If you missed the Google I/O 2021 developer conference, you can catch up on the live stream below, but here's everything Google announces this year.
Even if the wait for devices like the Pixel 6, Pixel Watch, Pixel Buds A and Pixel 5a go on, there was a lot of software, with Android 12 and a new Wear OS unveiled along with a lot more. With 3 billion active Android devices globally, this affects a lot of people.
Of course, the biggest announcement of the night was Android 12. Specifically, the Beta 1 version of the mobile OS. Something called ‘Material You’ will customise the interface palette to your personal style and taste, with apps that fit perfectly wherever they are being displayed.
You can, for example, set a photo as your wallpaper and Android 12 can redesign itself around the colours found in the image. Things are more dynamic with the lockscreen lighting from the bottom if you swipe or from the power button if you use that. The clock will go large if you have no notifications.
Google calls it the biggest design change since 2014 – when 5.0 Lollipop came out – with the firm rethinking the entire experience “from the colors to the shapes, light and motion.” It really does look like a brand-new interface.
As well as a major redesign to the look and feel, Google says that there’s more transparency in Android 12 on which apps are using your data along with more controls giving you better choices on what happens.
Google says that “Android 12 focuses on building a personalized experience that adapts to you.” It will come to Pixel starting this autumn/fall.
Read more about Android 12 here.
Google also announced an updated look Wear OS, its operating system designed for smartwatches, saying it is the biggest update to Wear OS ever.
This means better battery life, improved performance (loading apps 30% quicker) and updated apps, plus a new way to navigate including new Tiles and the ability to swipe between apps.
There’s also a ‘world-class health and fitness service’ via Fitbit and the firm owned by Google seems to be shifting to Wear OS as James Park, co-founder of Fitbit, said “In the future, we'll be building premium smartwatches based on Wear."
Interface changed aside, the firm says that “At Google, we're driven by wearable technology's positive impact on people's lives and are excited to share our new, unified platform with Samsung.”
This is particularly interesting because Samsung’s smartwatches like the Galaxy Watch 3 use its own Tizen operating system. Now Google says it is combining the two operating systems to offer a better experience.
Read more about Wear OS here.
Google is also advancing how its devices work together with a range of features starting with Fast Pair so you can connect to Bluetooth devices with less faff.
You’ll also be able to use your phone as a remote control for Android TV devices, and unlock your (compatible) car with your phone, too.
There’s also the recently launched Phone Hub on Chromebooks allowing you to do various things on your phone from the laptop or other Chrome OS device from a control centre such as reply to text messages or check the battery level.
In a world that’s increasingly online, Google is increasing its focus on privacy. In Android 12, for example, new quick settings will allow you to block the camera or microphone to all apps whether you’ve previously granted access or not.
A new Password Manager is a big new feature for Google users. This will “create, remember, save and auto-fill passwords across the web” with the ability to change a password via the Google Assistant.
Other new features include Locked Folders in Google Photos for any snaps you don’t want others to find, whether they contain sensitive information or you don’t want to ruin a surprise.
Quick delete is another new option that will delete the last 15 minutes of your Search history with a single tap from the Google Account Menu.
The Google core & AI
Don’t rest on your laurels is a motto Google must have on a wall somewhere as the core Google search engine is never a finished product. At I/O the firm announced updates to Search, Lens, AR, Maps and Shopping.
One of the biggest pieces of news is MUM (Multitask Unified Mode) which Google says is 1000 times more powerful than BERT and can tackle increasingly complex information. The firm says this is a milestone for machine learning.
Meanwhile, About This Result provides helpful insights about a website before you visit it so you can decide whether the source is reliable and trustworthy.
Lens is getting better with an updated Translate filter and Maps has more useful features such as new routing options, more detailed street maps, area business, tailored highlights and live view enhancements.
On a slight side note, Google Canvas is a new collaboration tool as an evolution of Google Workspace. The firm is rolling out updates throughout 2021 to make it easier for colleagues to stay connected and work together regardless of locations.
New features include building blocks like smart chips, templates, checklists as well as a pageless format in Docs and emoji reactions. Google also says it is bringing Meet closer to Docs, Sheets and Slides.
At the more geeky end of the spectrum was the unveiling of a new Quantum AI campus which aims to tackle global issues like sustainable energy.
LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) is a ‘state-of-the-art, multi-turn dialogue system’ which allows you to engage in natural conversation with AI. In Google’s examples, you could have a chat with Pluto or even a paper airplane.
Why? Well, Google says “we think could unlock more natural ways of interacting with technology and entirely new categories of helpful applications.”
If that wasn’t enough, Google’s Project Starline is a ‘magic window’ for 3D telepresence and could be the future of video calling.