Here’s the thing with the big yearly presentations from giant tech behemoths such as Google and Apple: Once you start paying attention to them, they all begin to sound the same. They always kick off with a big pitch, when the company clearly states that it wants to be your one-stop shop for everything when it comes to technology, smartphones, online identity, and more. As the presentation continues, the company shows off new devices and technologies that are sure to generate big headlines, causing people to ask some important questions about where technology is headed. These presentations are momentary glimpses into the futures that are being created by the tech companies that dominate our lives in the 21st century. It’s wise for us to follow them so that we can see what’s coming and how we can prepare for it.
At Google I/O 2019, held May 7–9, Google unveiled its plans for 2020. Continuing last year’s theme of using AI that blurs the lines between what is human and what is machine, Google’s central message at this year’s conference was one that can be simply summed up as: Google wants to build technology and hardware that help you accomplish all of the little things in life with greater ease. Over the course of the event, Google laid out all of its goals—big and small—to give us all a clearer picture of just how it will achieve that (and, it hopes, hook us into its always-growing, always-evolving ecosystem of technology, toys, gadgets, and more).
Google surprisingly didn’t have too much of a focus on its various hardware, and instead, for the second year in a row, it concentrated on new features, tweaks, and apps. But that’s not to say it didn’t bring any hardware to the show.
The first major unveiling was dedicated to Google’s flagship phone, the Pixel, and its new budget phones, named the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL. This move into the lower end of smartphones puts Google into direct competition with Apple and its “discounted” iPhone lines. At $399 and $479, respectively, the discount Pixel phones will be sure to make a splash in a smartphone market in which the fancy new thing that comes out yearly just keep getting more expensive—and out of the price range of most people who need a smartphone in their lives.
Another big announcement at I/O 2019 was Nest Hub Max, the next step in the evolution of Google’s in-home smart devices. This tool, with its 10-inch display and built-in Nest Cam, is a tablet for your home that works through Google Assistant. It’s essentially the next stage in the ascendance of the home personal assistant, a device that acts as the HAL 9000 to your home and everything in it.
Speaking of Google Assistant, Google’s Siri and Alexa competitor, it is getting smarter. Throughout the first I/O presentation on May 7, Google Assistant came up numerous times. Features such as smart replies in emails, automatically attaching images and documents, and many more may not be earth-shattering news, but with these quiet updates, Google’s AI is becoming smarter and better at the tasks it was designed to do.
Google even brought Google Duplex back into the limelight. Duplex, which was announced at last year’s I/O conference, is designed to pretend to be a human assistant that can make phone calls for you, set up appointments, and more. Google reminded everyone that Duplex is still coming—and possibly even sooner than expected, with Duplex on the web. This version of Duplex is still very much a beta program and will be limited to booking a car rental and purchasing movie tickets. But it will introduce a wider audience to just how much Google wants Duplex to be at the center of all of those little day-to-day things we do.
There were many other little tidbits of information that Google sprinkled throughout its presentations that are bound to have an impact on our lives. The biggest bit was the announcement of the third beta of the Android Q OS. It will offer dark mode, which is Google’s response to the increasing push to minimize eye strain from the white backgrounds that dominate the internet and other computer software. In addition, Family Link, a formerly standalone app that helps families manage screen time, will now be baked directly into Android Q.
Another gem on Android Q that is sure to have a huge impact is Live Caption. With this feature, all videos—the ones you record on your phone as well as the live videos happening during a video conferencing call—will now have live subtitles. This implementation, helped by Google’s evolving AI focus, will quickly become a great feature to improve participation with videos and the video calls that are becoming more and more of a staple of professional and personal life.
Here Come the Replicants, Part 2
Much like at last year’s I/O conference (click here for my recap), Google is clearly showing that it wants your future to be integrated deeply with its version of the future—in which its products are part of making your day-to-day life a little easier. It’s not just about search, smartphones, or tablets anymore with Google. No, the company isn’t content with that—it wants to be your everything. The question people using this technology should ask, though, is this: Where do you draw the line of having too much technology in your life? Google is pushing a future in which technology is everything. Time will tell whether or not that’s something all of us want.