidence presented today that Google is keeping up with — and in some cases staying ahead of — its major platform rivals,” said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research.
Google shares rose to a record, climbing 3.2 percent to close at $915.89, the highest since the initial public offering in August 2004. Google has advanced 29 percent this year, compared with a 16 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.