A soft-spoken Larry Page makes surprise appearance at Google I/O

The CEO made an unexpected appearance and answered questions from the audience at the end of the show

Google CEO Larry Page made a surprise appearance Wednesday at the Google I/O conference, where he overcame problems with his throat to take questions from developers in the audience for almost an hour.

Page hadn't been expected to speak at I/O, in part because he's suffering from a vocal-cord problem that he finally opened up about this week. On Wednesday, he spoke softly but clearly into a handheld microphone.

Google's forays into areas beyond search, such as Google Glass and smarter navigation tools, are projects that have emboldened Page to try to improve lives globally, he said Wednesday.

"The opportunities we have are tremendous and we haven't seen this rate of change in computing in a long time," he said.

Google's goal is to provide the right answers to people's questions, regardless of how they're formulated or what device the person's using. He likened the ideal search experience to the computer in "Star Trek," "which can understand exactly what you mean and give you exactly what you want."

A developer asked Page to expand on any plans the company has to develop hardware beyond the tablets, glasses and other products it has developed, but he stayed mum on any details. He did confirm the existence of Google X, the company's long-rumored secret R&D facility, which he said "is focused on real atoms and bits."

Every time Google has done something "crazy" like developing self-driving cars, or even building Gmail, which seemed in the beginning an unlikely feat, "we've become emboldened," Page said.

At one point he took a swipe at database vendor Oracle, which he characterized as one of the companies holding back the tech industry. The two firms are in a bitter dispute about Google's use of Oracle's Java technology in Android.

Oracle has made things "difficult," Page said, "but we'll get through it." Oracle didn't immediately have any comment.

Other questions from developers were concerned with development opportunities for Glass, how Google can build greater synergies between its platforms and those of other companies, and how it can continue to advance Android when it doesn't entirely control the open-source OS.

Focusing on the company's Android and Chrome OSes is an important way for Google and its developers to build "great user experiences across these different devices," he said.

Finding new ways to get kids interested in science and engineering, and bringing a wider range of mobile devices into the developing world, are important to Google, Page said.

Part of the reason why Google got involved with the upcoming Hollywood film "The Internship," which tells the story of two technically inept friends who are accepted to Google's internship program, was to get more students excited about working on technical problems, he said.

He highlighted the diversity of announcements made throughout the morning at the show. They included updates to Google+ and Google Maps, improvements to Android and a new Google music subscription service.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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