The annual Google I/O Conference conference got off to a big start Tuesday with a keynote session rolling out new hardware, software, innovations, and upgrades that had attendees and media observers on their feet with excitement.
The biggest – and most anticipated – hardware announcement at the Google I/O Keynote was the new Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL phones, which trade performance and extras for affordability, coming in several hundred dollars under their more feature-rich predecessors. And the audience was very appreciative of a 3.5mm headphone jack, missing and sorely missed from earlier Pixel phones. Google dropped the processor’s strength, put a 64GB limit on available storage and removed waterproofng and wireless charging capabilities to get the price down and free up space for the headphone jack.
On the software side, Google stunned Google I/O keynote attendees with the news that it had sweated its massive voice recognition down to a size that could easily run on the phone, with or without an internet connection. Live Captions, which will release sometime in the coming year, allow users to read locally-generated captions of almost any kind of video. It’s sister product Live Relay lets the user make phone calls using Google Assistant and caption the incoming call on the fly, but is still in the research phase and its possible release date is not known.
The Google I/O keynote also offered a lot of news on Android Q, the latest version of Google’s smartphone OS. The beta 3 version is now available, and it includes the highly anticipated “Dark Theme,” which darkens the screen colors for almost all apps, greatly extending battery life.
Building on last year’s release of Digital Wellbeing, there is a new suite of changes aimed at helping users avoid overuse, including a new “Focus Mode” that lets users disable apps and turn off notifications, and new features for “Family Link,” including the ability for parents to set time limits for usage of specific apps and see how what apps their kids are spending the most time on.
Also in the privacy vein, the Google Maps app will now offer “incognito mode,” which does not save any local search data, and allows users to automatically delete all their location, web and app data every several months, or manually on demand.
Google Lens has new updates, including the ability to point the camera at a menu and having it display the most popular dishes and allowing the user to drill down into pictures and descriptions of the meal. Do the same for the receipt, and it will automatically calculate a tip and how to divide the total between diners. It also will offer the ability to translate any text on the fly, with the translation superimposed over the original text with a matching font, size and color.
One of the more visually impressive demos during the Google I/O keynote highlighted the inclusion of augmented reality in some search results. A Google presenter searched on “great white shark,” and was able to project a 3D shark over the phone’s view of the stage. This will not be available for all searchable content, of course, but will allow content providers to add such models to their content.
Another hardware upgrade announcement was that the Google Nest line will now include the Nest Hub, a combination camera, smart display and stereo speakers. The device has a 10″ screen, a 3″ increase over previous models. With the “Face Match” feature The built-in camera will be able to recognize the user and offer a personalized interface, including the ability to video chat or play music or videos. The face recognition is done locally, so no data leaves the device.
The conference, whose breakout sessions are targeted at Google developers, runs through Thursday.