Google I/O 2017 has just wrapped up, and with it has come a range of new product announcements and a look at Google’s general direction in 2017 and beyond. From Android to AI, we’ll be taking a look back at the company’s biggest announcements at this year’s conference and what it means for the Google’s future.
Android O and Android Go
The main keynote began with the announcement that Google has surpassed a staggering two billion active devices running Android. This includes everything from traditional phones and tablets to Android Wear smartwatches and TVs, and really shows how widespread Android has become.
Along with that statistic, we also got another look into the future of Android as Android O was shown off with demos of picture-in-picture mode, notification dots and channels, autofill, and more. The update was also placed in the beta phase, graduating from the developer preview released in March. Be aware that the update is still in its early stages, so it’s probably best not to install it on your main phone. And unfortunately, the official name for the updated has still not been revealed, so we’re stuck simply calling it “O” for the time being.
The company also announced a brand-new, slimmed down version of Android dubbed “Android Go.” This version, which can run on phones with as little as 1GB of RAM, is aimed at markets in developing countries where phones are extremely low-end. Features include better data management capabilities than before and a Google Play Store that highlights apps optimized to run on these types of devices. Go will automatically be enabled on any Android phone with less than 1GB of RAM, and will be released alongside the final version of Android O this fall.
Google Home, the company’s smart speaker powered by Google Assistant, is getting a huge update. Google announced during the conference that the device will be receiving a software update that adds “proactive assistance,” hands free calling, connection to a display, and more.
“Proactive Assistance” is essentially Google Now notifications brought to Home. The device will now alert users that it has information they may want to know by lighting up, and then waiting for the user to ask for the information. For example, if there’s a traffic delay en route to an event that a Google Home owner has on their calendar, Home will let them know that they should plan to leave earlier. It will also give users reminders, flight status updates, and fine control over which types of notifications show up.
Google also announced hands-free calling from Home itself. When the update rolls out, it will let Home users place calls to the United States and Canada for free. The device will use a private number by default, but users will have the option to connect their regular phone number as well. This feature will work also with Home’s multi-user support, so everyone in a house will be able to connect their own mobile number to the device.
The third and final large update is Google Home’s new ability to connect to a nearby display and use it to show information, This feature is dubbed “Visual Responses”. For example, if a Home owner asks the device to show them their schedule for the day, Home could connect to any Chromecast-enabled TV and display events in their calendar. Then, when the user asks for directions to the first item on their schedule, the device would connect to their phone and open Google Maps.
Along with these three large capabilities, the update also comes with a range of smaller features including Bluetooth speaker connectivity and the ability to stream media from a large variety of streaming services, including HBO to SoundCloud. Although physical hardware itself is not being updated, these new features are giving Google Home a leg up over it’s biggest competitor, Amazon Echo.
During this year’s I/O conference, Google focused mainly on artificial intelligence. With that came products and updates surrounding Google Assistant. These updates, which improve a wide range of Google products, have already started to roll out.
Google Assistant is coming to iOS in the form of a standalone app with a similar experience to Google Assistant on Android and Google Home. The app can be used to answer questions, play music, and send text messages. Unfortunately, because of the way Apple restricts its operating system, the app can’t do everything it can on Android, like setting reminders or changing settings, and can’t be launched by long-pressing the home button.
The mobile version of Google Assistant is getting an upgrade that Google Home has had for a little while – the ability to connect to other apps. Now, users can use Assistant to reserve a seat through OpenTable, send a message with WhatsApp, or turn on a Philips Hue lightbulb. The app now has an “explore” tab, which is essentially an app store for all third-party connections available through Assistant. Best of all, this update has already begun rolling out.
With the introduction of Google Lens, Google is aiming to combine Google Assistant and Google Goggles. Lens works by using Assistant to analyze photos and camera input to provide information about the user’s surroundings. For example, a user could see reviews of a restaurant that they point their camera at, identify the species of a flower, or even connect to a Wi-Fi network by just pointing their camera at the router. The lens technology can also be used to scan old photos printed on photo paper. Although this is far from the first time a product like this has been created (Bixby, as well as Google’s own outdated Google Goggles came first), it is a much more advanced version compared to anything we have seen before.
Google Photos’ Photo Books and Enhanced Sharing
Speaking of photos, Google unveiled three new features for its Photos app: Photo Books, Suggested Sharing, and Shared Libraries. With Photo Books, the photos you take can be easily transformed into a physical, real life photo book with only a few taps. According to the company, the feature uses artificial intelligence to automatically arrange photos into an album based on criteria such as people, places, or objects. Users can then customize the book to their liking and get it delivered to their doorstep. A softcover book costs $10 and a hardcover book costs $20. Photo Books are already available for some users.
Suggested Sharing and Shared Libraries are two features that make sharing photos easier than ever before. Suggested Sharing uses face detection to scan photos and suggest people you may want to share them with. For example, if a Photos user goes bowling with their friends and takes pictures, the app will automatically suggest sharing those pictures with the user’s friends. And if a user wants to always share certain photos with another person, they can do it with the new Shared Libraries feature. This feature lets users share either their entire photo collection, photos from a specific time or place, or photos of a specific person automatically. For example, someone could configure the app to always share photos of their kids with their partner. Although they are not available yet, these two new features will be rolling out in the coming weeks.
Google I/O is primarily a developer conference, and with that comes a lot of announcements geared towards developers. This year, the three largest software announcements were about Kotlin, a new programming language for Android, the next generation of an AI-focused processor called the Tensor Processing Unit, and a new platform to share and consolidate research in the field of artificial intelligence. It’s worth noting that these developer-focused announcements received by far the loudest and most enthusiastic cheer from a crowd full of programmers.
That’s about it! With all of these new products and services, it is an exciting time for Google and for the whole tech community. What do you think about this year’s conference? What new products are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments below!