Week 21 2017 - Google I/O 2017

It’s obviously that time again where there are major conferences from big companies, so this time it’s Google’s I/O that I’ll be focusing on. All the interesting cloud related announcements were already in Google Cloud Next, so this conference focuses on the consumer applications and platforms.

Google once again made their list of announcements available, but obviously I’ll dive into some of the more interesting items for a quick recap.

Android

Obviously details about the next version of Android, Android O, were released. As expected from a by now mature OS, there aren’t a lot of fancy new features at the OS level. Once again it promises to make things smoother1 and faster. The most interesting part is probably the Smart Copy feature. I’ve mentioned many times that data recognition through machine learning is Google’s strength, and here they seem to deliver on it by having a copy function that recognizes the context. The example given is that it will let you easily copy an address without having to go through the usual selection hassle. This may seem like a small thing, but to me the goal of the OS2 is to reduce friction between what you want and how to do it.

Aside from Android O, Google also announced a new version of Android called Android Go. This is meant to be a more lightweight version of Android, aimed at running on less powerful phones. It seems aimed at the “next billion” of users, from developing countries, but considering the number of people running old hardware3 this might be very useful for them as well. That said, I suspect that those phones won’t get this update for the same old reasons they don’t get updates to the regular Android: there’s no profit in it for the phone makers. I am interested to see how this will work out in the long run though, especially if app creators will try to target this OS (and the less profitable market) or if it will be mostly limited to Google’s own applications.

But that’s not all, the other major thing for Android is a new effort for securing your devices. Google Play Protect is technically not part of the OS, but part of Google Play, and therefore is already available now for anyone using Google Play. If I understand correctly, it will be installed and updated automatically through Google Play thereby providing a constantly updated protection. If this does a good job of protecting against the security issues uncovered in older versions of Android that will make it a far safer environment all around. Even if it can’t do that but still actively protects against bad4 apps it’s a good step forward.

Google Assistant

Lot’s of updates as well for Google Assistant. When introduced last year, it was limited to mostly upcoming devices and a couple of upcoming applications. Now it’s in use across a lot of Google’s lineup with a lot more coming. One interesting thing is the ability to type to the Assistant instead of having to speak. There are plenty of situations where this is easier or more polite so that’s a great improvement5.

Other improvements are new functionalities and a better conversation flow. It’s also going to be available on the iPhone, as an app so not as convenient as Siri to activate. Oh, and Google Home is coming to several new countries, including Australia6. The most interesting new feature is probably Google Lens. Once again playing to Google’s strengths, this will allow you to get contextual information based on your camera and location. Text parsing from photos has been done before, but this takes it a bit further by collecting all the available data and then providing extra information.

Machine Learning and VR

Some Cloud related news came after all with the announcement of a new processor type specifically for machine learning. The TPUs are specifically designed for this purpose and get some really good results. For details, I recommend you read the above blogpost as I probably wouldn’t do it justice.

VR wise, Google is now changing things up by also supporting standalone devices for their Daydream system. They’ve got several partners working on something, and it will be interesting to see how this will then stack up against devices like the Oculus.

Personally though, I think the most interesting part of this is their new VPS. Which in this case stands for Visual Positioning System. A system that allows you to more accurately determine your location inside buildings using additional sensors in for example museums. Once again, this is something with a lot of use cases and something I’ll be keeping an eye on to see how it will work out.


  1. I feel like this is mentioned every year, surely at some point they’ll manage to get it right. [return]
  2. And any app really. [return]
  3. And the related old insecure versions of Android. [return]
  4. As in data stealing and similar activities [return]
  5. Apple, I really would like that for Siri. [return]
  6. Amazon, this one is for you. I prefer the Echo, just let me get one for here ok? [return]
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