MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that there are now 2 billion active devices based on the company’s Android software and touted the company’s new AI efforts as he took the stage at Google’s annual developer conference on Wednesday.
He also announced a new product called Google Lens, which will be part of the Google Assistant for Android phones. Lens can identify objects in the real world for a variety of uses.
“It’s been a very busy year since last year. We’ve been focused on our core mission of organising the world’s information,” he said. He also mentioned that Google’s efforts in AI are solving the world’s problems at scale.
For example, Pichai spoke about how machine learning and AI are being used in the medical and scientific industries to accurately analyse molecules and other big data problems. The company launched google.ai to document these efforts.
Later, Google’s Scott Huffman detailed advances in Google Assistant. Now you can type queries into Google Assistant. But more importantly, the new Lens feature has some of the most impressive new features. You can scan just about anything with your phone’s camera and have Assistant analyse its contents. For example, if you take a photo of a concert venue, you can listen to the artist’s music, buy tickets, and more.
And the big headline: Google Assistant is coming to the iPhone. It’s no longer stuck on Android.
Google is also expanding its third-party support for Google Assistant. Before, third-parties could only build “actions” for the Google Home speaker. Now it will work wherever Google Assistant is, including Android phones and the iPhone.
It also works with transactions. In a demo, Google showed off a Panera Bread integration where the user was able to make an order with her voice. Google claims its just like ordering from a human in the store.
Google Home, the company’s connected speaker, also got some new features. The Assistant inside Home now has proactive alerts, so when you ask it “what’s up” it can send you notifications based on your schedule, like the fact you might have to leave early for your next meeting.
But the big news is that calling is also coming to Google Home, letting you call any number in the US or Canada from the speaker. It’s totally free. This is a big move from Google. Amazon’s Echo can only make calls to other Echos or devices running the Alexa app. Google’s solution appears to be much better since it lets you call any phone number. It can even recognise individual voices so the person your calling will get the appropriate caller ID. Calling will roll out to the Home speaker later this year.
Google also gave updates on Google Photos, Google’s online storage service. It can now suggest photos you might want to share with your friends through facial recognition and other signals to pick out the best photos. Photos also has a new feature that will let you order prints and books of your photos.
As for YouTube, Google updated its Super Chat feature for comments that adds a new layer of interactivity to live videos. Users can pay to have things happen in live broadcasts, and its up to the broadcaster to get creative with it. (YouTube brought out YouTube stars The Slow Mo Guys for a demo of this. They got pelted with a bunch of balloons for $US500.)
Google didn’t forget about Android though. It showed off some features in Android O, the new version of Android coming this fall. It’s not a major update, but there are some new things worth highlighting. For example, you can now use picture-in-picture video, so you can watch video or video chat while doing other stuff on your phone.
Android is getting a new auto-fill feature that knows your password and log-ins for apps so you can sign in with one click. There’s also a new copy/paste feature that can automatically predict, such as an address, the text you likely want to select using machine learning.
But overall, Android O’s improvements help with stuff under the hood like managing battery life and processing power. Most people probably won’t notice it. You can download a beta version of Android O starting Wednesday if you have a Google Pixel phone.
Virtual reality and augmented reality
Then there was virtual reality. Google’s Daydream VR platform now supports standalone headsets, not headsets that need to be powered by smartphones. HTC and Lenovo will be two of the first companies to make standalone Daydream VR headsets that launch later this year.
As for augmented reality, Google is bringing its Tango feature to more Android phones this year. Phones with Tango can accurately map indoor environments. This could be used to help people find things in crowded stores, for example. Google calls this a visual position service, or VPS, since Tango phones use visual cues in their environment to create accurate maps.
And that’s it! Overall, we didn’t see any massive or unexpected news, but we did get a peek at how Google views AI and machine learning as its next major platforms.
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