Nothing but the hits: Google I/O

Today kicked off Google I/O, which is their big yearly developer conference. Their keynote was not expected to have any groundbreaking announcements in it, but I think that there was plenty to get excited about. The company is really doubling down on some of my favorite services, and I’m generally enthusiastic about the direction that the company heading in. If you are someone who uses Google a lot as a means to search, store photos, or get work done, this conference had something for you.

Here are some of the big announcements from the keynote:

AI is here — get used to it

Google already uses AI when you go to search for a restaurant — by combining location services, your past searches, user reviews, and a number of other variables, almost instantaneously popping a bunch of results on your screen. In fact Google is using AI every time you make a search, which is how it can often complete an inquiry for you when you are still typing the first word in — sometimes with scary levels of accuracy.

The battle that most of the tech giants are currently fighting is who can develop the best AI and get it on the most devices, first. This is where we get to the first big announcement from I/O.

Google Assistant on iPhone

The only time I’m actually fully vested into Google’s ecosystem is when I’m on my phone, but the next phone I end buying will probably be the fancy new, bezel-less iPhone that has been rumored. Well, it appears I won’t have to worry about having use Siri when I make the switch because Google today announced that Assistant is available on iOS.

Here’s a video of Dieter Bohn showing it off for The Verge:

As someone who uses both Siri and Google Assistant, I can tell you that getting Assistant on iOS devices is a really good thing. Assistant is just a lot better at recognizing peoples voices, and being able to hold a conversation with the user. A couple of months ago I was able to ask Google when a rock show was happening near my place, after it gave me results I was able to add that event to my calendar and book tickets for that event in the same search. That’s just something that I have never been able to do with Siri. Half of the time I struggle with getting answers to simple questions like what is on TV tonight.

As someone who loves Apple hardware, and the reliability of the iOS and OSX platforms, but prefers working with Google Services todays keynote was pretty exciting. Now if Google could only get some of their services to work on the Amazon Echo devices I would be a truly happy man.

Google Photos just keeps getting better

Today Google announced new ways to share photos that will further widened the gap between themselves and other services. I am going to a wedding this weekend, and will probably take a bunch of pictures. Photos is now able to recognize and group photos of individuals together for easy sharing. So if my aunt texts me after the wedding asking for photos of her kids, the Photos App will have those pictures ready to share without me having to go through hundreds of pictures. It’s a nice time saver and a feature that I know I’ll actually want to use.

The Photos team are also fine tuning the way in which people can share their libraries. The idea of sharing digital photo libraries isn’t new, but you will soon be able to do things like allow certain family members to see pictures you take of your kids, and Photos will be able to separate those photos from the rest of your personal library to share.

They are also adding a shuttefly-like surface that allows you to easily package albums together and print them, either in hardcover or softcover. This seems like a non-terrible way to take and print amateur engagement pictures, or put together that holiday album gift for your grandma. It’s a neat feature that I don’t see myself taking advantage of any time soon.

The biggest advancements in photos however is tied to perhaps my favorite new tech they announced:

Google Lens

Being able to see photos from someone’s trip, clicking on a photo of a restaurant that looks particularly good and instantly having reviews, a menu, and contact info of the establishment is a travelers dream. Don’t even get me started on how exciting it would be to be able to point my camera at a router and instantly get Wifi access. There is nothing more annoying than having to write down a router password every time I’m staying at a friends place. These are small quality-of-life improvements, but you can see where this is all heading.

There’s a couple of ways to look at all of this. You may not want Google to know who all of your friends are, even if it helps organize your photo library. You may not want to know what’s behind the door of that obscure looking restaurant your friends have raved about. The idea of having a company know who all of your friends and family are, or having access to your exact whereabouts at any given moment simply by giving it access to your photo stream is a little off-putting. These are the questions we have to ask ourselves about opting into technology in the 21st century.

I want to live in a world where I can have my phone DVR a television show, RSVP to the new barbecue place my friends were at last night, order coffee beans to be delivered next week and text my mom happy birthday all in the same interaction. It’s services like Google Assistant that are making that future a reality. It’s services, not hardware, that I am most excited about going into the future, and Google is at the forefront of a lot of those services. We may as well do your best to enjoy the benefits of AI before it becomes self aware, and the terminators come for us all.

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