Google just wrapped up its 2018 I/O keynote, and today’s event was jam-packed with news. CEO Sundar Pichai kicked things off by recognition that the tech industry must always be responsible about the tools and services it creates. From there, the big announcements started and just kept coming. We’ve got a new, ambitious Android update on the way. John Legend is lending his voice to Google Assistant. Gmail can almost write emails entirely by itself. AI was a big theme throughout.
Goodbye, three-button navigation. Hello, digital wellbeing Dashboard. Android P shakes up a lot of what we’ve come to know about Google’s mobile OS. It’s got a refreshed look. Key interactions like changing apps are now accomplished through iPhone X-like gestures. And there’s a new Dashboard that’s meant to plainly show “how you’re spending time on your device, including time spent in apps, how many times you’ve unlocked your phone, and how many notifications you’ve received.” You can even set time limits for individual apps if you want to cut back on compulsively staring at your phone at any moment of downtime.
Android P is coming later this summer, but a public beta is available today for handful of smartphones from Google, Essential, Sony, Nokia, and more.
New Google Assistant voices
Google’s virtual assistant is getting some more voice variety. Users will get to pick from six additional, natural sounding voices in addition to the original one you’re probably familiar with. Google calls that original voice “Holly.” Oh, and a John Legend voice is also coming to Assistant later this year. Seriously.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of today’s keynote came when Sundar Pichai played back a recording of Google Assistant calling a hair salon and making an appointment in a conversation that legitimately sounded like two humans talking to each other. There was no hint of a robotic voice or that the salon employee recognized they were talking to AI.
Smart Displays with Google Assistant coming this summer
Amazon’s Echo Show is about to face some competition from similar devices running Google’s software. Google announced that the first Smart Displays with Assistant built in will begin shipping in July. A demonstration on stage showed the display pulling up Jimmy Kimmel Live on YouTube TV as just one example of content that Google offers that Amazon can’t — you know, since the companies still hate each other.
Gmail can now draft emails for you (almost) by itself
Google is expanding on its helpful Smart Reply feature with a more ambitious idea: Smart Compose. Smart Compose uses AI “to help you draft emails from scratch, faster.” Does having Gmail create emails without your involvement sound scary? Don’t worry, as the company isn’t going quite that far. Instead, the new feature will make suggestions for complete sentences as you’re typing. Smart Compose is coming to the new Gmail for consumers first over the next few weeks; G Suite users will have to wait a few months.
Google Maps is getting way more social and going after Yelp
Maps is growing into a full-on social experience that’s squarely targeting Yelp and Foursquare. A new For You tab lets you follow specific neighborhoods to see new restaurants and business that are trending among other users. And you can even coordinate with friends in real time to make a “shortlist” when choosing a place to eat at.
And it’s adding augmented reality directions
Is this Google Maps as it was always meant to be? I think so. If it works accurately and reliably, this will be a huge help for people navigating a new city. Point your camera in a direction, and Google will pair AI with Street View data to give you an interactive, AR turn-by-turn experience when you’re on the move. There’s even a cute little fox to help keep you on course.
Google Photos gets even smarter editing powers
Google Photos is gaining new features like the ability to separate subjects from the background in photos and pop the color or turn the background black and white. Photos can also now colorize your older photos — even if they weren’t shot in color to begin with. Both of these capabilities use AI. And when you’re just swiping through your gallery, Photos will analyze your pics and make recommendations for quick fixes like “fix brightness.”
Google News — now curated by AI
Google’s news app is being overhauled and its editorial focus is now powered largely by AI. The company says “it uses artificial intelligence to analyze all the content published to the web at any moment, and organize all of those articles, videos, and more into storylines. It spots the ones you might be interested in and puts them in your briefing.” News will also deliver “a range of perspectives” to bring you a little bit outside your bubble.
Google Lens can copy text from the real world into your phone
This is something Google has demonstrated before, but now it sounds like the feature is ready and actually coming to Google Lens. You’ll be able to point your phone’s camera at text in the real world — say, a written down Wi-Fi password — and then paste it into a text field on your smartphone.
And now it’s also going to help you buy fashionable things. Google Lens still isn’t perfect at identifying precise items of clothing, but Google thinks it can get close enough. The company is introducing a new “style match” feature that will scan something the camera is pointed at and help you buy it from internet retailers. Sounds like a dream come true for Pinterest fans. But will Amazon be among those stores?