Google just wrapped up its 2018 I/O keynote, and today’s event was jam-packed with news. CEO Sundar Pichai kicked things off by recognizing that the tech industry must always be responsible about the tools and services it creates. From there, the big announcements started and just kept coming. We’ve got a new, ambitious Android update on the way. John Legend is lending his voice to Google Assistant. Gmail can almost write emails entirely by itself. AI was a big theme throughout.
The latest version of Android, like many before it, is putting a big focus on battery. Its new “Adaptive Battery,” feature uses–you guessed it–AI to control which apps are running in the background in order to try and eek out additional battery life. Similarly, “Adaptive Brightness” will spend a few days learning how you like to set the brightness of your phone vs. the ambient lighting, and then learn to do it all by itself.
Google’s also changing up the user interface of Android in the next version. Gone is the traditional three-button bar on the bottom of your phone. The trio has now been replaced by a single on-screen home button. Swipe up on it, and you’ll get a multitasking view of all your recently used app. The back button, meanwhile, shows up only after you hop into an app that you can back out of.
Android P is also introducing some new features to help you use your phone less. The new version of Android will include a dashboard that will give you detailed information on how much time you spend using various apps and even allow you to set limits on how much you can use any given app. Android P also includes a “Shush” mode, which silences all your notifications (except calls from folks listed as emergency contacts) whenever you place your phone face-down on a surface, and “Wind Down” mode, which automatically turns your screen to grey scale every night at a bedtime that you decide.
Android P is coming later this summer, but a public beta is available today for a handful of smartphones from Google, Essential, Sony, Nokia, and more.
Google’s Assistant’s biggest new trick is an ability to actually make phone calls on your behalf. On stage, CEO Sundar Pichai showed two different demos of Google Assistant calling an actual human at an actual business to make a haircut appointment and a dinner reservation all by itself (and without ever disclosing it was a robot) and it legitimately sounded like two humans talking to each other. There was no hint of a robotic voice or that the salon employee recognized they were talking to AI. The feature, called “Google Duplex” is rolling out as an experiment in the next few weeks.
Google Assistant is coming to new “Smart Displays” coming this summer. Think Amazon’s Echo Show, except not made by Google itself the way Google Home is. To make use of the screen, these displays will be able to respond to commands to watch videos on YouTube, or call up other visual information like recipe instructions or pictures by voice.
Google’s also experimenting with new voices for its assistant (John Legend’s is coming later this year cos why not) and an optional ‘Pretty Please’ where the assistant will respond positively to being asked ‘please’ as an attempt to prevent kids from getting in the habit of being bossy about their requests.
Last year, Google introduced Smart Replies for Gmail, and now it’s going a step further with a feature called “Smart Compose.” It’s basically just like autocomplete on your phone, except for your computer. Just hit tab, and Gmail will fill in predictions as it sees fit. The feature is rolling out this month.
Maps is growing into a full-on social experience that’s squarely targeting Yelp and Foursquare. A new For You tab lets you follow specific neighborhoods to see new restaurants and business that are trending among other users. And you can even coordinate with friends in real time to make a “shortlist” when choosing a place to eat at.
If it works accurately and reliably, this will be a huge help for people navigating a new city. Point your camera in a direction, and Google will pair AI with Street View data to give you an interactive, AR turn-by-turn experience when you’re on the move. There’s even a cute little fox to help keep you on course.
Google Photos is gaining new features like the ability to separate subjects from the background in photos and pop the color or turn the background black and white. Photos can also now colorize your older photos — even if they weren’t shot in color to begin with. Both of these capabilities use AI. And when you’re just swiping through your gallery, Photos will analyze your pics and make recommendations for quick fixes like “fix brightness.”
Google News is getting an AI-powered revamp, that will attempt to automatically curate a feed of news it thinks you’ll be interested in, much in the way that Google Now used to suggest updates and story you might be interested in based on your browsing history.
Google News also includes a feature called “Full Coverage” which attempts to assemble a full, wide-ranging picture of a story or narrative from multiple sources and outlets as the story evolves, essentially letting you Google search a breaking news story and get more than a list of results
This is something Google has demonstrated before, but now it sounds like the feature is ready and actually coming to Google Lens. You’ll be able to point your phone’s camera at text in the real world — say, a written down Wi-Fi password — grab that text, and then paste it into a text field on your smartphone.