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Google I/O 2021: 5 announcements we’re excited about

The virtual Google I/O 2021 has just wrapped up. While it’s a developer’s conference, many of the features announced will eventually trickle down into the consumer space. So, we wanted to talk about some of the announcements we’re excited to see on our devices and the Google services that we use.

Android 12 & Material You

With the upcoming release of Android 12, Google shows off the new look for the mobile operating system. It’s the first major revamp the company has done on Android in years, and Pixel devices will be the first to get the new personalization features. Google calls this new design language Material You. It comes from a “deep collaboration” between its software, hardware, and Material Design teams.

The new design language allows you to completely personalize your phone with custom color palettes and redesigned widgets. If you don’t want to think about color palettes, a color extraction feature will take dominant shades in your wallpaper and use complementary shades across the entire OS. You’ll see the changes in the notification shade, lock screen, volume controls, widgets, and more.       

Android 12’s color extraction (Google)

System spaces also get new, big rectangular shapes in the Quick Settings, reminding us a bit of the tiles on old Windows Phones. Google updated quick settings so you can control almost the entire OS with a swipe or tap. Google integrated Google Pay and Home Controls into quick settings while allowing you to customize the space so all the features you need will be easy to access.

Google also promises smoother motion and animations across the OS with better power efficiency on Android 12.

Android 12 redesign (Google)

Privacy updates + Chrome password management

On the privacy front, Google is introducing a new Privacy Dashboard on Android 12. It’s a one-stop shop for your permission settings and a view of your data, what is being accessed, how often, and by which apps. The dashboard lets you easily revoke app permissions, too.

At the top right of your handset, Android 12 will alert you if an app is accessing your microphone or camera. There are two new toggles in quick settings that will let you revoke access to these components for the entire system, even on apps you’ve given access to before.

And if you’ve wanted to limit location sharing on your phone, you can just share approximate locations with apps instead of the precise ones. Unless you’re using delivery or map apps, you don’t need to give access to your exact location.

Privacy Dashboard (Google)

Android 12 gets the Android Private Compute Core system, a sandbox where Google can introduce new technologies to you while keeping your data safe, private, and local to your device. This technology will enable features like Live Caption, Now Playing, and Smart Reply to do all the audio and language processing on your device and isolated from the network to preserve your privacy.

As for Chrome, it’ll be easier to change and manage your passwords. When you check your passwords on supported sites, Chrome will find a password that may have been compromised, and you’ll be prompted by a “Change password” button from Assistant. Chrome will navigate you to the site and assist you through the process of changing the password.

Going forward, Chrome will help you change compromised passwords automatically. You can still go through the process manually at any point. If a site is not supported, Chrome’s password manager can help you create strong and unique passwords.

Automated password change (Google)

Wear gets help from Samsung & Fitbit

It’s not Wear OS anymore. Instead, it will be called Wear OS 3, and Google is collaborating with Samsung to improve its smartwatch platform. It’s an overdue upgrade and a smart move for both companies to work together to improve Wear. Google will also get help from Fitbit, the popular fitness wearable maker it acquired. What can you expect from this partnership?

Samsung’s Tizen platform will be merged with Wear to create a unified platform. According to Google, they “have been able to take strengths of each and combine them into an experience that has faster performance, longer battery life, and more of the apps you love available for the watch.” Expect apps to run up to 30% faster on the latest chipsets, better battery optimization so the devices can monitor your heart rate throughout the day, track your sleep, and still have some battery left over.

Google and Samsung won’t be the only benefactors to these upgrades. The companies plan to offer these upgrades to third-party wearable device makers, giving them the freedom to provide customized user experiences on top of the platform.

Wear’s new Tiles (Google)

Wear will give you easy access to shortcuts of essential functions wherever you are in the system. The companies plan to add Tiles from third-party apps. Some mentioned apps include Flo, Calm, and Sleep Cycle. Tiles are designed to give you access to the information you want at a glance, and it lets you do what you need to with a simple swipe. There will also be redesigned apps from Strava, Spotify, adidas Running, Bitmoji, and more.

Google Maps and Google Assistant will be redesigned and improved. Google Pay is also getting revamped with added support for 26 new countries. YouTube Music and offline listening will be coming to Wear, too.

As for health and fitness tracking, Google says it will leverage Fitbit’s experience in the field. Wear will get features like “tracking your health progress throughout your day and on-wrist goal celebrations.”

Apps coming to Wear (Google)

The updates are going to roll out later this year. We definitely advise you to hold off on buying new wearables if you want to get a Wear device. Samsung and Fitbit both plan to release “premium smartwatches” running on Wear. But you might need to wait for a bit. As far as we know, existing Samsung and Fitbit products won’t get Wear, though.

If this partnership goes as well as planned, Google might finally be able to take the fight to the Apple Watch.

Hiding unwanted photo memories & animated pictures

Google is taking advantage of its machine learning know-how with new features coming to Google Photos. Later this summer, Google Photos will be able to pinpoint patterns in three or more photos and highlight these themes for you. They could be based on something as simple as an orange backpack one of Google’s engineers used on different trips. These themed and patterned Memories will be private and visible only to you. There will also be new Memories revolving around holidays, “Best of Month,” Trips, and more. The Best of Month and Trip highlights have begun rolling out.

For the memories you don’t want to revisit, Google Photos will make it easier to hide these. Through the help of GLAAD, the company paid close attention to the concerns of the transgender community who don’t want specific photos resurfacing as they remind them of a painful time. The app already lets you hide pictures of certain people and periods, but it plans to add more to improve the experience. Later this summer, Google plans to make these controls easier to find.

Hide memories on Google Photos (Google)

Now, you can rename a Trip highlight or remove them altogether. Soon, you will be able to take out a single photo from a Memory, remove Best of Month memories, and rename or remove Memories, too.

The company is also introducing a new take to Cinematic photos, a feature that uses machine learning to “create vivid, 3D versions of your photos.” With the help of neural networks, Google Photos will synthesize the movement between two nearly identical pictures, fill the gaps within the frames, and make Harry Potter-esque, moving images called Cinematic moments. The feature will work with any pair of nearly identical pictures—whether taken on your smartphone or scanned from an old photo album.

Cinematic moments (Google)

Google Photos is getting a Locked Folder feature, too. It’s a passcode-protected space where you can save photos you don’t want to show up when you scroll through Google Photos or any other apps on your device. It’ll be coming to Google Pixel first, with more Android devices getting it later this year. Pixel devices get the option to save photos and videos directly to the Locked Folder right from the camera.

Navigate streets & avoid busy areas

We admittedly miss getting lost in unfamiliar streets in the countries we visit. But if you’d like to get around better, Google Maps is bringing augmented reality in Live View. When you’re exploring a new area, you can access Live View right from the map. It will even display details about shops and restaurants around you, including how busy they are, recent reviews, and photos. You’ll also see new street signs for complex intersections, so you know what road to take. And if you’re traveling, Live View can tell you where you are in relation to places like your hotel—so you can always find your way back to your home base.

Live View (Google)

As we still need to observe physical distancing measures, Google Maps will soon show you the relative busyness of an area, whether a neighborhood or part of town is busier than usual, allowing you to avoid spaces. And once the world opens up, this feature will be helpful for those who want to see where crowds are gathered as there might be exciting things happening there.

These Google Maps features will start rolling out globally on Android and iOS in the coming months.

You can check out a summary of the keynote here:

Cover photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels