I recently attended the Google I/O Extended event in Grand Rapids. These events are held across the globe by local developer communities and often include live-streaming sessions, local demos, hackathons, code labs, and more. Grand Rapids has hosted its own I/O Extended events since 2014, and I’ve made it a priority to attend each and every one.
Some amazing announcements have come out of these events. In 2014, Android TV and Android apps for Chromebooks were the big announcements at the time. The next year, Google focused on Android with updating app permissions, improving battery life, USB-C, offline Google Maps, and the announcement of Google Photos. In 2016, the event brought us Allo, Duo, Instant Apps, and Google Home.
The 2017 event introduced a couple topics I’m very excited about: Google Lens and updates to Google Photos.
Google Lens (a Step Toward Augmented Reality)
While a lot of developers and consumers are very excited about Virtual Reality (VR), I am much more excited about the potential that Augmented Reality (AR) can bring to the table. Using a new technology called Google Lens, Google Assistant can now analyze your surroundings to display relevant content to your phone. If you point your phone at a storefront, it'll overlay a Google Maps-type UI on top of the store with reviews, ratings, contact information, etc. You can also take your phone and aim it at various objects (flowers or concert posters, for example), and it will identify and provide relevant information about the object.
There is SO much potential with this technology. If Google can create a device like Google Glass that is a bit more fashionable, combine it with Google Lens, and open it up to developers, there is no telling where it could go. Imagine driving with Google Maps overlaid on top of your vision, or reorganizing a room’s furniture without moving a single thing, running around on a virtual scavenger hunt, or simply playing more games like Pokemon Go.
Google Photos received a few great additions. Announced and released in 2015, Google Photos now has 500 million monthly active users with over 1.2 billion photos uploaded to date. The Google Photos platform is becoming more popular as it ages, and I can only see it continuing to do so with the three new features announced at Google I/O 2017.
The first feature announced was suggested sharing. This feature uses machine learning to suggest photos for sharing and people to share them with. If you take a picture of your spouse, it will ask you if you want to send that picture to said spouse. If you take a picture of your children, it will also ask you if you want to send that picture to your spouse. While sharing isn't anything new, this feature speeds it up and makes it easier to do so.
Shared libraries is another feature. With shared libraries, you can create libraries (or "folders") that are shared with specific people. You can control which photos to share in these libraries: photos from a specific date range, photos of specific people (Google will automatically use facial recognition for that), or you can just choose to share all your photos with another person. When a photo has been shared with another person, they will receive a notification that there are new photos available and they may choose to save them to their own library.
Photo books are now available through Google Photos. Again, using machine learning you can now create photo albums in mere minutes that ship directly to your door. This service is much like those offered by Amazon, Shutterfly, Flickr, Blurb, and Ever. The key difference here is that Google Photos will help you create the albums by filtering out blurry or duplicate photos.
While these are the three big features announced for Google Photos, one other feature was touched on that got a great reaction from the crowd. In the very near future, Google Photos will be able to automatically remove unwanted items in pictures.
- Google Home can now be used as a phone. Over the next few months all Home owners will be able to place calls to the United States and Canada for free. This is done by using a private number initially, but you can link up Google Home to use your mobile number. What's really nice about this feature is that Home will use voice recognition to determine what it should do. Take calling your mom, for example. Home will differentiate between your voice and that of your spouse or partner to call the right “Mom”.
- Daydream is expanding and standalone VR headsets are on the horizon. Google announced partnerships with HTC and Lenovo to create a standalone headset not requiring a smartphone or PC to power the experience. Google also announced that Daydream will soon be available on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, and will also be available on Asus' ZenFone AR to be released later this year.
- Google Assistant is being released to iOS as a competitor to Siri on Apple's own devices. It offers many of the same features and functions as seen on Google's operating system, Android.