Google I/O is the company’s big spring event, where it can show off new software and hardware customers and developers alike can look forward to. This year’s I/O was over two hours long, and was almost all about AI. That shouldn’t be surprising, but when the leaks talked so much about the new Google Pixel Fold, you might not expect this much artificial intelligence talk.
Still, AI is the talk about the tech town, and it’s certainly on Google’s mind. Check out what the company is working on, including AI integrations with Google Maps, Docs, and Android, as well as exciting hardware news like the Pixel Fold and Pixel Tablet.
AI features for existing Google apps
Help Me Write invites you to type in a prompt on your email, like, “ask for a full refund,” and the feature writes a whole draft for you based on that idea. You can refine messages, too, with preset options, like “Elaborate,” which produces longer messages. This feature will come out as part of a Workspace update.
Immersive View is a Google Maps feature that lets you check out cities in realistic 3D. Soon, Google will introduce “Immersive View for routes.” With it, you can see a birds eye view of any given route, with an impressive 3D visualization. That includes things like weather effects and traffic effects, so you can see what your trek might look like at any given time. This will roll out over the summer, and will be in 15 cities by the end of the year.
AI is coming next to Google Photos with Magic Editor. This feature can quickly edit photos in impressive ways: You can brighten a scene, add clouds, even move subjects to a different part of the frame. In their demo photo, a child was off center, holding a bunch of balloons that were cut off in the corner. The demonstrator moved the kid to the center of the photo, and Magic Editor digitally added the rest of the balloons and moved the bench the kid was on. Magic Editor comes later this year to select Pixel devices.
What’s coming to Bard?
Bard is Google’s AI chatbot, most similar to Microsoft’s Bing Chat. Google announced a lot of new updates to its big venture into consumer-facing AI.
Bard now knows over 20 coding languages: You can ask it for help writing code, or ask it to explain what specific lines of code do. Bard now has a dark theme (this announcement generated a lot of applause). It also works in Gmail and Google Docs.
Another big update concerns images: Bard now uses images in its results, and lets you prompt the AI with images. Even better, Lens is coming to Bard, so you can analyze any photo with AI.
When you search with Bard, you’ll be able to add new data columns to your results. If you ask the AI for a list of colleges that suit your particular interests and needs, you can then follow up and have it list which of those colleges are public or private. Then, you can ask it to move the whole result to Sheets.
Bard integration might prove pretty useful when working in Google apps. You can ask the AI to create a draft of something like a job description using a simple prompt in Docs. In Sheets, the “Help me organize” prompt can create detailed tables based on a simple sentence. In Slides, you can use AI to quickly create and insert AI images, powered by Adobe Firefly, and can even change style. In addition, Japanese and Korean are now supported, and Bard is on track to support 40 languages “soon.”
Sidekick is a useful new AI feature that helps you get more done in your Google apps. It analyzes a Google Doc and offers suggestions for where to go next. It can read an entire email thread, and summarize what’s going on. For example, you can ask it to write a note about the dishes people are bringing to a pot luck, and it will give you a summary with sources so you know it’s pulling the right info from the email thread. (We don’t want to get stuck with suggestions based on hallucinations.)
Finally, Sidekick in Slides lets you do things like automatically create speaker notes on a slideshow. They might be a bit cold and stiff, and make you sound like a robot, but they’ll give you a good starting point to work from.
AI in Search
Google is also integrating AI directly in search: It can give you a breakdown of different products when doing your research for something to buy. You can then choose an extended question, like “Ask a follow up,” which brings you into “Conversational” mode. That lets you chat with the AI to get you closer to the result you want. It’s very reminiscent of Microsoft’s Bing Chat.
Google also highlighted some new projects it’s working on in Labs. For example, there’s Project Tailwind, an AI-based notebook that can summarize text, come up with bullet points, look for key concepts, and create questions that help you learn from the source material. You can join the waitlist today from Google’s Labs website.
Privacy and security
Google is adding new tools to help you identify whether an image is AI-generated. That’s huge: While many AI images are obviously not real (check the hands), sometimes it can be tricky to tell. In addition, Google is supporting new metadata that will label images as AI generated.
To kick off the updates to Android, Google announced WhatsApp will be coming to WearOS this summer, which will make it easier to communicate with your WhatsApp friends and family without taking out your phone.
There’s also a big Find My Device update: The app now supports headphones, tablets, and more, building a similar network to Apple’s Find My. These devices communicate with other Android devices to update their location in real time. Tile works with the Find My Device network as well, which makes the product more compelling.
Google and Apple are also working together for once, to help prevent Find-My-based stalking. There are now “unknown tracker alerts” on Android, which will warn you if a device you don’t know is following you. This update will arrive later this summer.
Android also has its fair share of AI updates. There’s Magic Compose, which uses AI to rewrite your messages to add more context or change the tone. You can also use AI to create wallpaper from prompts, which will help make wholly unique and custom wallpapers. Of course, Material You will adapt to the color scheme of this new wallpaper, as it does with other wallpaper choices. This feature is coming in the fall.
Also new is the ability to change the lock screen clock, and the option to use emoji to build a custom wallpaper with different patterns and colors. “Cinematic wallpaper” adds 3D motion effects to a wallpaper photo. These changes are coming next month.
After over an hour and a half, Google finally addressed the hardware side of the event, which it spent surprising little time on. After recapping its current tech, like the Pixel Camera, and popular features like Pixel Speech, the company unveiled the Pixel 7a: It’s powered by the Tensor G2 chip and 8GB of RAM. It comes in four colors (Coral, Sea, Charcoal, and Snow), with a 6.1-inch 1080p display that runs at a smooth 90Hz. Google is proud of the new camera, which is says has a 72% larger main camera sensor than the 6a. The phone starts at $499, and is available starting today.
Google also talked more about the Pixel Tablet: Like the 7a, it uses the Tensor G2 chip with 8GB of RAM, and comes with up to 256GB of storage. It has a 1600p 10.95-inch display, and comes with a charging dock, which makes it easier to use as a smart home display. It uses a finger print sensor for unlocking, and offers multiple user profiles (looking at you, iPad), and even comes with Chromecast built-in. Google makes it with three colors (Porcelain, Hazel, and Rose), and starts the pricing at $499.
Finally, Google announced the Pixel Fold, the company’s first foldable, and the device most people were eager to see in action (despite the leaks). Google touts it as the thinnest foldable and phone on the market (when unfolded). It has a 5.8-inch display on the front, and a 7.6-inch display when unfolded. It’s IPX8 water resistant, which means it can withstand water up to one meter for 30 minutes, but isn’t rated against dust.
Since it’s a foldable, you can do things with the Fold you can’t do with a normal phone, like the Pixel 7a. You can use it as a tripod by folding it halfway, which will be great for selfies and perhaps quick video production. You can use both displays at once to turn the Fold into a live translation tool, which makes it easy to have a conversation with someone in another language.
You can also easily transition from the small display to the unfolded screen. Google calls this “continuity”: You can be watching a video on the smaller display, for example, then open up the Fold and watch the video on the big screen without it pausing.
The Fold takes inspiration from Android’s tablet controls, including the dock, drag-and-drop multitasking, split keyboard, two-panel shade for notifications and system controls. You can play a video in the top half of the foldable while controls rest on the bottom. You can also use the smaller front display as a viewfinder for the rear camera, so you can take a higher-quality selfie.
Google lists the new Pixel Fold for pre-order starting today, and ships it next month. It’s very expensive, starting at $1,799. It’s the same price as the Galaxy Z Fold, but still: Ouch! That said, it does come with a Pixel Watch for free, if that sways you one way or another.