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Google wants Android to be the device hub

Honeycomb tablets will accommodate USB cameras and keyboards today, and other Android devices will talk to your stereo, dishwasher, exercise bike later.

At Google I/O today, Google announces a home automation initiative for Android. James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Google announced a collection of efforts to put its Android devices at the center of a host of electronically connected devices--everything from home lighting and irrigation systems to game controllers and keyboards.

It also revealed at the Google I/O show here a small Android device called Project Tungsten that can connect to speakers and home stereo systems to stream music from Google's new cloud-based music system.

Using near-field communications (NFC), Google demonstrated using Tungsten to play music. Touching a CD to a Tungsten device activates the music on a person's cloud-based music library in about a second, and touching it again starts playing the music. Getting CD manufacturers to put NFC abilities into CD cases wouldn't be easy, but the interface was a lot slicker than navigating endless submenus to get to the music you want.

One big deal coming in an Android 3.1 update to its Honeycomb tablet OS is the ability to make an Android device a USB host. That means people can plug USB devices into it.

For tablets, that means they can more easily replicate PC abilities such as fast typing on a keyboard, or game console experiences with a game-specific controller. It also means photos and videos can be directly uploaded from cameras.

One gigantic demo being shown at Google I/O: a giant tilting labyrinth-style game big enough to hold a person and a marble the size of a bowling ball.

Google also announced a home automation initiative for Android. With it, people can control lights, irrigation systems, and whatever else is electronically reachable. Google is working on a new protocol to attach such devices and manage communication. And while it works with USB to start, Google plans a Bluetooth interface later.

Google demonstrated the home automation technology with an exercise bike. The faster a person pedaled, the better he fared in a basic Android game.

Honeycomb runs on tablets only today, but Google plans to release a related version called Ice Cream Sandwich for phones, too, in the fourth quarter.