There was a lot of cool stuff in Mountain View this week, but what was the coolest?
Another Google I/O is in the can, and everyone has something to say about what they saw, including the Android Central staff!
Here's what we saw that impressed and wowed us at this year's dev conference.
How about that new Unified Messaging app, huh? Oh right, we still don't have one for Android.
Alright, saltiness over. Honestly, I'm a fan of the huge improvements to Google Assistant. Google is getting serious with Home, making it integrate more deeply into damn near everything. I'm eager to see what's going to happen with displaying on the Chromecast and comparing that experience to the Echo Show. Google integration matters a lot to me, but Amazon is still a dominant force in this itty bitty corner of the world right now.
Naturally, the VR things excite me, tool. Daydream's UI overhaul is going to be amazing, and being able to Cast and share without any hurdles is a big deal. A lot of this is catching up to the Gear VR, but it's going to be a big deal for those who jumped on Daydream early. It's also a great reason to be excited about the next Google Pixel, but we'll save that hype for another time.
The most impressive thing for me, and the feature I think will go the furthest in the next couple of years is Google Lens. The potential of Lens is huge — and although, like Google Assistant itself, it's likely to be a slow burn — I'm excited. The difference between Google Lens and the disappointing Bixby Vision feature is Google has practically infinite troves of data to fall back upon to make Google Lens as accurate and useful as it wants.
If it's handled right, Google Lens could be one of the first mainstream AR applications, in much the same way Pokemon Go provided a really compelling use for the tech in 2016. What's more, Google has the potential to roll this stuff out all the way back to Android 6.0 through Assistant updates. Of course it's also an enviable differentiating feature, so it's entirely possible it could be exclusive to the Pixel 2 phones at first.
This year's Google I/O was rather muted; no big announcements, no new products. Rather, it was a consolidation of many ideas into one cohesive message: "We do these many different things, but they're all underpinned by AI and machine learning. Oh, and here's a neural net for your neural net."
That idea is no better exemplified than with Google Lens, the evolution of Goggles and Google Now on Tap and Image Search and a bunch of other things into a single, cohesive "world camera". Google Lens solves the problem of context, since in its simplest form it allows you to point your phone's camera at anything — a flower, a barcode, a person — and get real-world results from Google's Knowledge Graph. To be honest, the whole thing is a bit intimidating just thinking about how many disparate parts have gone into creating Lens, but combined with Assistant, which is itself becoming incredibly powerful and more difficult to separate from the rest of Google's products, it morphs into the backbone of Google's future.
Why am I so bullish on Lens? Because I agree with Snapchat, Facebook and every other company that's betting on the camera: people are increasingly documenting, communicating and learning through their phone's camera, and Lens turns Google Search into that familiar and intuitive medium — the viewfinder — that we're using more and more every day.
This was one of the best Google I/Os we've seen in a long time. Rather than waste time on product announcements or shill hardware for someone else, Google got down and dirty at what they do best: make cool stuff everyone wants to use.
And we got to see why Google's AI platform is the coolest of the cool. Assistant, Google Lens, Tango, VR and AR features, security features, and a slew of other stuff is only here becasue of Google AI. It will get better because of Google AI, and we will use it to keep making it better.
I've been talking for a year about how AI was going to be Google's thing and their future, and it was awesome to see them start to capitalize on it. This ride's going to be bumpy and rough, but it's also going to be really fun. Hang on tight.
WHERE THE $%*(&@#% IS MY DARK THEME?!?! Sorry, had to get that out of my system.
Google Assistant's new features and the goal of feature parity between Assistant on Google Home and on your phones is great… but there's still a big area where Google Assistant on the phones is horribly behind Google Home: media controls. I want to be able to say "OK Google, rewind" to my phone while I'm listening in the office and more importantly while I'm in the car. I don't text in the car, I use hands-free to make calls, but I still have to hit the buttons on my phone to control my music in the car because the BT controls in my 2003 Honda Odyssey aren't consistent. Google Assistant can already do this on Google Home while I'm in the shower, so what's stopping them from bringing it to Android Auto in the car, or Google Assistant on my phone?
Google Lens is cool, and I'm all for Google Photos improvements, but if we're not going to announce a long-overdue Google Play Music overhaul, then the most important overhaul to me is the overhaul on Android TV. My NVIDIA Shield TV is used wayyy more than my Google Home, and when on-board Assistant controls and the overhauled home screen for Android O for TV arrive, I'm going to be a very happy TV nerd. It's gonna be a long summer waiting for this new UI, but here's hoping the Assistant upgrades mean I'll be looking at the old UI less and getting to content more quickly.
On the topic of the NVIDIA Shield TV and Google Assistant… where's that NVIDIA Spot?
Mere days before the Google I/O keynote, I was sharing with some friends about how long it's taking Google Home to come to Canada. I mentioned that as time has passed, and due to some struggles I've experienced using Google Assistant on the Pixel, I wasn't as hot for Google's smart speaker as I was a year previous when it was first announced.
Now that I know that Google Home is for sure coming to Canada, and will eventually include free voice calling to any mobile or landline in Canada or the U.S., I'm back aboard the hype train. I share a home with two roommates, so the voice recognition feature that determine who's calling so you can simply say "call mom" and just knows which mom to call is super enticing.
The theme of the keynote was Google's advancements in AI and machine learning, and to that end, I was also really impressed by Google Lens. I've played around a bit with the limited functionality that Samsung's Bixby Vision offers on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and it's pretty cool — when it works. I'm much more confident in Google's ability to better implement the technology, and can't wait to test out all the different use cases for Google Lens in the future.
The biggest thing from Google I/O wasn't a single product or feature announcement, but it was the clear reliance on Google Assistant as the smarts behind everything it does going forward. Google Assistant received new features across a handful of different devices, but the biggest common thread was interoperability and consistency was between them.
Within the next couple of months, Google Assistant will operate the same on both Google Home and phones — now including the iPhone — and also be able to quickly share information between the two. Assistant will also be able to send information from a Home to a phone, or a Home to a Chromecast.
Google Assistant really only makes sense if you can rely on it, and Google I/O 2017 marked that experience as a big point of emphasis going forward.
Photos Books were definitely the standout feature at Google I/O, and I'm not just saying this to kid around. This tangible thing that Google Photos now offers is another step in the company's reach for the mainstream. Sure, Android is the dominant mobile operating system around the world, but with Photo Books it can take that reach offline by sitting pretty on a bookshelf. Every time you pick up that book to look through it or show to a family member, you'll be reminded of Google's photo-storing service, and that that's where a majority of your memories live. And that's how integrated Google wants to be in our off-the-internet lives.
What say you? Of all the things Google showed us and we know are coming, what was your fav? Shout out in the comments!