The Best And Worst Of Google I/O 2017 (So Far...)

Another Google I/O keynote has happened and, again, we have mixed feelings about what we saw. Apparently, the search giant is shifting from being mobile-first to being AI-first. What does that mean? Who the hell knows.

What we do know is that Google is releasing some software updates. Some of them are pretty damn neat. Some of them are confusing as hell. Some of them look just plain shitty. Let's dig in.

Best: Google Lens

Google's been tinkering with visual search and augmented reality for years. Now, it looks like the Mountain View dudes are replacing an old app called Google Goggles with a flashy new feature called Google Lens. Google Lens looks very similar to Google Goggles, but now, Google Assistant joins in on the fun. That essentially amounts to a smarter visual search engine.

You can point your phone at a restaurant, for instance, and Google Lens will serve up the name of the restaurant as well as any relevant information from Google Places. Point your phone at a flower, and Google Lens will tell you what kind of flower it is. What's more exciting than the handful of examples shown during the keynote is what developers will one day able to do with Google's super-powerful visual AI. But for starters, since it works across Google products, we'll surely reap some real benefits from the new tricks soon.

Worst: Google Assistant comes to iOS

OK, Google. So what?

Best: Google Home hands-free calling

Google Home is getting a really cool feature, hands-free phone calls over wi-fi, in the coming months. (Have you noticed that Google loves this term "in the coming months?") That means you might finally be able to ditch your house's landline -- if you're one of those weird people who still has a landline.

That said, the feature seems sort of half-baked since we don't know if it will be able to take very not-private speakerphone calls to much more private smartphone calls. Guess we'll see "in the coming months."

Worst: Android O

Hold on to your butts, folks, because Android O is getting some new feature. Oh wait, they're lame as hell.

We're talking new features like improved copy-paste and picture-in-picture, a feature that's been awkward and confusing on screens since 1998. The only thing that seems genuinely neat and useful is improved security in Android apps. God knows we need that.

Best: Kotlin Support

I don't really know what Kotlin is besides the fact that it's a programming language, but the developers in the Google I/O crowd seemed STOKED that it will soon be supported on Android. The developer reaction alone was worth the announcement.

Worst: Smart Reply for Gmail on Android and iOS

This one's just boring. If you're one of the nine people in the world that uses Smart Reply, you'll like it. If you like to respond to emails with your brain like a normal human, keep reading.

Best: Android Go

If the Android O announcements were boring, the Android Go announcement was dope. OK technically Android Go was part of the Android O announcement, but hear me out.

Google described Android Go as a streamlined version of Android for phones with less than 1GB of memory. This might not mean a lot to Samsung Galaxy S8 owners, but it might mean the world to anyone from Tracphone users to people in developing countries.

The light new Android software will eventually work on all versions of Android and includes useful stuff like easy data usage monitoring and free (read: does not use up your data) previews of YouTube videos. You can even download YouTube videos when you're on wi-fi and watch them on the go so you don't waste your precious megabytes. Again, it's maybe not changing your life, but Android O will be huge for a huge number of people around the world.

Worst: Standalone VR

This sounds great! But all Google offered about the new standalone virtual reality hardware it's developing with HTC and Lenovo is the fact that Google is developing some new standalone virtual reality hardware with HTC and Lenovo.

HTC teased the new headset right after Google's announcement. HTC also failed to provide additional details. So this could be cool. But we honestly have no idea what it is, and not knowing is the worst.

Best: VPS (Visual Positioning System)

Do you get lost in stores or in the subway or even in your own home? Then you're going to love Google's new VPS (Visual Positioning System). As Google describes it, the feature works with Project Tango technology and a camera to map out interiors. Essentially, VPS lays down visual markers while you're wandering around with your smartphone camera. Those markers then merge with the markers of other users to create an indoor map.

It's unclear exactly when and how VPS will be released. Google says it will become one of the core capabilities of Google Lens. When? In the coming months, I'm sure.



    You couldn't just report of the apps, OS, products... Google is showing at the event. No, you had to draw as many negatives as possible.

      The article is headed "The best and worst...", what were you expecting?

      Last edited 18/05/17 10:54 am

        Well the 'worst' could be things that are actually bad, as opposed to 'here's something that doesn't have much value to me therefore it's the worst.'

          If those things are the 'worst' Google's offering, it sounds like a wildly successful show.

            Perhaps the authors point of view was actually the reference of "the worst", in this case.

            Makes sense

            How does woffle, small iterations and new ways for Google to sell your soul a wildly successful show.

            The only thing I found of interest in the entire event was the Lens announcement which is again more iterations.

            Last edited 18/05/17 3:47 pm

              I said how, in the post you replied to - because the 'worst' things there aren't at all bad things.

              There are more things in O than the article suggests. Hardware accelerated on-device neural networking with TensorFlow Lite is a big deal. PIP has featured in some manufacturer ROMs like Samsung and it's a lot more useful for general multitasking than the article suggests. Notification channels at the OS level are a great level of user control. Dynamic layouting is excellent for larger devices where you may want to push an app into compact or right-leaning layouts.

              I don't think it's fair to dismiss incremental features either. Adaptive icons, background limits, better physical keyboard support, native badge support (finally!), OS-level autofill API, notification dots with long-press behaviour, etc. are all good improvements to the system.

                AI process hardware acceleration is an expected increment from servers to mobiles. I wouldn't call it exciting.. PIP is not even new, as you say, what's worse I don't know a single person who uses it including myself and I've had it for ages.

                  Neural processing is absolutely not an expected increment from servers to mobiles, deep learning barely has any presence even in desktop applications.

                  I use PIP on my tablet, so now you do know a single person who uses it. Congratulations.

          Yeah, nah.
          Most are small iterations with the exception of the woffle. Not a lot to write home about.

    VPS gives me the heebie jeebies.

    VPS + Darpa's Handle bot? coming to a nightmare near you.

      I agree entirely - to put it in a different light, Android users have been giving free (and useful) traffic information for years.. They have also been giving search and usage data for years.. now we're entering into a realm where the interior of the buildings you go into will be mapped en-mass. Surely this has huge security implications for some buildings (banks, government etc), and would need to be an 'opt in' instead of 'always on' as the other data that's being farmed from Android devices?

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