Google’s annual I/O event generally includes a focus on either hardware or software, but this year we got a healthy combination of the two. The company announced new Pixel handsets, an updated smart home hub, and a bunch of Android Q announcements (which are more South African friendly). The company also announced general updates coming to the Google Assistant, Google Maps, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Would you like to know more? Then read on, trooper. Maybe make a cup of tea first, this is long one.
The budget Pixels
Do you know what this is? Just another Pixel iteration that we can’t get our hands on. With ease, that is. The newly-announced budget Pixel 3A and 3A XL start at $400 (rounded up to R5,800), and they arrive with the advanced camera features that their older siblings are known for. Don’t know what we’re on about? The Pixel range is renowned for its features like Night Sight, Super Res Zoom, and portrait mode on both the rear- and front-facing sensors. The new additions include all these features. Only better, cos they’re newer.
You do lose a few premium features with the budget spec, however. The Pixel 3A/3A XL lose features like waterproofing and wireless charging. The quality of images uploaded to Google Cloud from the Pixel 3A devices will also be limited to high-quality instead of full-res. Cheeky, Google, Cheeky.
Like previous Pixels (and other Google hardware), we won’t see these handsets officially distributed in South Africa. But, as always, there are means to get your hands on one if you really want one (and if you’re willing to cover import costs, or have a buddy in the States who visits fairly often, or are prepared to roll the dice with lesser-known local online retailers that dabble in grey imports).
The Nest Hub Max
Google has decided to rebrand its Google Home/Hub line, bringing it under the Google Nest umbrella, and has announced a new product for the line: The Nest Hub Max. Remember the Google Hub the company announced last year? It’s an upgrade to that device, including a built-in camera that doesn’t spy on you. Apparently.
The Next Hub Max is essentially a combination of the Nest camera, Google Home Hub, and the Google Home Max, and it offers a security camera, a smart display, and loudspeakers.
The addition of a camera gives it the ability to use facial recognition to bring up personalised results for specific members of the family. All the camera-processing happens on-board the device (so we’re told), so no facial data is transmitted over the web. And again — we have no indication that it’s coming to SA at this stage. Probably not at all. Officially. But GeeWiz brings in other Google Home kit, so you might be able to get one there… though remember that’s not an official, Google-endorsed channel.
Android Q announcements
The Android Q announcements are much more relevant to a South African audience. If you’re not on iOS, you’re on Android. If you’re on Android, there’s a good chance you’ll use Android Q at some stage. Sooner if you’ve got a Nokia. Later if you’ve got a Samsung or LG. So it goes.
The beta is already available, on Pixel devices only (boo hiss), and it now offers a Dark Theme for every standard Android app. You can select the darker app theme manually or turn it on automatically via the battery saver mode. And unlike some other dark-modes, this one is true black, not a dark grey colour. This might reduce battery usage even more, or just bring out the TRVE KVLT in you.
Google will also add a new feature called Focus Mode that lets you select particular apps that you’d like to avoid while, you know, focussing. Android will disable those apps when you turn on Focus Mode. The company also announced that Smart Reply will also be offered in third-party messaging apps.
All the Maps updates
We mention ‘maps’ here because Google announced updates to both Google Maps and Waze at its annual I/O.
As part of Google’s effort to try to minimise location and search tracking (because it really cares about user data privacy), Google Maps will soon gain an Incognito mode for more private searches. This will be available for both the web and on the app, and won’t allow Google to track or save travel data from the Maps history when using this feature.
Remember when Google showed us its new augmented reality mode for Google Maps that shows AR arrows and street names in real time? It’s rolling out to Pixel phones, as it’s been in beta for a while already. If you hold up your phone, you’ll see a camera view of the world in front of you, and Google will draw VR arrows that direct you.
Saying “Hey Google, let’s drive” will now shift Google Assistant into driving mode. That is a minimalist dashboard view that allows you to quickly make out what’s going on on your device without deeper navigation.
Google Assistant will also be built into the Waze app and will roll out within the next few weeks, according to Google. This’ll allow you to report accidents or the presence of the popo by voice.
Sub that video on Android
To help people make phone calls without having to speak or listen, Live Relay uses on-device speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion, allowing a phone to listen and speak on someone's behalf → https://t.co/6B0X1cF0JT #io19 pic.twitter.com/sqeEUzZY2E
— Google (@Google) May 7, 2019
Google will bring Live Caption to its Android OS. This feature will display live subtitles on videos and other media, and even video chats. This was built for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but it’ll even work for anyone who watches videos in public and want to keep the volume low or off.
You’ll also get Live Relay specifically for day-to-day phone calls. It’ll add a live transcription of the current conversation for anyone who prefers to read or who struggles to understand the person on the other end of the line. We don’t yet know if this will reach SA as soon as it will other countries. But we remain optimistic.
Google Lens also updated
Google Lens will be able to read and contextualise a restaurant menu or any written piece of paper. Lens can now search for specific dishes on said menu and show you images of the chosen dish if you wish.
You’ll also be able to point the camera at a receipt and summon a calculator that allows you to add a tip and split the bill. Or point it at a sign written in a foreign language and hear a text-to-speech translation live. You’ll even be able to point Lens at magazines that Google has partnered with and bring certain images to life.
Talking about the specific languages Lens will be able to recognise, Google says translation will be offered in over ‘a dozen languages’. That’s almost as many as the official languages in SA, so we’ll have to wait and see if it includes any of our languages.
Remember the creepy human-like Duplex lady that placed calls at last year’s Google I/O? Google announced a few updates to its AI tech. The company says Duplex can now pull in your information and navigate the web to book like car rentals and movie tickets. Instead of just confirming a booking for you, users can scan the auto-filled forms to approve what Duplex has filled in before moving forward.
Here we have only looked at the seven most essential Google announcements from this week. The company announced much more, specifically when it comes to software and Google Assistant developments. But you know us, we prefer real, tangible stuff. We’re hoping for a local Google hardware rollout as soon as possible. We need some Pixels and Nests in our life rn.