Google executives just made the first batch of announcements and took their bows at this year’s I/O Developer Conference in Mountain View, California. That means the world got a sneak peek at new Google products, including some fancy AI software and even a new phone. Some of it looks awesome! Some of it looks awful.
Lots of what Google is doing seems truly impressive. Artificial intelligence is an increasingly integral part of Google’s software efforts, and that means anyone who uses the company’s search engine, operating system, or other software can do incredible things. Google is also continuing its charge into the hardware space not only by expanding the Pixel lineup but also by rebranding all of its smart home technology under the Nest name. Apparently, as its software gets to know you better by collecting more data about you, Google also wants to improve its security and privacy offerings. If that’s a little hard to square in your mind, that’s because it is in reality too!
Any technology lover must take the good with the bad. And that’s why we’re keeping a running list of the best and worst things at Google I/O 2019.
Best: Pixel 3a
This one is easy. Following complaints that its flagship Pixel 3 was too expensive at $US800 ($1,137), Google will now sell you a virtually identical-looking Pixel 3a for $649. (The bigger Pixel 3a XL is $799) The new, cheaper Pixel phones have bigger bezels, less powerful processors, and lower resolution screens. But they also have the same amazing camera found on their more expensive siblings— including the ability to do Night Sight and Portrait Mode—not to mention improved battery life and a gosh dang headphone jack. Plus, what could be cooler than affordability?
Worst: Nest Hub Max
Google entered the smart home display market with the wonderful Home Hub and a bold statement: no camera means more privacy. Now, the company has collected all of its smart home products under the Nest banner and has something else to say: always-on cameras that recognise your face are the future. That’s the marquee feature of the Nest Hub Max, which is essentially a Home Hub with a 10-inch touchscreen display powered by Google Assistant and a new wide-angle camera that will spot you when you walk in a room and adjust the settings to your profile. That might seem convenient for some, but it’s creepy for everyone else.
Best: Super fast Assistant
Google’s new “next-generation” Assistant popped up a lot during the I/O Keynote, but the most impressive demo involved showing just how fast the new software can go. In a demo, a Google employee fired off a series of commands that Assistant responded to in real time. Apparently, Google accomplished this by shrinking its language recognition models from 100GB to less than half a gigabyte, which means that Assistant can do more computing on the device, rather than accessing the cloud. It also means that Assistant can handle more complex commands more quickly, which is especially impressive since voice assistants have historically suffered from lag times and being generally dumb.
Worst: Improved privacy settings
This sounds like it should be a “best” right? Well, it should be. In a whirlwind of announcements about Android Q, Google announced a renewed focus on privacy and security. That included the newfound ability to give apps access to your location only while you’re actively using it. This is great, but it’s also an option that’s been available on iOS devices for years. It even looks like Google just copied Apple’s design for the prompt, too. If nothing else, this new feature highlights how far behind Apple Google is in terms of privacy.
Best: Driving Mode for Assistant
Driving while using a smartphone is dangerous as hell, and it looks like Google is trying to save some lives with a new Driving Mode for Assistant on Android phones. This mode basically turns your smartphone into an Android Auto-powered infotainment system, when you’re behind the wheel. This experience includes a personalised feed of suggestions for things like navigation and media—all of which you can control with your voice. While you’re in Google Maps, you can also talk to send messages or make phone calls without taking your keys off the road. The free update comes to Android later this year.
Worst: Super personalised Google Assistant
This is another example of “take the bad with the good” in terms of Google’s new software. The next-generation Assistant is faster and smarter, but that also means that it can process more of your data into personalised recommendations. If you ask this super Assistant for directions to mum’s house, a Google demo showed, the new Assistant will know that you’re talking about your mother and it will know where she lives. Kinda cool! Kinda creepy since we don’t yet know exactly how Assistant is connecting the dots of our personal lives.
Best: New accessibility features
Google is building on its neat Live Transcribe software, which transcribes a person’s speech in real time. Thanks to further improvements in its speech technology, Google has now developed Live Captions, which can put captions on any video in real-time, as well as Live Relay, which users Smart Reply to help people use text to participate in phone calls in real time. At the keynote, Google also offered a peek at Project Euphonia, which aims to improve speech technology for people who have conditions that affect the way they speak. All of this stuff is software designed to help people who need it, which is a great thing.
Best: Dark Mode in Android Q
This one’s easy. People have wanted a system-wide dark mode on Android for years. This year, Google is doing it with Android Q!