After a year hiatus, Google had its I/O 2021 keynote live from Googleplex in Mountain View, California. The company CEO Sundar Pichai took the stage to talk first about their work and initiatives in information dissemination around Covid and vaccination across the globe. This was followed by a barrage of announcements and revelations centered around the theme, “Building a more helpful Google for everyone”.
I/O 2021: Highlights
Although Google kicked off the event with new updates to Google Maps, Google Workspace, and went on for about 2 hours announcing a lot of software features and updates, we will be focussing on the biggest announcements that matters the most to the general end-user.
Android 12: Material You, New Privacy Features
Google is rolling out a major visual overhaul to the Android UI called Material You. The new user interface has big popping elements, that are aimed to be more customizable and personal to the user. The system colors will now match the wallpaper you use. Quick Settings icons are not just huge but revamped. Animations will be more in tune with your interactions. The widgets are also likely to get more emphasis this time around.
Performance-wise, Google claims reduced CPU latency to system services by upto 22 percent and the big core usage by up to 15 percent. So, the user experience should feel smoother.
Privacy also gets due weightage in the experience in way of dedicated and easy to toggle camera/mic tiles in QS menu, location usage indicator, Approximate Location option, improved password manager, a detailed Privacy Dashboard, and Android Private Compute Core (Live Captions and Smart Reply will work on this). We will be covering the Android 12 new features, tips, and tricks in detail in another post.
Wear OS: in partnership with Tizen OS; integration of Fitbit
Google is making major strides with Wear OS this year. This includes everything from its collab with Samsung’s Tizen OS and integration of Fitbit resources into the fold.
Samsung has confirmed the new partnership and announced that the future Galaxy watches will be running on Wear instead of Tizen. As for the current Galaxy wearables, the Tizen update will be offered for 3 years from the product’s launch.
Another big update is how Fitbit is finally getting tightly incorporated into the Wear OS. What’s more, going further, Fitbit will be making Wear OS smartwatches.
On the performance part, Google is claiming 30% faster load times, improved battery life, access to Play Store apps right from the watch, more tile customization options, better navigation, and improved features across popular apps.
Project Starline: Holographic Video Chats
Another one of Google’s moonshot ideas is the new Project Starline, which allows hyper-realistic 3D holographic video calls. The Silicon Valley giant is employing high-res cameras and custom-made depth sensors to capture a person from multiple perspectives, then compress these gigabits of data per second and finally stream them. Behind the scene, a lot of algos are being used. This also marks a “breakthrough light field display” on the receiver’s end. Witness the magic in the above video from Google.
Google doesn’t plan on offering this to consumers yet, but enterprises in healthcare and media might get a shot sometime in the future.
Digital Car Key
Much like Apple CarKey, Google’s Digital Car Key uses NFC and UWB (ultra-wideband) wireless technologies to authenticate and securely unlock the car from your phone. So, you just have to walk up to your car with a supported phone, and the latter acts as a wireless key. Speaking of support, this feature will be initially rolling out to select Google Pixel and Samsung phones later this fall.
Smart Canvas: Richer Collaborative Workspace
If you are a Google Workspace (aka G Suite) user, then you should be able to use Smart Canvas including Smart Objects in Docs and deeper integration with Meet. This initiative feels similar to Notion and Asana. The new goodies in the mix are language suggestions, voting tables, Meet integration to Docs via live attendees’ tiles, polls, transcriptions, and translations on the go. You can even assign a Google Task to someone straight within Google Doc. A much more holistic and homely work space, I would say!
Other major announcements from Google I/O 2021:
- AI-powered LaMDA conversation model likely to join Google Assistant’s capabilities. This lets you talk naturally with AI and get answers to your queries.
- Google is tuning its camera algorithms to better understand skin tones and rightly process photos.
- Google Photos will make gifs from still photos, get new types of Memories, let you hide or delete photos from the past, store photos in a locked folder, etc.
- Google presented a new health checkup tool that lets you scan a photo of your skin and identify the problem.
- The password manager gets imports from other managers, deeper integration between Chrome and Android, automatic alerts for compromised passwords, and lets you change passwords on the fly.
- Google Maps’ AR tool shows up more on-ground details for easier navigation, with signs, even indoors.
- TPU V4 chip for machine learning announced, which boasts “10x the bandwidth per chip at scale compared to any other networking technology”.
- MUM (Multitask Unified Model) can train on 75+ languages and interpret text, images, and videos.
- Shopping gets more convenient with Shopping Graph on Google that coalesces information and reviews from across the web.