Google I/O: A look back

In just three days, Google will hold its annual developer's conference, Google I/O, in San Francisco. The show is in its fifth year now, and has attracted thousands of techies from everywhere, with tickets being sold out this year in under an hour.

Not only does the company debut many of its upcoming devices and services at Google I/O, but it's also known to give out lots of free gadget gear. We take a look back at some of the hot and not-so-hot products Google unveiled at its keynote in the past five years.

Be sure to join us for Google I/O 2013.

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2012: The Nexus 7

As the first tablet in the Nexus family, the Nexus 7 was the darling of last year's conference. Built by Asus, the 7-inch device was competitively priced at $199, ran a skinless Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and was powered by a Tegra 3 processor.

In the months after its debut, the tablet would prove to be immensely popular, becoming one of the bestselling Android tablets in the market. As CNET's Eric Franklin wrote of the device: "It's nearly a perfect combination of power, design, and features at a relatively low price, and as such is the first tablet to really get the whole high-quality/low price tablet thing right." We couldn't agree more.

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2012: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

While the jump from its predecessor to Jelly Bean didn't feel and look as dramatic as the change from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich, Google's 2012 mobile OS update was still welcomed with open arms.

At this point, ICS was already feeling a bit long in the tooth, and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean ushered in new features like a more detailed notifications system, a digital assistant-like search feature called Google Now, and Project Butter, which made devices operating 4.1 feel smooth as silk.

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2012: The Nexus Q

Although it looked cute as an (LED-infused) bug, the "Q" in Nexus Q should have stood for "questionable." Leaving many scratching their heads, the unassuming orb streamed media content from Google Play, and it was the tech giant's attempt to carve out a space insider users' living rooms.

It was such a dud, however, that Google never shipped the device, and just decided to send out its preorders for free despite an initial $299 price tag. It was then filed in the "discontinued" folder.

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2012: Google Glass

Unveiled in 2012, it's still too early to tell what kind of future this $1,500 piece of wearable tech has in store. But if Google cofounder Sergey Brin was going to make people jump out of a working plane to show Google Glass off, you know the bar was set high.

Simply put, the device is "Google on your face." In addition to taking phone calls and sending text messages, it also takes photos, records videos, and (of course) searches Google. But are we ready for it? At this point, only time will tell if it'll turn out to be a revolution in tech or a piece of expensive novelty wear.

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2012: Google Chrome and Drive for iOS

In 2012, Google showed its love to Apple iPhone users by porting over its popular Chrome Web browser and productivity office service, Drive, to iOS. Due to strict iPhone settings, Chrome can't be selected as the default browser, but it was a small price to pay if it meant breaking free from Safari.

As for Drive, director of product for Google Apps Clay Bavor told the audience that the company "brought many of the best features of Drive to mobile," and users could search for photos, scan files, and store PDFs -- all from the phone.

Read more about Google Chrome and Drive's 2012 debut on iOS.

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2011: The Galaxy Tab 10.1

Launched with Android 3.1 Honeycomb, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was a critical hit. Manufactured by Samsung, we were impressed by its sleek and light construction, 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, and lush dual speakers.

It also helped that during its debut at Google I/O 2011, the company gave 5,000 Tab 10.1s away to audience members. It was the conference's first tablet giveaway, and showed developers that Google meant business when it came to operating on tablets.

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2011: Google Music

Google's cloud-based music service started off small when it was announced in 2011. Initially, you could upload your music and stream your songs from any browser, and people questioned whether or not it was even legal.

However, as the company continues to pour resources and add extra features, the service is consistently maturing into a full-fledged and cohesive one-stop music service.

Read more about Google Music's 2011 debut.

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2011: Google Chromebook

Despite a lackluster performance, Google's 2011 inaugural set of Chromebooks, which consisted of the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook (above) and the Acer Chromebook, proved to the world that Chrome could operate outside the confines of a simple Web browser and flourish as an entire OS.

Two years later, Chromebooks are now manufactured by Lenovo, HP, and even Google, and expanded to a desktop version called Chromebox.

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2010: Android 2.2 Froyo

Android 2.2 Froyo was the sixth version of the Android OS if you include 2.1 (the second helping of Eclair). Froyo brought a lot of needed and welcome improvements including USB tethering and hot-spot support, automatic app updates, the ability to install apps to the SD card, file uploading in the browser, more Bluetooth profiles, and improved Microsoft Exchange support for features like calendar syncing and remote wipe.

Naturally, Froyo went on to be a success. The Motorola Droid 2 (pictured above) was the first phone to debut with the update already inside, but it eventually made its way onto handsets aplenty. Anyone at the 2010 I/O got their first taste of Froyo while walking away with the HTC Evo 4G. On the other hand, the Adobe Flash Player integration on Android didn't fare quite so well.

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2010: Google TV

2010 was the year that Google announced its plans to conquer an area where so many others before it had failed. That is, bring Web content (complete with Google services, naturally) to the large-screen TV in a way that preserves the best of both experiences.

Three years later, Google TV isn't dead, but it's hardly thriving, either. (Above is Google TV's 2013 iteration). Though Asus showed the Qube at CES 2013, products remain few and consumer interest is barely measurable. In fact, as CNET's Seth Rosenblatt put it, Google TV "remains one of the company's most public and ongoing failures."

Read more about Google TV's 2010 debut.

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2009: Google Wave

Before Google+, there was Google Wave. Yes, Wave wasn't a real "social network" as we think of them today, but as CNET's story said at the time, it was "a bid to redefine the way people communicate on the Internet by blending e-mail, instant messaging, file sharing, and collaboration software into one service."

That all sounded great, and the attention from 2009 I/O attendees was intense. As one developer told CNET, "I haven't been this jazzed since the release of the iPhone." Unfortunately, in the following months, Wave never crested. It remained in a perpetual private beta state (you had to be invited to use it), and it faced competition from Google's own Buzz social network. And more to the point, a lot of people never determined what its real use was.

Read more about Google Wave's 2009 debut.

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2009: Google Ion (or HTC Magic)

The Ion made its first appearance at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Then called the HTC Magic, the handset easily won a lot of attention since it was the second Android phone (after the G1, of course) ever to fall into our hands. Then, at the 2009 I/O, Google gave every attendee a real Ion loaded with Android 1.5 Cupcake in a crowd-pleasing "Oprah moment."

If the G1 was just a rather clunky prototype, then the Ion was the first Android device that felt like a modern smartphone. If you squint, after all, it doesn't look that different from your average Galaxy device, When it finally hit U.S. stores as the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, hungry Android fans welcomed it warmly.

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2008: Google Android

Oh, yeah, that. The 2008 I/O delivered our first glimpse at Google's fledgling mobile operating system. Given the incredible global reach of Android today, it's difficult to explain how it felt back then to peer into Google's hazy crystal ball. Indeed, those those early screenshots seem almost medieval when compared with the polish we see today. Early building blocks like Street View and swiping gestures were there, for example, but multitouch was yet to come.

We don't think we need to explain how the OS has fared, since a simple look around will tell you. If you aren't holding an Android phone in your hand, then the person next to you probably is.

Read more about Google Android's 2008 debut.

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