Looking back on my Google I/O 2017 experience, one could easily compare it to a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Quite a bit of luck is involved in getting a ticket, there’s snacks all over the place, they’re basically announcing some shiny new thing every few minutes, and most importantly, if you don’t pay attention to what’s being said you might miss Google’s overarching plan. Several exciting announcements made my little Android dev heart flutter, including full Android Kotlin support, Google finally having a solid opinion on Android architecture (with ready to use components to back it up), and Android O features being revealed all over the place. But peeking beyond the Droid for a bit revealed Google’s bigger plans ahead for mobile devices. In short, they mostly want you to forget about them.
To better explain what I mean by this, it’s important to remember the underlying theme of the keynote this year: Google is moving its perspective from mobile first to AI first. Now this doesn’t mean that Google wants you to throw out your phone, they just want to make their devices so intelligent, easy to use, and contextually relevant that you forget you’re even interacting with a device.
As Google is diving deeper into the machine learning game, every part of the Google ecosystem is, with no surprise, getting smarter. We can see it happening already. Google Assistant is integrating into every device it can get its hands on, including iOS devices. Google Photos will tell us what kind of flower you took a picture of three years ago. Our phones will be smarter at highlighting and detecting what you’re selecting. Whether it’s a phone number or an address, you will be given a menu of relevant options, such as copy, Google maps, or share. Basically Google’s trying to make your devices into transparent extensions of yourself; something you use without really having to think about it.
A great example of the future of Google devices — say you’re on vacation and you point your camera at an interesting poster in a foreign language. Using Google Lens, Google’s fancy new tech that uses your camera for real-time image recognition, the Google Assistant would auto translate the poster for you. Then say this poster was for an upcoming event. You can ask the assistant to buy you tickets for said event and after a fingerprint scan, pay for it using Android Pay. The event will then be added to your Google calendar.
We can continue further down this trip into Google Eutopia. After you get home and you scroll through your vacation pictures, Google Photos can tell you what landmarks you visited, and tell you about them using Google Lens. Your Google Home’s new “proactive assistance” feature would then light up to notify you that you should leave home half an hour earlier for that event in your calendar since there’s traffic on route. And yes, this is just a small example of all the artificial intelligence and machine learning goodies that Google unveiled this year. Most of this tech is readily available for devs to play around with and can be found in the form of APIs or open sourced technologies.
With the wealth of knowledge that our devices have access to about the world around us, and the amount of information we pour into them, it makes sense for Google to bridge the gap between what our devices know and what is relevant to individual users. By making its technology more autonomous and independent, Google’s actually making its technology more user focused. What I’ve taken away from this year’s I/O conference is that the device is no longer the focal point of technology. What’s important now is knowing how these devices fit into their users’ lives and how they can add value instead of distraction or friction.
Nathalie was born in Suriname and raised in Trinidad. Growing up, Nathalie was a creator interested in building physical products. Her love for creation and architecture quickly led her down a path to creating digital products. Now a Lead Engineer at TribalScale, Nathalie has the pleasure of building products that are experienced by millions of users.