Google releases Android 4.3 with user profiles, gaming enhancements

New Nexus 7 launches with versions ranging from $229 for the 16 GB version to $349 for the 32 GB version with LTE

As expected, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) officially took the wraps off its Android 4.3 upgrade, highlighted by the introduction of user profiles, Bluetooth enhancements, gaming improvements and new content-protection technologies. The launch of the new operating system coincided with the launch of Google's new Nexus 7 Android tablet, which the company said will be powered by Android 4.3 and will go on sale in the coming weeks across a number of countries. (Click here for details on the Nexus 7.)

The launch of Android 4.3 and the new Nexus 7 were largely in line with what was expected. Further, the news is likely more of a stepping stone to the launch of Android 5.0, which The Wall Street Journal reported will be released this fall and will push the Google platform into laptops, wearables and appliances, giving manufacturing partners greater flexibility to customize the OS for use in devices beyond smartphones and tablets.

During the Android 4.3 launch event, Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai, who oversees Android as well as the company's Chrome efforts, also offered a quick update on Google's Android progress: He said Google Play has recorded a total of 50 billion app downloads, and developer revenues from Android users have increased 2.5 times during the past year. He also said the company now counts more than 1 million Android apps in its digital storefront.

Among the new features in Android 4.3 are:

  • User profiles, which will allow Android users to tweak layouts and available applications based on who is using the device. Google said the service will allow parents to limit the types of apps available to their children, for example, or for stores to use Android tablets in kiosks.
  • Bluetooth Smart, which is also called Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE). The technology, which is also being added to Apple's iOS 7, will allow users to pair devices like heart rate monitors to their Android devices.
  • Support for OpenGL ES 3.0, which Google said will allow Android game developers to create photo-realistic 3D games and applications. "This is a big deal for game developers," said Google's Hugo Barra.
  • New digital rights management APIs, which Google said will provide developers with additional options to protect their content. Google said Netflix plans to use the new APIs in its Android app in order to stream 1080p content.

Google said Android 4.3 will soon be available for the Android developer editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One as well as the Nexus 7, Nexus 4, Nexus 10 and Galaxy Nexus. Sony said a number of its Xperia phones will "eventually" be upgraded to Android 4.3, while HTC and Samsung said they are "reviewing" their Android 4.3 upgrade plans.

Aside from Android 4.3 and its new Nexus 7 tablet, Google also announced a few additional news nuggets. The company showed off its new Chromecast device, a USB stick that users will be able to plug into their TVs to easily view Internet video content from YouTube, Netflix and Google Play. The $35 device is available starting today from Amazon, Best Buy and elsewhere, and essentially allows Android and iPhone users to beam content from their phone to their TV. Google said it will release a Google Cast SDK to developers that will allow them to support the gadget via their own apps.

Google also announced its new Google Play Games app, which the company said will act as a hub for Android users' gaming experiences. The app will essentially list of a user's Android games alongside those Google+ users they are connected to, and will allow users to view their gaming progress in relation to their Google+ connections and the wider Android community. The Google Play Games app will also provide game recommendations based on a user's Google+ connections.

Finally, Google also announced a "textbook" category in its Google Play bookstore that will allow students to either purchase or rent textbooks from publishers including McGraw-Hill and others.

For more:
- see this Google post
- see this FierceWireless article
- see this TechRadar article
- see this Engadget article
- see this The Verge live blog
- see this AllThingsD live blog

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