More than meets the eye

For consumers, at least, it may appear that this year's Google I/O keynote was a little boring. We didn't get a new Nexus phone or tablet, no skydivers landed on the roof, someone ate the rumored Key Lime Pie update, and Google Glass hardly got a starring role. But look closer and you'll see that even a developer-heavy show did deliver several new features that will bring a heap of benefit to those who've never coded a day in their life.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by: ,

Voice-enabled Google Search on the desktop

What it is: When you're ready to give your typing fingers a break, some functionality of Google's personal assistant comes to your desktop through the Chrome browser.

Why it's cool: Google's cross-platform, cross-device expansion of its voice-search app can save you time looking up the weather, getting directions, and adding items to your calendar. On top of that, you get to sound like a normal human being when asking for what you want -- so long as you have no qualms talking to inanimate objects, that is.

When it's coming: It's available in beta now and will roll out to Chrome users in the near future.

More coverage: OK, Google: Now app offers glimpse of hands-free future of search

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Photo by: Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET / Caption by: ,

Google Maps 3D and Street View

What it is: The desktop version of Google Maps got quite a few changes, but we'll focus on just a couple here. Of course, a 3D building and landmark view has always been a part of Google Earth, but now you'll find that experience right in Maps without the need for an extra plug-in.

Why it's cool: Really, who doesn't love a 3D Maps view? Though Google didn't say that it was officially combining its Earth and Map products, that's really what's happening here. As we mentioned, it's nice not to have to jump between the two, and we appreciate the new tools that streamline the experience. For example, a Tilt button that rotates the virtual camera downward to reveal the familiar 3D view. Also, you can zoom way out to the see the Earth spinning through space.

The 3D view also links to a more prominent Street View feature. Now, instead of clicking on the little yellow stick figure and dropping him onto the map, you'll automatically switch to Street View once you zoom in close enough. What's more, user-submitted Android Photo Spheres will deliver pannable, 360-degree views of interiors that may have been missing before.

When it's coming: It's not out for mass consumption yet, but you can sign up for a preview here. When your invitation is ready, you'll receive it via Gmail.

More coverage: Navigating the changes to Google Maps at I/O 2013

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Photo by: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by: ,

Smarter routing in Google Maps

What it is: When asking for directions, Google Maps now offers more choices in getting from Point A to Point B.

Why it's cool: You've always had the ability decide how you wanted to get somewhere (either by car, walking, transit, or bike), but now you see all of the alternate routes in one view. Like what you see on the Google Maps mobile apps, it will mark the fastest route in blue while shading the alternates in gray. Then, if you click on a transit route, it will show the next few departure times for that bus, train, or ferry. Maps also will sense when a destination is close (like within a couple of blocks) and will default to walking directions. On a related note, the Android and iOS apps will see improvements this summer.

When it's coming: It's not out for mass consumption yet, but you can sign up for a preview here. When your invitation is ready, you'll receive it via Gmail.

More coverage: Navigating the changes to Google Maps at I/O 2013

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Photo by: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by: ,

Google Hangouts

What it is: Google Hangouts, long a feature of Google+, has been refined into more of a direct Skype or FaceTime competitor.

Why it's cool: Now you can chat one-on-one with a friend during a group chat. You also get a history of a conversation with text and photos (a feature that you can turn off), photos and emoji, and an end to notifications for a Hangout invite on other devices if you've accepted an invite elsewhere. Google also rolled out dedicated apps to iOS and Android, but as Jason Parker found in his review, you're better off sticking with the Google+ app.

When it's coming: It's available now.

More coverage: Google+ Hangouts gets private chats, history, and an app

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Photo by: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET / Caption by: ,

Google Wallet money transfer via Gmail

What it is: Users get the ability to send money to and from Google Wallet via e-mail, and include their loyalty cards in a Google Wallet. Developers win a new Instant Buy API for streamlining the online buying experience.

Why it's cool: The additions transform Google Wallet from an NFC-based tool into something that's much more usable on the Web.

When it's coming: The features will be out over the coming months.

More coverage: Google announces e-mail money transfers for Google Wallet

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Google+ photo improvements

What it is: Auto-backups, auto-adjustments, and photo management that strips away blurry photos and duplicates are some of the new features Google is adding to its photo-hosting service. "Auto-Awesome," which can stitch together photos in a panorama or GIF, is another.

Why it's cool: Better photos in cleaner albums? Yes, please.

When it's coming: If you don’t see changes in your Photos tool yet, keep an eye out for them soon.

More coverage: New photo tools in Google+ show promise (hands-on)

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Photo by: Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by: ,

Google Music All Access

What it is: Take Google Music, a storefront and music library where you can store your tracks in the cloud. Now add Pandora-like capabilities to stream radio stations based around an artist, song, or genre. The service costs $10 per month.

Why it's cool: Heavy Google Music users will appreciate new ways to listen to music they don't already own.

When it's coming: Google Music All Access is available now in Google Music on the desktop or Android device.

More coverage: Hands on Google Music's new streaming service

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Photo by: Screenshot by Jason Parker CNET / Caption by: ,
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