Google I/O 2021: smart canvas, locked photos folder and every new feature unveiled

Google I/O
Google I/O

After the covid-19 pandemic forced Google to cancel its I/O conference last year, the popular developer conference is finally back. In deference to covid-19 protocols that are still in place, this year’s event is holding virtually from May 18 to May 20 with the audience tuning in from different parts of the world.

Before Sundar Pichai took the stage to open the event, a machine learning musical performance by David Li and Google Arts and Culture aired as the pre-show.

Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai

Mr Pichai opened the event with an overview of the latest additions to apps in the Google family. Apps like Google Maps got new features including Smart Routing as well as Eco-friendly routes to help people spend less time on the road and reduce the carbon emission from vehicles.

Here are the newest additions to expect and the most interesting announcements.

Smart canvas is here

A new tool that Google says will help people to collaborate better in the workspace has been launched on Tuesday. The canvas can be used in situations like planning a marketing campaign and sorting out details such as project members, important information that should be noted before each virtual session, next steps and ideas for the product.

Android devices are now more than 3 billion

Google’s VP of product management, Samer Samat, says that the number of android devices that are now live across the globe has increased to 3 billion. This is an increase of more than 500 million new devices since the last I/O held in 2019.

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The figure was obtained from the Playstore and does not take into account the devices that are based on Android but that use alternative app stores like Amazon Fire devices and others.

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This figure continues to show that a larger percentage of device users favour Android over Apple’s iOS devices. At a conference by Apple earlier in 2021, the company announced that the number of iOS devices has increased to 1 billion worldwide.

Google Photos now has ‘Locked Folder’

There are moments when we want to share a photo or two with someone but do not want them to access some other photos from the gallery. In one of its announcements, Google said that it has now provided the option of having a Locked Folder within Google Photos where sensitive pictures can be kept.

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Once a picture is in this secured folder, it will require a password, fingerprint or other means of unlocking the phone before it becomes accessible. In its presentation, Google gave the use case of a parent trying to hide the picture of a puppy from the child because the pet is to be a surprise gift. However, the secured photos folder will find other real-time use cases as well.

Google I/O 2021: smart canvas, locked photos folder and every new feature unveiled

Photos will also be getting new cinematic features that will let users create animated pictures from still photos. As part of its announcements, the company says that its camera and imaging products are getting features that will make them more inclusive of various skin tones.

LaMDA will make conversations flow more naturally

Pichai showed off the company’s artificial intelligence strides in language understanding through an experimental model called LaMDA. The model was able to carry on a conversation as if it was Pluto, the dwarf planet. The LaMDA model pretended that it was Pluto and carried on a conversation about past occurrences on the dwarf planet with Pichai.

It was also able to interact and carry on a conversation as if it were a paper airplane. The demonstration showed people how it would be like to communicate with the planet Pluto and other non-living things.

Language understanding is critical to Google’s work because of the sheer volume of information that it collects and filters every day. If it can get AI to understand the complexities and nuances of different languages better, it can improve its core products like Search, Assistant and others tremendously.

Pichai, however, explained that the model is still limited in some ways because of the early stage of the research. He said, “It’s amazing how sensible and interesting the conversation is. But it’s still early research, so it doesn’t get everything right.”

Looks like Android 12’s mantra is Be big

In its preview of Android 12 beta at this year’s I/O, it is obvious that Google is giving more emphasis on the qualities of being bigger and more accessible. Icons and other design elements are bigger on the devices running the OS and there is more animation and playfulness to the elements than in past versions.

Android 12 comes with updates to privacy and security as well. It alerts users when their camera and microphones are in use and has new widgets and a modified lock screen. The colours used that the OS displays on the phone can now be changed just by changing the wallpaper through the new Theming features in the latest OS update. Features like brightness and volume sliders will be easier to adjust.


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