And here we go.
Historically, Google I/O has been light on hardware announcements–fair enough, given that it’s really intended as a forum to alert developers to what’s coming. This year, though, Google did twin keynotes, one for developers, and one for the hardware enthusiasts. Unless you’re writing code for Android devices, you’re probably not interested in the former at all, and if you are interested, you don’t need me to explain what’s what. So let’s just take a look at the keynote for the rest of us.
Twenty-four new languages in Google Translate. Handy, especially if you’re planning a trip or doing business internationally. And if you’re not, the new languages won’t get in your way; language packs for Translate are optional add-ons.
I have a dubious about the forthcoming “immersive view” for Maps. Putting you at the center of a 3D reproduction of the city you’re navigating–complete with machine-generated interior views of restaurants–sounds both entertaining and fascinating. I can only hope, however, that it only works when you’re on foot. Way too distracting when driving. And Google hasn’t yet figured out how to tell if you’re a passenger or driver without relying on self-reporting.
A bunch of enhancements to YouTube, Google Meet, and Search around video quality and pictures. All cool stuff, and especially the part about incorporating skin tone data to improve video quality and searching while avoiding future iterations of the infamous “gorilla” effect.
Over on the Android side of things, we will, of course, be getting Android 13. The most interesting thing I see coming there is the ability to set different languages for different apps. Mind you, I didn’t say “useful”, though I’m sure many people will find it so. But from the standpoint of being able to customize your device to work better with the way you think, it’s a fascinating tweak. I’m sure Google will be collecting data on how it’s used–what apps most often get set to a different language than the device’s default, for example. I rather hope some of that information gets shared.
Moving on to hardware.
The Pixel 6a, a budget version of the Pixel 6, will be out around the end of July. $449 gets you essentially the same camera as the 6, the same 5G capabilities, and, of course, the same photographic abilities. Including that improved skin tone management as it rolls out across the entire line of Google devices and software.
Improved earbuds, inevitably tagged “Pixel Buds Pro” will also be out at the end of July. Active noise cancellation, of course, and the now-mandatory “transparency mode” to let some outside sound in so you don’t get run over crossing the street. If you remember to turn it on…
Looking a bit further out, probably just in time for the Christmas season, we’ll apparently be getting the Pixel 7. Not much in the way of details on that; I imagine we won’t hear anything much officially until after the Pixel 6a launch. Don’t want to cannibalize the market, after all.
And around the same time, we’ll be getting a Pixel Watch. As rumored. Sounds like Google will be folding much of the Fitbit’s functionality into the watch. That’s a no-brainer if it’s going to compete with the Apple Watch. And, no surprise, tap-to-pay functionality and the ability to control smart devices around the house. Reminder: tap gently. Smart watches are more fragile than the manufacturers would have you believe, and they’re expensive to repair.
Even further in the future–sometime in 2023–Google is going to release a new tablet. Interestingly, they’re not positioning it as a standalone device, but rather as a “companion” to a Pixel phone. Whether that means it’ll primarily act as a large replacement for the phone’s screen or if it will “intelligently” display contextual information to enhance whatever you’re doing on the phone remains to be seen. The former strikes me as rather a niche market; the latter could be very handy. Imagine pulling up a map search for restaurants on the phone and having the tablet immediately start showing menus, reviews, and online ordering, while the phone stays focused on where the places are and how to get there.
Bottom line: Google is innovating. Not in big, “revolutionary” ways, but in little ways. It would be a bit unfair to call what’s coming “evolutionary”, but it’s certainly closer to evolution than revolution. Recent years have seen a lot of “catching up with Apple”. This year seems to be declaring that a done deal and trying some different things to see what sticks.