3 things we learned from Google I/O 2018

Alice Loney - 29.05.2018

It’s been a couple of weeks since Google I/O 2018, and there were several big announcements from the internet giant which have now been thoroughly analysed by my fellow geeks across the world wide web, from the latest Android operating system for mobile phones to the impressive tech demo for the new and improved Google Assistant.

The over two-hour keynote talk touched on many different aspects of Google’s services and products, but here’s my thoughts on three of the biggest and more interesting announcements…

Unlocking the power of your phone’s camera

The Google Lens app is being built into phone’s native camera functionality and acting as a powerful visual intelligence layer between users and reality. Whether that is the new smart text selection feature which allows users to select and copy text found in images for use in other applications (handy for scanning business cards straight into your contacts), or the real-time results function that identifies unique points of interest when looking through the camera, Google is empowering users to use their mobile phones to further interact with their environs.

This use of augmented reality (AR) in providing contextualised information about your surroundings is also being further realised in the Street View function of Google Maps, in the form of a visual positioning system that recognises the buildings and landmarks that are in front of it. This richer level of detail taps into Google’s adjacent products and information, providing users with an additional data from reviews, Google My Business and the knowledge graph about the world around them as they traverse the urban jungle.

The key takeaway here is that Google is trying to connect all the dots and leverage the huge amounts of information it has at its disposal, and provide it as efficiently and seamlessly as possible to end-users. In this case, via AR through phone cameras.

Safeguarding your digital wellbeing

You what now? Yes, the online-know-it-all is taking steps to ensure our ‘digital wellbeing’ when it comes to their mobile phone operating system (OS). Currently known only as Android P, the next incarnation of the Android OS will now include a new core interface that uses iPhone-like navigation gestures and smarter ways to access functions that are usually buried away inside apps, while its flagship addition is what has been labelled the “Digital Wellbeing Dashboard”.

The core push of Android P is to give users more control over their device usage, to wrestle back control from ‘digital distractions’ and get more from your phone while using it less. The Digital Wellbeing Dashboard provides users data on how they’re spending time on their device, including the time spent in apps, how many times they’ve unlocked their phone, and how many notifications they’ve received. Furthermore, users will be able to set themselves limits, for example only 45-minutes of Facebook usage per day. Once you’re close to reaching your allotted limit a notification appears warning you that you’re nearly out of time. When you’ve hit your self-imposed cap, the app is “paused.” A paused app has a grayscale icon on your home screen and it won’t actually open in Android P. Instead, a pop-up displays and telling you that you’ve reached your limit, and the pop-up doesn’t offer the ability to “un-pause.” To do that, you’ll have to go through the ‘hassle’ of opening up the dashboard app and altering your settings.

It will come as no surprise that our mobile phones have become extensions of ourselves, a way of connecting and engaging with others, while simultaneously staring into our handheld screens at the exclusion of those around us. Android P is Google acknowledging that our pocket-sized supercomputers with all their bells and whistles are addictive, but ultimately being used frivolously and excessively.

Google can do it for you

One of the most discussed demos from this year’s conference has to be that of the Google Duplex Voice Assistant booking a haircut appointment. If you haven’t seen it, go and check it out (we’ll wait…)

This really showcases how far natural language processing has come under Google’s guise, from the casual “mm-hmmm” given by the AI voice assistant to being able to understand the more colloquial elements of a spoken interaction with an actual human being. When the hairdressers proffers a 1:15pm appointment the voice assistant is capable of recognising that this does not satisfy the instruction it was given, and instead books a more suitable time for the appointment.

It’s not just the voice assistant that is now doing things for you – Gmail is now capable of autocompleting sentences as you type an email. The logical next step for ‘smart replies’, Smart Compose as it’s known, is capable of making contextual suggestions, for example it may suggest “Have a great weekend!” as a closing phrase for a Friday email, or it will suggest appropriate email openings (Hi Jane) based on the email recipient.

This is another an example of Google looking to make our digital experiences as efficient as possible, and this feels like a trend we can expect to continue in the coming years. Android P wants users to spend less time engorged by their phones, while other Google products, such as Gmail and the Google Assistant, are acting on our behalf, freeing us as humans up to enjoy the world around us.

If you want to learn more about the technology creating ripples in your industry, and need a helping navigating the choppy waters, give Fireworx a call.