Google announced what felt like a million things across a two-hour keynote to begin its annual I/O developer conference. Instead of dancing around it, let’s jump right into all the biggest things Google showed off.
Google I/O is best understood as “the one where they show off the new version of Android” and that held true this year. Android 13 isn’t a huge overhaul of the Android experience, as it looks to be more of an iterative step forward than the big Android update it might be in other years. However, some of the additions are pretty neat.
For starters, some of the things we already knew about from beta builds, like app icons taking on the color of your UI theme and the ability to set different default languages for different apps, are all here. The more meaty stuff includes Google Wallet, a new catch-all place to store things like credit cards, vaccine cards, student IDs, digital car keys, driver’s licenses, and even Disney World park passes. Yeah, it’s a lot.
Google didn’t spend much time talking about Android 13’s specific perks for phones, though. The big emphasis this year was on multi-device functionality. This includes a better UI for tablets that includes a taskbar across the bottom of the screen, split-screen multitasking, and a nice multi-column view for messages that shows every conversation on the left side of the screen and whichever conversation you’re looking at on the right.
There will also be better casting functionality for beaming videos from tablets to TVs, or copying text on a phone and pasting it onto a tablet. Smartwatches are also getting emergency SOS features in case you get in a jam without your phone on you.
It’s almost like Google wants to make a bunch of different hardware products or something. More on that later.
Pixel 6a (and 7!)
Speaking of hardware, Google showed off the everyone-knew-this-was-coming Pixel 6a phone at I/O. Like previous Pixel A-series phones, this is a cheaper, somewhat downgraded version of last year’s Pixel 6. You’ll still get the same horizontal camera bar across the back and the same Tensor chip that made the Pixel 6 such a steady performer, but for the low price of $450. Downgrades mostly come in the form of display cuts (60Hz instead of 90Hz; 6.1 inches instead of 6.4 inches), but for the most part, this looks to be a very solid mid-range device just like previous Pixel A-series phones were.
Google also pulled a dirty trick on every tech blogger who thought they knew what was coming and gave us an early peek at the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, both slated to launch this fall. This was a very slight preview, with little more than confirmation that the camera bar will look different and that it will include a newer version of the Tensor chip. But it was just enough to stress out anyone who had to cover the I/O keynote live.
Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
Pixel Buds Pro
Google’s former forays into the wireless earbuds game have been a little underwhelming, as the most recent Pixel Buds from last year had little to offer beyond a cheap $100 price point and decent sound quality. Thankfully, it looks like we’ll get something much better when the Pixel Buds Pro launch in July.
For $199, Google reimagined the Pixel Buds with a smaller form factor and active noise cancellation. The latter inclusion is the biggest improvement of all, as the previous Pixel Buds let a good deal of ambient noise in and ANC has become standard fare on wireless earbuds in the last couple of years. Battery life has also been juiced up considerably, from five hours to 11 (or seven with ANC turned on).
It looks like Pixel owners will finally have their own version of AirPods Pro.
Google wasn’t just teasing all that hardware interoperability as a goof. Yes, Google is making its own smartwatch and yes, it’s called Pixel Watch.
This reveal was a tease on a similar level to the Pixel 7 reveal, as both devices are expected to launch this fall. Pixel Watch runs on Tensor, has a circular watch face on a stainless steel body, and will offer customizable watch bands. It’s also fully integrated with Fitbit (you’d be forgiven for forgetting Google bought Fitbit two and a half years ago) for health and wellness tracking.
The Google Wallet, Google Maps, and Google Smart Home apps all work natively on Pixel Watch, as well. We’ll presumably find out how much it costs in a few months.
If you’ve been reading this and thinking, “You know, these fall product launches are just a little too soon for my liking,” may I interest you in something that won’t be out until 2023? If so, meet the Pixel Tablet.
In a stream full of vague teases, this was the most tease-y one of them all. Google gave us a brief glimpse of what Pixel Tablet will look like, and it looks like…a tablet. Aside from that, Google promised it runs on Tensor, like everything else in Google’s hardware portfolio. And that’s all we know so far. Don’t expect to hear much more about Pixel Tablet until next year.
Better-looking Google Meet calls
One of the smaller (but still cool) things Google showed off at I/O was an AI enhancement feature for Google Meet calls. Google’s fancy machine learning tech will be able to enhance the way your webcam feed looks to others in Google Meet, so anyone who’s been dealing with chronically dim lighting for the past two years should get some assistance here.
Just a reminder that it’s always an option to just aim a ring light at your face, too.
Nifty new search options
Of course, Google wouldn’t be Google without its signature search engine that we all use to navigate the internet every day. The 2022 edition of I/O didn’t bring tons of amazing new Google search features, but the new “multi-search near me” function should at least make our lives a little more convenient.
Google already lets you search with both images and text at the same time (such as including a picture of a leaky faucet with a search for replacement parts), but later this year, you’ll be able to add “near me” to these queries for locally useful results. If you see a dish you don’t know much about online, just multi-search an image of it with “near me” and you’ll find places in your area that serve it.
Beyond that, Google has enhanced visual search with a new “search within a scene” feature. It’s pretty simple: You can pan your camera across a busy scene (like a grocery store aisle) and get information about multiple objects within the frame now. It’s never been easier to compare different brands of ranch dressing.
Immersive View in Maps
Google Maps got another neat new feature at I/O 2022 called Immersive View. It gives users a soaring, 3D overhead perspective of supported locations that’s supposed to be, well, immersive compared to the current satellite view you can use in Maps already. It also works in some indoor locations, like restaurants, in case you want to get a detailed view of how much seating is available before going out for the night.
Google says Immersive View will rollout in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Tokyo, and London by the end of 2022.
New Translate languages and more diverse skin tone options
Google spent a good chunk of its I/O keynote this year talking about how it’s trying to accommodate different types of people, both in terms of dialect and physical appearance. For starters, 24 new languages have been added to Google Translate, including the first-ever inclusion of indigenous languages from the Americas, such as Quechua and Aymara.
In addition to more linguistic representation, Google also announced broader support for diverse skin tones using the 10-point Monk Skin Tone (or MST) scale developed by Harvard professor Dr. Ellis Monk. Ideally, most people’s skin tones should fit somewhere in this scale, which Google is offering as a free open-source development tool starting now.
As for how this will manifest for users right now, one of the examples Google gave is that you’ll be able to refine makeup searches in Google Images by skin tone, so people with darker skin won’t be overwhelmed with makeup suggestions meant for people with light skin. That’s a small example of how MST could be used to make the online experience better for folks who have been under-represented in the past.
More naturalistic Google Assistant conversations
Credit: Zlata Ivleva / Mashable
For people who like to talk to their devices, Google showed off a slew of improvements to Google Assistant. In the near term, Google is immediately rolling out a new “look and talk” feature for the Google Nest Hub Max smart home device. As its name suggests, this feature removes the need to begin every query with “Hey Google,” instead making the device start listening to you as soon as you make eye contact. Just lock eyes with the Nest Hub Max, ask for the weather, and you should be golden.
In the long term, Google announced it’s working on ways to make Assistant more responsive to natural slip-ups in conversation. Unintended pauses, saying “um,” and other things that happen in the course of any conversation should eventually be recognized by Assistant in such a way that they won’t disrupt your queries anymore.
Digital privacy is obviously only becoming more important over time and Google spent much of its I/O keynote talking about that. One of the more intriguing new features Google showed off is “virtual cards.” You know how you can save credit card info on Chrome or in Google Wallet? With virtual cards, auto-filling that info into a payment form will also add another fake credit card number on top of that so your payment goes through without your actual credit card number going out into the dangerous online wilderness.
American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and Capital One card holders in the U.S. will get this option starting this summer.
Remove private info from Google search
Last but not least, Google added a feature it probably should’ve added a long time ago: The ability to quickly and manually remove personal info about yourself from Google searches.
If you’ve ever Google searched your own name, you might have been shocked by just how much of your life shows up for all to see. Home addresses, phone numbers, and more are terrifyingly easy to find on Google. With this new feature, you’ll be able to make a quick removal request and monitor the status of said request afterward. There’s no guarantee it’ll successfully get done, but this is still better than having no control over your personal info at all.
Whew! Got all of that? Google I/O 2022 was long, exhausting, and comprehensive, but for Google die-hards and general internet users alike, there’s plenty to chew on here. Here’s to hoping we never have to look at another dimly lit Google Meet call ever again.