Last week, Google hosted its annual I/O developer conference. It’s here where Google lays out its plans for world domin…..errr….the future of Android…
Last week, Google hosted its annual I/O developer conference. It’s here where Google lays out its plans for world domin…..errr….the future of Android and Google’s various services. Some might call this year’s conference a bit muted, maybe even boring but remember, this is a developer focused event, not necessarily a consumer facing event (although many announcements will affect Android owners). Gone are the skydiving Google Glass intros and free hardware. Nowadays, Google prefers to (ironically) be like Apple and focus on software and platform rather than flashy hardware announcements which are now reserved for the fall. Regardless, there were still many announcements worth mentioning. Here are the top announcements of Google I/O:
Although Apple has the revenue numbers when it comes to smartphone dominance, Android is king when it comes to sheer volume of devices. CEO Sundar Pichai revealed that the number of active Android devices exceeds 2 billion. This includes any device running a version of Android including smartphones, watches, and Android TV.
Android “O” beta is now live for developers and those curious tinkerers who want to be the first to experience the next version of Android. The usual caveats remain however, only install the beta on a secondary phone because there are bound to be bugs and potential for bricking your device. There are several improvements including a native picture-in-picture mode, improved notifications, and a revised Settings menu. There are notification dots on the home screen icons that show details of the notification if long-pressed. There is also a new feature called Autofill with Google with lets you use saved usernames and passwords on Chrome with new apps install. It makes it easier to set up new phones without having to keep remembering what your username and password for each app is. For example, if you install the Facebook app, Google will pull your Facebook credentials from Chrome (provided you stored them in Chrome) and automatically populates the Facebook app with those credentials.
For the more techie folks reading this article, Google is also making Kotlin an officially supported language in Android. Up until now, most Android development was done using Java.
Finally, Google unveiled Android Go, which is focused on optimizing Android for low cost, lower spec devices. These optimizations including quick settings for data management and highlighting Android Go optimized apps in the Google Play Store
Google initially launched the Assistant on the Pixel and Pixel XL last year. Many reviewers admit that the Assistant is generally superior to other AI assistants out there so far including Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Android Nougat brought the Google Assistant to non-Pixel phones although that hasn’t stopped companies such as Samsung from pushing their own AI assistant. One of the most surprising announcements of Google I/O was that the Google Assistant is now on iOS as a standalone app. It’s available right now in the App Store and offers many of the same functionality that it does on Android. Unfortunately, because of Apple’s walled garden approach, the Google Assistant app doesn’t have access to the Calendar or Reminders. It also can’t replace Siri when you long press the Home button. However, there is a widget available that gives quicker access to the Google Assistant.
One of the more exciting announcements about Google Assistant was Google Lens. Lens will allow the Assistant to analyze the world around it and display information about what you’re looking at. The example shown at the presentation was using the Assistant to look at Wi-Fi login credentials and automatically joining the network (which is helpful for those default logins that have long, complicated passwords).
Google Home also released last year to generally favorable reviews. While many reviewers praised the integration with Google’s venerable search engine, it lacked some of the more practical and useful applications of a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo. This year, Google Home is getting major upgrades in usability with the highlight feature being the ability to make phone calls directly from Google Home. By default, it will use a private number but users will be able tie their own mobile number to it. Unfortunately, only outbound calls will be supported so incoming calls will still go to your cellphone only. More updates include the ability to control various streaming services such as Hulu, HBO Now, and SoundCloud in addition to being able to use Home as a regular Bluetooth speaker. Finally, Google Home will be able to display information to any Google connected screens. For example, you could ask Google Home for directions and it will send it to Google Maps on your phone.
Google Photos and VR
Google unveiled a new feature to the already great Google Photos app called “Suggested Sharing” which can recommend people to share photos to who are also in the photo. So if Google recognizes your mom in a photo, it can recommend to share the photo with her. That can either be creepy or amazing depending your viewpoint. There’s also Shared Libraries which allow families to collectively store pictures similar to what Apple does with iCloud Photos. Fortunately, Google Photos will allow much control over which photos get shared to avoid any embarrassing moments. Google Photos will also have the unique ability to remove unwanted items in a photo. The example shown during the presentation was a picture of a of a kid playing baseball but was behind a fence. Google Photos could digitally remove the fence so that the kid was clearly seen. It was a very seamless example that used to be reserved for the realm of photo editors like Photoshop. The fact that Google could do this with a simple photo app shows the strength of their machine learning capabilities.
On the VR front, Google announced that Daydream headsets are coming that don’t require a smartphone. Hardware partners such as Lenovo and HTC are making self-contained VR headsets that simply require the user to put on the headset without fiddling around with extraneous cords or needing a beefy (and expensive) PC or smartphone. The headset is able to track its surroundings with something called “WorldSense” which is derived from Google’s Project Tango augmented reality effort.
Google’s announcements all center around artificial intelligence and machine learning, computing fields which Google is steadily making strides far beyond many of competitors such as Apple and Microsoft. According to The Verge, “[Google CEO Sundar Pichai] was quick to hammer home the point that his company’s future depends on artificial intelligence, specifically the machine learning techniques that let algorithms learn on their own and improve over time. This technology underpins everything from its Assistant and search to Google Photos and the AlphaGo system”. Now on the surface, that seems like Terminator or i-Robot waiting to happen but in reality, Google’s advances in AI could certainly lead the way for some innovative solutions in other fields besides consumer technology.