The fact that there was going to be many takeaways from this year’s Google I/O Developers Conference became evident from day one itself when CEO Sindar Pichai kicked things off by acknowledging that the tech industry was ethically liable for the tools and services it brings to its customers.
It set the tone for some of the biggest announcements Google has made in the recent past, what with a Gmail version that will soon write emails for us – all by itself; a brand new Android update that will change the way we use our mobile devices; a Google Assistant with John Legend’s voice, and a plethora of other important revelations.
One thing was clear from the outset, though; directly or indirectly, artificial intelligence was going to be the main theme throughout the conference.
Google’s new mobile operating system, the Android P, does promise some huge improvements and additions, like the new dashboard, for example, that’s capable of showing “how you’re spending time on your service, including time spent on apps, how many times you have unlocked your phone, and how many notifications you have received.”
With the Android P, you can even limit the time you spend on individual apps in order to control compulsive usage of these platforms.
So, if you think you’re spending more time on, say, Instagram, than you think is necessary, you can restrict yourself to 30 minutes – or whatever you decide is the right amount of time to spend on the app – and as soon as the time limit is up, the icon for that app will gray out.
The upgraded Android P also allows key interactions, like changing apps, for instance, through hand gestures, somewhat along the lines of iPhone X.
Most of these new features of the Android P are part of a new theme that Google chooses to call “Digital Well Being.”
Interactions with Google Assistant will now sound less robotic and more like human-to-human exchanges, with six new voices being added to break the monotony of listening to Holly – a voice that users may have, consciously or subconsciously, become fed up of.
And, of course, John Legend’s voice will be joining the fray sometime later this year, to add some more variety to the voice options.
To demonstrate how the new Assistant will sound and interact, Sundar Pichai played back a recording where Google Assistant is calling a hair salon to set up an appointment.
The conversation between the virtual assistant and the salon employee was so much like an exchange between two humans that the employee could not catch on to the fact that it was a machine at the other end.
One thing is for sure, though; Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo series have some stiff competition coming their way, sooner rather than later, what with Google announcing that the first Assistant-included smart displays will be shipping as early as July this year.
Because of the ongoing feud between the retail juggernaut and the tech giant, Amazon can’t offer several contents that Google Assistant can, one of which is YouTube, as an onstage demo showed when Assistant pulled up Jimmy Kimmel Live on the video streaming channel.
The new-look Gmail mentioned earlier is another big take away from this year’s I/O, which, basically, builds on the email platform’s existing Smart Reply feature.
The new Smart Compose uses artificial intelligence “to help you draft emails from scratch, faster,” says Google.
If it worries you to think that Gmail will create emails without your involvement, you’re thinking a bit ahead of the company because Smart Compose will only make logical suggestions for phrases and even complete sentences based on context and user history, as you type.
While the feature is being made available on the new Gmail for consumers over the next couple of months, G Suite users will have to wait a little longer.
Google Maps will also see a major revamp, with a new “For You” tab allowing users to see restaurants and businesses trending among other users in specific neighborhoods; not only that, it also allows you real-time coordination with friends to “shortlist” restaurants for you.
If the new Google Maps is as accurate and dependable as the company claims it is, it will make life so much easier for users trying to find their way around in a new city; all you need to do is point your smartphone camera in a certain direction and Google will do the rest.
What it actually does is use artificial intelligence to pair with Street View data to give you interactive guidance through every turn you encounter.
Google Photos is also being endowed with some great new features like the ability to replace the real background of a photo with something else you may like, a black and white backdrop, for example.
Or, when you are browsing through your gallery, Photos will use AI to analyze the pics and make appropriate recommendations to fix issues it identifies in your collection of pics, like, for example, it may suggest you to “fix brightness” of a certain photograph.
Again, AI is the big focus when it comes to Google’s new app. “It uses artificial intelligence to analyze all the content published to the web at any moment, and organize all of those articles, videos, and more into storylines. It spots the ones you might be interested in and puts them in your briefing,” says Google.
The company has also promised “a range of perspectives” in its News app, while an upgraded Google Lens will allow you to aim your smartphone camera at any text in the real world, capture it as an image, and convert that into a text doc by placing it onto a text field on your mobile.
Plus, Google Lens will also be your fashion assistant by helping you make the right purchase decisions when you’re shopping for clothing items online.
So, when you point your camera in direction of a clothing item, the “Style Match” feature scans it and then makes suggestions based on that.
However, Google Lens is found wanting when it comes to precise identification of clothing items but the company is confident of getting as close to perfection as possible in the near future.