Google shows off major new features for Assistant, Android and more at I/O 2018
Google just opened its annual I/O developer conference for 2018, rolling out several big announcements during the opening keynote. We've got news on Android P, Google Maps, Google News, Google Assistant and more – here's what coming to Google's apps and services in the months ahead.
Google stopped short of revealing what dessert Android P will be named after, but it did showcase some of the features coming to the mobile OS later this year. As you might expect, it's getting smarter, learning more about user habits to improve the experience of using a smartphone.
For example, a new feature called Adaptive Battery uses your past habits to work out which apps need to be loaded into memory and which can be dropped to the background. Similarly, the Adaptive Brightness feature learns from the brightness settings you prefer to adjust them automatically through the day.
The same kind of machine learning technology is going to suggest apps as well as app actions that Android P thinks you're likely to use – so you won't just get your email app at the top of the app drawer, you'll get a quick link to send a new email as well.
Android P is also going to introduce a simpler navigation bar, based around swipes and gestures rather than buttons. For example, a double swipe up is replacing the Overview button (the square one). Controls for adjusting media volume and accessing the rotation lock have been simplified too.
There's also a new focus on what Google is calling "digital wellbeing," with a dashboard for showing you how much time you're spending in apps, how many times you're unlocking your phone every day, and more. YouTube is one of the apps that will soon give you the option to have "take a break" messages show up every so often.
Do Not Disturb is improved and easier to use – just turn your phone over to block all but the most important calls – and there's a new Wind Down mode that turns the screen grey when you're supposed to be going to bed, just in case you're tempted to get through another couple of episodes of your favorite online show.
Finally, owners of a Pixel phone and several other select devices can test out Android P in beta form from today. Head to android.com/beta for instructions and to get the software loaded on your device.
Google Assistant and Google Lens
Artificial intelligence and machine learning is key to much of what Google does these days, and the Google Assistant is where a lot of these advances reach users. As well as six new voices for the Assistant, Google had plenty more new features to show off.
For a start, the Assistant will soon be getting more natural in conversation – for example, you won't have to say "Hey Google" at the start of every sentence if you already have the Assistant's attention. You'll also be able to combine multiple requests into the same phrase in the near future.
There's even a new feature for children, with parents able to activate a "Pretty Please" option that means the Assistant will only respond to polite requests, and will reward kids for remembering to say "please" and "thank you."
Perhaps most impressively, Google demoed the Assistant making calls to restaurants and hairdressers to book appointments on your behalf, holding real-life conversations over the phone – almost like having a flesh and blood PA to sort out your appointments for you. That's still some way from a wide release, but it looks promising.
There are also visual improvements coming, to greet the Google Assistant-powered smart displays due to launch in the near future. You'll be able to load up YouTube TV or visual recipe guides, for example. Google also revealed that Assistant will soon be embedded in Google Maps, though it's going to know to stay out of the way of the on-screen directions.
The closely linked Google Lens app is getting regular upgrades too, and is set to become available inside the camera app for Pixel phones as well as phones from the likes of LG and OnePlus in the coming weeks. Google showed off the way that Lens can now select text in an image, guide users towards similar objects, and put answers on screen instantly.
All of which means your Android phone should be able to offer a more personalized and intelligent experience, whether you're trying to find out sports scores or wanting to get information on a painting you're looking at.
Google News and Google Maps
Google News is getting a complete revamp, Google has announced: the new-look app on the web and mobile is more personalized, with news tailored to your location and your interests. Again, AI and machine learning lies behind the way these stories are picked.
You can now dive deeper into the stories you're really interested in by following Full Coverage links, Google says, which pull up a variety of articles from trusted sources. For bigger stories, you can even go back in time with a new Timeline feature.
Google is also making it easier to subscribe to digital publications through Google News, and to access paywalled content from any device, using the payment information you've registered with Google. It's all wrapped in a fresh-looking, lightweight app, and the new Google News is rolling out now.
There was also time in the keynote for Google to introduce new features for Google Maps. You'll soon be able to see a personalized score for places on the map – not just the star rating left by other users, but a mark that indicates how well you'll like the place based on what Google knows about it and the places you've rated highly in the past.
Walking directions are being improved, with the help of the camera – show Google Maps the scene ahead of you and it'll tell you exactly which way to turn based on what it recognizes on the street. In other words, you won't have to spend five minutes after emerging from a subway station to work out which way is south.
You'll also be able to quickly share places with friends, and see information overlaid on top of the camera view to improve the navigation experience. All of these new features are going to be rolling out to Google Maps in the coming weeks.
Those are the highlights from the opening of I/O, but Google briefly mentioned many other improvements heading to its apps in the short term: There's a Smart Compose option for Gmail, for example, that predicts what you want to say in your messages, as well as Suggested Actions for Google Photos, giving you instant access to quick photo fixes and sharing options.