Google keynotes are always something to look forward to, so we were delighted to be invited to the most recent event where Google shared news about new projects and upcoming releases.
Google has been teasing us all with what has been touted as the largest release since the start of Android. Speculation has ranged from new devices to a new combined operating system, unifying Android and Chrome.
A new phone was a certainty; with Google’s frustration at the fragmented and sluggish Android marketplace, experts have been predicting an aggressive move into owning the whole Android ecosystem. A leak by Dixons/Carphone Warehouse confirmed a day early that this would come in the shape of the new Google Pixel phones. This move was opportunely timed, as it turns out, with the current disaster surrounding Samsung’s combusting Note 7, which uses the Android operating system.
Made by Google
Pixel itself looks like an iPhone clone, with the round cornered brushed aluminium finish we have come to expect from Apple. We also got the expected competitor to the Amazon Echo called Google Home, a smarter Wi-Fi hub, an update to Google Chromecast and a lighter cloth VR headset. But ‘Made by Google’, as it is being called, is not just about devices. Rick Osterloh, Google’s new head of hardware, said “The next big change will take place at the intersection of hardware and software”, and as you would expect it is where Google shines.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, presented his concept of an AI (Artificial Intelligence) first world; ubiquitous computing with seamless interaction helping users in meaningful ways. The Google Assistant is Google’s giant leap towards this, and is very exciting. It is pretty much JARVIS from Iron Man running on the Pixel phones and on Google Home, becoming a ubiquitous assistant that is constantly with you.
The Assistant decides which device to respond from based on what heard you best – your phone or hub – and is capable of carrying out actions by conversation, such as booking an Uber, reserving a dinner table or booking gig tickets, all without the user having to touch a button. When combined with Google’s partners, including Nest and SmartThings, it is capable of changing your heating, dimming your lighting and managing many other smart home functions.
Behind all this are significant gains in the efficiency of Google’s deep learning neural networks. Their AI is getting harder, better, faster, stronger, with the accuracy of on the fly translation of Chinese increasing by 25%, and image classification now having an accuracy of more than 90%. The Google Assistant also responds in a much more natural way thanks to research by Google acquisition Deepmind and their model Wavenet.
Not all of the above currently has a UK release date and there are interesting omissions with no new tablet and no Made by Google Smartwatch. Google is moving focus from touch and the interface to voice, which leaves many questions around ad delivery in this new format.
Even when we get hands on the new devices the impact on the landscape of search is not going to be immediately apparent. The new devices and platforms are limited to early adopters, but I for one am planning to invest when it becomes available, and will be watching to see how many others are willing to make the same move.