American tech giant Google unveiled a massive Android redesign and new features to help users work from home, shop and do more to protect their personal data.
The latest updates range across many services, including Maps, Photos and operating systems, as the company showcases its role in a world that has become more digitally connected during the pandemic.
After it canceled Google developer conference last year due to the pandemic, the company kicked off a virtual version of the event on 18th May. The announcements during the events added up to a boost for the company’s smartwatch efforts, which compete with iPhone maker Apple and for its collaboration tools that rival offerings from Microsoft.
They also show how Google is aiming to demonstrate that its advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) will keep users attracted to its ad-supported or paid services for shopping, communication and entertainment even as pandemic lockdowns ease and people resume in-person activities. Here are some of the major updates from the event:
An Android 12 makeover
Google showed off a new look for Android 12, the latest version of its mobile operating system. It features bigger buttons, a large clock on the home screen that changes in size depending on how many notifications appear, and muted pastel colors.
Android 12 goes big on personalization as users will be able to change the color palette and, when a wallpaper is selected, the system will determine which colors are dominant and complementary by adding shades to volume controls, widgets and other tools to complete the look.
Google says Android 12 will allow devices to be more responsive with better battery life, as the new software will put less strain on processors. Google also rolled out a series of productivity updates, including an option to hold the power button to call Google Assistant to make a phone call or ask for an article to be read out loud.
With rival Apple focusing on privacy features, Google used the event to highlight its own efforts. The new software provides users with more transparency about the personal data accessed by various apps and ways to control it. A new Privacy Dashboard offers a look into permissions’ settings and lets users reconsider those permissions from the dashboard. And a new indicator tool will automatically turn on when an app is accessing your microphone or camera.
The company is also adding a feature that uses Google Assistant to warn users when their passwords have been compromised and help change them. Meanwhile, a new tool called Locked Folder in Google Photos allows users to add photos to a passcode-protected space and they won’t show up as users scroll through Photos or other apps on a phone. The feature will launch on Google Pixel smartphones first and other Android devices throughout the year.
Keeping the new normal of telecommuting in mind, Google unveiled new productivity tools to make working from home more seamless. The most notable is Smart Canvas, which allows services like Google Docs and Sheets to be more flexible and connected with the help of @-mentions, checklists, page less formats and emoji reactions.
AR and Wearables
Google is bringing back WearOS, its wearable platform for smartwatches, with the help of Samsung and the Tizen software platform.
The company is also bringing more augmented reality (AR) tools to phones. With AR View via Google Maps, users can hover over restaurants, landmarks and get indoor directions, starting later this year. Users can also take a picture of a math problem to learn the result. Likewise, taking a photo of an item you see in the real world, such as a patio furniture set at a restaurant, will identify the brand and price so you could purchase it yourself.
Google showcased a new natural language processing platform called LaMDA that helps artificial intelligence be more conversational. In a demo, Google showed what it would be like to have a conversation with inanimate objects for the sake of education, such as the planet Pluto or a paper airplane.
Choose your memories
Finally, Google will make it easier to choose the content people want to look back on, allowing users to prevent photos of certain people or time periods that may be painful or unwelcome from showing up in Memories in Google Photos.