During a two-hour period to kick off its annual I/O developer conference, Google announced a million things. Rather than dancing around it, let’s get right to the meat of Google’s presentation.
This year’s Google I/O was best described as “the one when they show off the new version of Android.” Android 13 isn’t a major redesign of the Android experience; instead, it appears to be more of an incremental step forward than the major update that Android has received in previous years. However, some of the new features are quite interesting.
For starters, features like app icons that match your UI theme and the ability to specify different default languages for individual apps that we already knew about from beta builds are now available. Google Wallet, a new catch-all spot to store things like credit cards, immunization cards, student IDs, digital vehicle keys, driver’s licenses, and even Disney World park passes, is among the more substantive features. Yes, there’s a lot.
However, Google didn’t spend much time discussing Android 13’s specific phone features. This year, multi-device functionality was a key focus. This includes a nicer tablet user interface with a taskbar across the bottom of the screen, split-screen multitasking, and a great multi-column message display that shows all conversations on the left side of the screen and whichever chat you’re looking at on the right.
There will also be improved casting features for beaming videos from tablets to TVs and copying and pasting text from a phone to a tablet. Emergency SOS features are now being added to smartwatches in case you are stuck without your phone.
Pixel 6a (and 7!)
In terms of hardware, Google debuted the Pixel 6a phone during I/O, which was widely anticipated. This is a cheaper, slightly degraded version of last year’s Pixel 6, like with prior Pixel A-series phones. You’ll still get the same horizontal camera bar across the back and the same Tensor processor that made the Pixel 6 so reliable, but for $450 less. The most of the compromises are in the form of display cutbacks (60Hz instead of 90Hz; 6.1 inches instead of 6.4 inches), but this appears to be a pretty robust mid-range smartphone, just like prior Pixel A-series phones.
Google also played a dirty trick on every tech blogger who thought they knew what was coming by giving us a sneak glimpse at the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, both of which will be released this fall. This was a brief sneak peek, with little more than confirmation that the camera bar will be altered and that a newer version of the Tensor chip will be included. But it was enough to make anyone covering the Google I/O event nervous.
Pixel Buds Pro
Google’s previous excursions into the wireless earbuds market have been unimpressive, with the most recent Pixel Buds from last year offering little more than a low $100 price tag and decent sound quality. Thankfully, when the Pixel Buds Pro come in July, it appears like we’ll get something much better.
Google’s Pixel Buds have been reinvented with a smaller form factor and active noise suppression for $199. The second addition is the most significant, as the earlier Pixel Buds let in a significant amount of ambient noise, and ANC has been standard fare on wireless earbuds in recent years. The battery life has also been increased from five to eleven hours (or seven with ANC turned on).
Pixel customers appear to be getting their own version of the AirPods Pro.
Google wasn’t joking around with all that hardware compatibility. Yes, Google is developing its own wearable, dubbed Pixel Watch.
Because both devices are slated to ship this autumn, this presentation was a tease on par with the Pixel 7 reveal. Pixel Watch is powered by Tensor and features a circular watch face on a stainless steel body with interchangeable watch bands. It’s also fully connected with Fitbit for health and wellness tracking (you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Google bought Fitbit two and a half years ago).
Google Wallet, Google Maps, and Google Smart Home are all natively supported on Pixel Watch. In a few months, we’ll probably find out how much it costs.
If you’ve been thinking to yourself, “You know, these fall product launches are just a bit too soon for my liking,” let me suggest something that won’t be available until 2023. If that’s the case, meet the Pixel Tablet.
This was the most vague tease of all in a string of ambiguous teases. Google offered us a sneak peek at the Pixel Tablet, and it looks like…well, a tablet. Apart from that, Google stated that it, like the rest of Google’s hardware, runs on Tensor. So far, that’s all we know. Expect to hear a lot more about the Pixel Tablet next year.
Better-looking Google Meet calls
An AI improvement feature for Google Meet calls was one of the minor (but still fascinating) things Google showed off during I/O. In Google Meet, Google’s clever machine learning technology will be able to improve the way your camera feed appears to others, so anyone who has been suffering with chronically poor lighting for the previous two years should benefit.
Immersive View in Maps
At I/O 2022, Google Maps received another cool new feature called Immersive View. It provides users with a soaring, 3D overhead perspective of supported places that is claimed to be more immersive than the existing satellite view available in Maps. It also works in some interior settings, such as restaurants, if you want to see how much seating is available before heading out for the evening.
By the end of 2022, Google says Immersive View will be available in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Tokyo, and London.
New Translate languages
This year’s Google I/O speech focused on how the company is attempting to accommodate all types of people, both in terms of dialect and physical appearance. For starters, Google Translate now supports 24 new languages, including Quechua and Aymara, which are the first indigenous languages from the Americas to be included.
Google also revealed expanded support for varied skin tones utilizing the 10-point Monk Skin Tone (or MST) scale developed by Harvard professor Dr. Ellis Monk, in addition to more linguistic representation. Most people’s skin tones should, in theory, fall somewhere along this range, which Google is making available as a free open-source development tool right now.
One example Google provided for how this would appear for users right now is the ability to optimize beauty searches in Google Images by skin tone, so those with darker complexion won’t be bombarded with makeup ideas meant for people with lighter skin. That’s just one example of how MST could be used to improve the internet experience for people who have previously been underrepresented.
More naturalistic Google Assistant conversations
Google Assistant has been updated to make it easier for consumers to communicate with their gadgets. Google is releasing a new “look and talk” function for the Google Nest Hub Max smart home gadget in the near future. This feature eliminates the need to start every enquiry with “Hey Google,” instead allowing the gadget to begin listening to you as soon as you make eye contact. All you have to do now is lock eyes with the Nest Hub Max and ask for the weather.
In the long run, Google said it’s working on methods to make Assistant more sensitive to genuine conversational blunders. Unintentional pauses, saying “hmm,” and other things that occur throughout a discussion should eventually be identified by Assistant so that they don’t break your queries.