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One thing you can’t accuse Google of: thinking small

Molly Wood May 28, 2015

One thing you can’t accuse Google of: thinking small

Molly Wood May 28, 2015

One thing you can’t accuse Google of: thinking small.

Its Google I/O developers conference keynote today featured at least a thousand attendees by my casual count, ran well over two hours, and was held in a room encased in giant wraparound screens. At one point, a giant animated whale “swam” through the room complete with whale song. 

The keynote itself touched on everything from mobile phones to wearables to the developing world, virtual reality classrooms, photo storage, the Internet of Things family-friendly app searches, driverless cars, floating Internet balloons and some truly amazing contextual technology that will let your phone use all the stuff it knows about you to predict anything you’ll want to do, at any time or place. 

You know, no big deal.

The biggest tech headline is that contextual stuff. Maybe you’re familiar with Google Now, which is Google’s current contextual assistant. If you turn it on on your Android phone, it can learn, say, your commute to work and start telling you every day how traffic is along that route. It can learn the sports scores you look up most often and deliver them without you asking. And it uses your location and the phone’s GPS to tell you where you parked your car. 

Google Now on Tap is a new element of Google Now that’ll be available only in the next version of Android (currently called Android M). It brings Google Now predictions and language recognition to apps. So if you’re listening to a song, you can tap (get it?) the Google Now button and ask a question about the song or the artist. Google knows what app you’re using and what you’re listening to — the context — so you should be able to say something like, “What’s his real name?,” and Google will know just what you mean to search for. 

Another demo showed a forgetful husband (those guys always get such a bad rap) confessing he forgot to pick up dry cleaning. Now on Tap will actually create a reminder for you to pick up the dry cleaning, after “reading” your messages. 

Walking close to the creepy line? Maybe. Contextual and predictive apps rely on a LOT of personal information but if you’re willing to give in to the sharing, they can be pretty helpful — and Now on Tap looks amazing, technologically speaking.

Google announced a host of other improvements to the new version of Android, like an Android Pay feature that looks and acts almost exactly like Apple Pay, some improved app permission controls (like telling a random app that it can’t access your phone’s camera or location data), and better battery life. But it’s worth noting that Android M won’t be out until at least August, according to rumors, and many Android phones haven’t even gotten the last update–Lollipop. 

Other headlines of note: 

  • Google announced a new service called Google Photos, available today on Android, iOS and Web that uploads and automatically categorizes all your photos. It includes unlimited storage of photos up to a certain size (16MB ) and videos. 
  • Family-friendly searching and labeling is coming to apps on Google Play. A star system will let you know if an app is approved for kids, and you can even search by age. 
  • Google hopes to build an operating system for the Internet of Things and announced a new communication language called Weave that it hopes will be a universal way for connected devices to communicate. 
  • The company updated its Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer to support iPhones, and also announced a program to use Cardboard and phones in schools to provide virtual field trips called Expeditions. It also announced a new virtual reality content creation program that includes all-new 360-degree cameras, software to make 360-degree footage into realistic images, and virtual reality video on YouTube. 

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