As it does every year, Google has used its I/O developer event to showcase some of the software upgrades coming to its products over the next 12 months – there was a heavy emphasis on artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as news on more features coming to Android Q.
The OS update is due to be pushed out to Pixel phones and other compatible handsets later this year, and Google demoed several new features today. There's Live Caption, for example, which uses AI to put captions on screen, in front of any video, in real time – helpful for those with hearing impairments and anyone in a quiet environment.
Meanwhile, Smart Reply is expanding from Gmail and Android's native Messages app and will be available in every messaging app running on Android Q. It'll give you access to one-tap responses generated by Google's AI based on the conversation so far.
Also of note is an official Dark Theme, which Google says will save your device's battery life and be easier on your eyes at the same time. There's support for folding phones now too, as well as a variety of smaller tweaks designed to improve security and privacy (these settings are going to be easier to find in Android Q as well).
Android Q will also offer more advanced parental controls, with the option to monitor purchases and put limits on screen time on individual apps if your children are using Android devices (with the option to allow five minute bonuses if those kids really have to finish a level).
Google also introduced a new Focus Mode for Android, which is a sort of simplified Do Not Disturb. When you're trying to focus (hence the name), you'll be able to block a selection of apps (such as social media and email) while allowing other alerts (such as calls and texts) to work as normal.
Focus Mode is going to be available on Android 9 Pie devices too, and some of the new software features that were demoed today aren't exclusive to Android Q. They include the augmented reality mode for walking directions in Google Maps, first shown off last year, which makes directions clearer and is now rolling out more widely.
A new incognito mode is coming to Google Maps and Google Search, for those moments when you want to temporarily stop your location or your searches being logged in your Google account. Google is also introducing new features to make account-wide privacy settings easier to manage overall.
Google Assistant is getting smarter, as it regularly does. Thanks to efficiency improvements in its algorithms, more processing can be done on actual devices, meaning faster responses to questions – Google demoed the Assistant doing everything from replying to texts to opening apps one after the other.
The Assistant is going to be more tightly integrated into Google Maps in the future as well, enabling you to use your voice to play music, deal with incoming calls, and more – so you can make sure your eyes are kept on the road.
We also heard more about Google Duplex, the AI-powered service that makes bookings on your behalf over the phone. Similar technology is coming to the web too, Google has announced, so you can power through tasks like booking a rental car online by using what Google already knows about you (like when your trips are and the sort of cars you prefer).
Almost everything Google mentioned today was underpinned by some form of machine learning, making features like text translation and image recognition faster and more responsive, thanks to improvements Google has made to the underlying technologies. You can expect to hear a lot more about Google's adventures in AI in the coming months.
If you want to test some of these features out in advance, the Android Q beta program is expanding beyond Pixel phones to handsets from OnePlus, Sony, Nokia, LG and others. You can see if your handset is compatible and download the software here, but you do so at your own risk – there will still be plenty of bugs that need ironing out. A full launch should happen in the coming months.
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