Google I/O has been absolutely chock full of interesting Android news, so even if you were following along you may have missed some of the highlights. Let’s take a look at all of the biggest news that Google dropped on us this week and if you want to take a deeper dive on anything we’ll have plenty of links to get our full take or watch that section of the keynote to hear what the Googlers had to say in their own words.
Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL
Perhaps the biggest announcement, although also the least surprising, was the launch of the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL. Our full review is still coming, but we’ve got some early impressions to share and a whole lot of photos to see how close the Pixel 3a can come to the Pixel 3. While it’s not just a full Pixel 3 for half the price, it’s definitely a compelling new option in the mid-tier market and Google has already said that there will be more affordable options to come.
Google Nest Hub Max
In other hardware news, Google took the wraps off the Nest Hub Max. This was accompanied by the surprising news that Home products are going to be under the Nest branding going forward. We got to go hands-on with the Nest Hub Max, the bigger screen and addition of a camera and better microphones should open it up to some new use cases versus the original Home Hub.
While we’ve already had two Android Q betas, there were lots of new details about the forthcoming 10th major Android OS update and the third Q beta is available to download now. Some of the highlights include an even greater focus on privacy, something that Google made a point of stating that it already excels at in 3rd party studies, but part of this effort is to bring Privacy front and center for the user with a new Privacy settings menu. This is in addition to new privacy notifications for location that will let you know when an app is tracking your location in the background.
On the family security front, Google is updating family link which allows a parent to review all of the apps that are to be installed on the child’s phone, set time limits for apps and total usage for the day along with a lights out time when the device and the child need to shut down for the evening. There’s even an allowance system that lets you grant them additional time if they earn it.
Google is taking another pass at full gestural navigation in Android Q, in our early testing of beta 3 this does seem like an improvement, but it definitely has a way to go before it can be the primary navigation for most users.
The one mostly aesthetic change that is on offer in Android Q is a system-wide dark mode that will be easily accessible from a quick tile or through battery saver.
It’s not a ground-up rebuild by any means, but Android Auto is getting a fairly substantial UI update this year that should be a welcome change to any current or prospective Android Auto users. Overall it is a more intuitive system and does a better job of leveraging what users are already familiar with from Android, check out our hands-on below.
Google Assistant is picking up quite a lot of new tricks this year along with a serious speed boost. Google claims it will be 10x faster and the demo on stage certainly seemed to bear that out with nearly instantaneous responses to each command.
Returning to the car for a moment, one of the major updates for Google Assistant is its behavior in the car with a new driving mode. Rather than having to open Google Maps and address Google Assistant there, you just say “Hey Google, let’s drive” and it will launch a special UI that is geared towards glanceability and voice commands while driving. All phones with Google Assistant will be receiving this update this summer.
Alright, back to the more general updates, the commands now include near complete control over your device along with some incredible multitasking. The demo had the Googler answering text messages, taking photos, pulling up their schedule, transcribing an email and sending it without missing a beat. Assistant was able to understand contextual commands like “Send it” meant to send the email rather than just adding it to the text of the email. It was an astounding demo that you can watch for yourself below.
Live Caption and Live Relay
In the amazing new features category we have Live Caption and Live Relay, these are potentially useful to everyone but are going to be wildly transformative for others. Live Caption will take whatever content is currently playing on your screen and provide a running transcript. This even includes content that you upload to Google Photos.
Live Relay takes this concept and applies it to phone calls for users that can’t or don’t wish to speak over the phone. When triggered it will answer the call similar to call screening with Google Assistant and from there it will transcribe the other side of the conversation and will relay whatever you type using Google Assistant.
Google Duplex seems to have gotten over the initial hump of concern that was expressed when it was first announced and so Google is ready to expand it a bit further. Duplex will be expanding to the web with the added ability to book rental cars and purchase movie tickets. Obviously in this case Duplex isn’t making a call for you, but instead is filling out online forms for you and simply requires you to click confirm when it is done.
There were two major components to what Google showed off with lens. The first was text recognition that has been around for some time now, although it remains incredibly impressive to me, but it just keeps getting better and the ability for your phone to overlay your own language on top of a sign that it is translating and read that sign back to you is simply astounding and an amazing tool for travelers.
The slightly more buzzy feature that they demoed was AR technology that allows you to take 3D modeled AR content from the web and place it in the world around you to give you a better visualization of that content. Some of the examples they used were a shark and a flexing muscle on a skeleton and it’s easy to see how as an educational tool this has incredible value.
What was your favorite thing to come out of Google I/O 2019?