At its annual developer conference I/O 2017, Google unveiled projects it is working on and teased some concepts of the future. From the anticipated (yet unnamed) Android O rollout to going back to basics with physical photo albums with Google Photos, the search giant made the otherwise boring conference a whole lot interesting for even the end consumers. To help you understand what the Sundar Pichai-led company is up to, here’s a roundup of all the key takeaways from Google I/O 2017.
Android Nougat to O (for Oreo?)
The next iteration of Google’s popular software, Android O, made its way to the annual conference. The anticipated unveiling of the OS was followed with the first beta rollout. As it is still in its preview version, a whole of improvements will come along before a stable version is bundled with the future Pixel smartphones.
If you are looking at understanding ‘what’s new’; well, Android O is focused squarely on fluid experiences and vitals. With fluid experiences, your interaction with apps will become much more seamless and efficient. At the heart of the fluidity is Google’s neural network and machine learning. With Vitals, Google is aiming to make your Android experience more secure. There will be more real-time checks in place to let you know how recently the apps have been scanned, potential fixes to help the apps run better, along with enhanced boot time. Those interested to test out the brand-new OS can sign up for the beta starting this week here. And yes, we still don’t know what ‘O’ stands for! ALSO READ: Google I/O 2017: Here are the top 5 features coming to Android O
Android One becomes Android Go
Remember Google’s intention of bringing the next billion online with its Android One OS? The OS was aimed at entry-level devices in regions with limited data access. With renewed focus, Pichai introduced Android Go – the next iteration of Android One – at I/O 2017. Built on Android O, the new OS comes with a set of Google apps which have been designed to consume less memory and data to run. The OS also has its dedicated version of Google Play Store where one can find all the apps which are suited for lighter, data-friendly usage. One of the highlights of the OS is that it has been designed to run on smartphones with as low as 512MB of RAM. Whether it will fizzle out like Android One did or the growing ecosystem of data-friendly, light apps will help nurture it, is something we will have to wait and analyse when this internal project is rolled out commercially.
Google Home is now a large speaker, which is also a phone
Bringing more functionality to its smart home speaker, Google added support for ‘visual responses’ and Bluetooth. With ‘visual responses,’ Google is aping Amazon’s latest Echo Show by allowing users to get responses on connected screens such as Chromecast connected TV or even your iPhone. This will essentially allow you to say “Ok Google” for directions and it will display the information on either your connected TV or smartphone. There’s proactive assistant support too, which means the Google Home will alert or notify in a more noticeable manner.
Another addition is the hands-free calling. Users can simply instruct Google Home to place a call and it will do so. Currently, calls placed within the US are completely free. One can also link their existing mobile number. This feature will be rolled out in the coming months and only outgoing calls will be initially available. ALSO READ: Amazon Echo or Google Home: Do Indians need to care about these ‘smart’ devices?
Gmail gets smarter with AI
Similar to its Google Assistant, artificial intelligence now also powers Gmail. The popular email service has been added with Google’s Smart Reply function for both Android and iOS. The feature is essentially predictive text for emails. Based on the content of the email received, the feature will suggest three short replies. You can choose to edit or send as it is for quick responses. The feature is available worldwide starting this week.
Google Lens – a new way to see the world
Blending augmented reality with its camera, Google Lens allows users to point their Android phone’s camera onto objects in the surroundings and let the app tell you what it is. For example, you can point to a flower and Google Lens will tell you what species it is from; you can scan the label of a Wi-Fi router and connect immediately, point to a restaurant and there will be information up for your consumption. The vision-based computing capabilities of Google Lens will be compatible with Google Assistant and Photos initially. There’s currently no word on when it will be rolled out to the masses.
Google Assistant now supports text, and iPhone
Whether Google Assistant is the virtual help people can’t do without is something that still needs some concrete evidence; nonetheless, Google has introduced some subtle tweaks to the service. For starters, it now supports text-based queries, which basically means you can now type your queries to Assistant, along with the existing voice-support (helpful in public places). It also works with Google Lens, allowing one to ask questions based on what you see around. In what could be seen as a threat to Siri, Google has opened its Google Assistant for the iOS platform. It will be part of the standard Google app on iOS.
Google Photos goes back to basics
You can’t argue when it comes to the old world charm of printed photos. To help you keep memories in their physical format, Google Photos will now come with a feature called Photo Books. At the heart of this feature is also machine learning which will gauge which photos are best suited for a physical photo album and help you compile the same to be shipped in a few days time. Google’s Photo Books product is now available and each book costs $9.99 (approximately Rs 650). ALSO READ: Google Photos updated with new features like Suggested Sharing, Photo Books
Other features include Suggested Sharing – which reminds you to share the photos with people who feature in the images and Shared Libraries – a feature that allows other people who take photos as the same event as you share recommended photos to a group album. These features will be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Find my ‘Android’ device
Similar to Apple’s ‘Find my iPhone’, the new app by Google helps you track your misplaced or lost Android device, complete with a 3D map! While the core functions remain the same – such as seeing the device on the map, seeing its last location, etc., the app has been redesigned to make it more interactive. It is available for download via the Google Play Store.
YouTube goes 360
360-degree videos are fun and immersive. Extending the functionality to smart TVs, Google announced that in the coming weeks, the YouTube smart TV app will support 360-degree videos. Users will be able to pan around 360-degree videos on the TV screen using the TV’s standard remote. The feature will be further available for live events, so imagine watching a live cricket match in a way as if you are actually sitting in the grounds!
Augmented or virtual reality
Making the concept of augmented reality a tad too practical, Google announced that going forward, manufacturers will be able to build VR headsets which won’t require a smartphone to be inserted for immersive experience. The standalone Daydream VR headset will have no wires and won’t even require to be connected to a PC. HTC Vive and Lenovo are currently working with Google to build and launch such standalone Daydream headsets later this year.
From virtual reality to augmented reality; Google announced Visual Positioning Service (VPS) – a feature similar to GPS which will further enhance AR experiences and indoor guidance. For example, the VPS will guide you through a store to help you buy the exact product you came to purchase. In addition to that, AR features will also be layered to Google’s education product –Education- allowing students to experience interactive learning sessions in the classroom. ALSO READ: Google I/O 2017: Visual Positioning Service announced for indoor navigation on Tango-enabled devices
Google AI chip
Another product to utilize machine learning, Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) chip will allow building AI on Google’s TensorFlow platform fast and efficient. With Google’s focus on machine learning techniques that learn and improve on their own over time, TPU and TensorFlow will together help transform the cloud computing platform into Android for AI.
Google for Jobs
It might come as a threat to existing job portals as Google for Jobs aims to make finding jobs and employers easier. It is a suite of products by Google where users can search for varied roles , all within the Google search box. The results are further filtered based on the commuting time from home to the workplace. Sadly, it will be rolled out only in the US initially in the coming weeks.