Google I/O: What You Need To Know
Google’s annual developer conference kicked off this week in San Francisco, led by CEO Sundar Pichai. This year’s keynote focused on practical applications of AI, machine learning and VR, and it’s clear to see the direction the company are heading towards. Here’s our take on their latest features and announcements:
An ‘image search in reverse’, Google Lens is a new way of searching the internet — via your camera. Users will be able to take a photo and let Google figure out what’s going on in the image. Take a photo of a restaurant for example, and Google Lens will draw up a list of opening hours, the menu and see if there’s tables available. A photo of a flower, and Lens will tell you the name and best way to care for it. Essentially recognizing and responding the images appearing in your camera-lens.
Perhaps the most practical application for Google Lens, (because if you’re close enough to the restaurant to take a photo of it wouldn’t you just look at the opening hours on the door?) is it’s ability to recognize a Wifi password when you point your smartphone at it. Instead of having to type in the password, Lens will automatically connect you to it. And in that one feature, Google have solved a problem none of us even knew we had. And we love it.
Future developments for Google Lens are far more exciting although some of the options do resemble various disturbing episodes of Black Mirror. Drawing on a Snapchat-like AR experience, Google could show you nutrition facts when the camera pointed at a box of cereal or prices when pointed at an object. A quicker, more interesting way of searching the internet, we’re intrigued by Google Lens. Mainly because of the automatic Wifi connection though..
Just like Amazon’s Alexa, Google is going to turn its smart speaker, Google Home, into a phone. It can be either tied to your own mobile or will operate using the private number Google provides.
And that’s not the only upgrade for Google Home. A whole host of new features have been unveiled. Home will be able to control HBO Now, which will make spending 14 hours without leaving the sofa. Because we all know it’s not long until the next season of Game Of Thrones. It will also control SoundCloud, Deezer and will soon work as a Bluetooth speaker.
Google also demonstrated their ‘Visual Responses’ update. Home will become capable of directing requested information to the right screen for the specific request. For example, it will send directions to the Google Maps app on your phone and display your daily calendar on a connected TV. By bringing all screens and devices together, Google are ensuring products by rivals Amazon or Apple don’t even get a look in.
Google Assistant is also getting a couple of changes. It will be brought to the iPhone which is handy considering Siri is utterly useless, and it will now often ‘Proactive Assistance’ via Google Home. We’re unsure about this one, but the examples given seem innocent enough. Google Assistant will know via Google Calendar where the user needs to be that day, and could potentially warn them about heavy traffic in that area.
We originally scoffed at this, who really wants a digital assistant interrupting their conversations?! But then we remembered that this is 2017, and none of us actually have conversations anymore, we just scroll through Instagram and take photos of avocado on toast.
Google Photos is also getting a couple of new features, although they’ve got a lot of work to do in convincing consumers that this is a good thing and not the storyline for the next Black Mirror episode.
The app will recognize people in the photos you take and prompt you to share the pictures with those people. If prompted, Google will recognize faces in the photos and start to automatically share them with the people you ask it to. For those of you thinking that this has the potential to go horrible, horrible wrong, we can assure you that you are not the only ones.
Google is also offering printed photo books which can be created via your smartphone. Now this is a feature that we’re onboard with, as the days of flicking through old photo albums to find pictures of yourself as a dribbling four year old seem all but lost. Google will recommend books to you for various collections of pictures and prices start at $9.99. It seems like a bit of a step backwards to have actual, printed pictures, but perhaps Google are just trying to appeal to the old people.
Future VR headsets from Google’s partners HTC and Lenovo will no longer require the users’ smartphones like the current, somewhat neglected, Daydream headset. The future headset will instead track virtual space with Google’s ‘WorldSense’ and is powered by its Tango AR system, meaning no smartphone is required. This also means users can walk around while wearing the headset, instead of having to remain in the same place like they currently do.
Google are yet to confirm a release date, but we’re looking forward to seeing their hopefully more successful venture into the world of VR.
VPS — Visual Positioning System
We already use GPS on an almost daily basis, but there’s real limits when it comes to accuracy. VPS is Google’s way of pinpointing our location down to just a few centimetres. Similar to the future VR headset, VPS will use 3D visualisation technology, Tango. It will search for recognizable objects around you to work out where you are.
If you’re anything like us you’re probably wanting a real-world example of when this would actually come in useful, and Google’s head of VR Clay Bavor gave a surprisingly decent one. Users could essentially use VPS to find the exact location of a product in a large shop. Currently we can use GPS to find the door, but VPS will actually find us specific objects. This solves yet another problem we didn’t really know we had — although we can see this putting department stores out of business, as people might end up only buying what they actually went in there for.