At its annual developer conference this week, Google attempted to make up for the lost time by announcing a massive Android redesign and new features to help users work from the home, shop, and do more to protect their data.
Following the cancellation of Google I/O last year due to the pandemic, the company launched a virtual version of the event on Tuesday. Google (GOOG) employees wore masks and sat on the lawn of its Mountain View, California campus to watch the keynote, a stark contrast to previous years when thousands of people were crammed into an arena.
Here are a few of the most significant announcements from the event, which is taking place over several days.
Google unveiled a new look for Android 12, the company’s latest mobile operating system. It has larger buttons, a large clock on the home screen that adjusts in size depending on how many notifications are displayed, and muted pastel colours.
Users can change the colour palette, and when wallpaper is selected, the system will determine which colours are dominant and complementary by adding shades to volume controls, widgets, and other tools to complete the look.
Google claims that Android 12 will improve device responsiveness and battery life by putting less strain on processors. Google also released a slew of productivity enhancements, including the ability to use the power button to summon Google Assistant to make a phone call or request that an article be read aloud.
With rival Apple stepping up its privacy efforts, Google used Tuesday’s event to tout its own.
The new software gives users more visibility into the personal data accessed by various apps, as well as controls over it. A new Privacy Dashboard provides access to permissions settings and allows users to revoke those permissions directly from the dashboard. In addition, when an app accesses your microphone or camera, a new indicator tool will automatically turn on.
The company is also introducing a feature that will use Google Assistant to notify users when their passwords have been compromised and assist them in changing them. Meanwhile, a new tool in Google Photos called Locked Folder allows users to add photos to a passcode-protected space where they will not appear as users scroll through Photos or other apps on a phone. (In a demo, Google showed someone hiding a photo of a new puppy from their children.) The feature will be available first on Google Pixel smartphones and then on other Android devices throughout the year.
Google unveiled new productivity tools to make working from home more seamless, possibly as a nod to the new normal of telecommuting. Smart Canvas, for example, makes services like Google Docs and Sheets more flexible and connected through the use of @-mentions, checklists, pageless formats, and emoji reactions.
With the help of Samsung and the Tizen software platform, Google is resurrecting WearOS, its wearable platform for smartwatches.
Google announced plans to acquire Fitbit, a maker of wearable fitness trackers, for $2.1 billion in late 2019, but we haven’t heard much about the category since. Now, the company is demonstrating its vision for the future of wearables, which includes deep Fitbit integration for tracking workouts and movement.
In addition, the company is bringing more augmented reality tools to phones. Starting later this year, users will be able to hover over restaurants, landmarks, and get indoor directions with AR View via Google Maps. Users can also photograph a math problem to learn the solution. Similarly, photographing an item you see in the real world, such as patio furniture set at a restaurant.
Google teased LaMDA, a new natural language processing platform that allows artificial intelligence to be more conversational. Google demonstrated what it would be like to converse with inanimate objects for the sake of education, such as the planet Pluto or a paper aeroplane, in a demo. The effort demonstrates how Google continues to invest more resources in improving the intelligence and versatility of its smart assistant.
Finally, Google will make it easier for users to select the content they want to look back on by allowing them to prevent photos of certain people or periods that may be painful or unwelcome from appearing in Memories in Google Photos, a sore spot for years on various platforms.