Google I/O 2021: Everything Google announced at this year’s virtual keynote

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At the first-ever virtual Google I/O, Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai talked about news on Workspace, quantum computing and privacy needs.

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The keynote for Google I/O was live streamed from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California on Tuesday, and Google executives touched on everything from new collaboration features in Workspace, to quantum computing, to improved privacy controls. The speakers were on round stages in the outdoor spaces at Google’s headquarters, and the audience sat in socially distanced chairs grouped around the stage in the surrounding green space. The video introduction at the event showed a montage of crowds of people at past events, including a cameo of a young Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, which is Google’s parent company.

Pichai kicked off the keynote with an announcement about the new collaboration tool for Workspace: Smart Canvas. 

Javier Soltero, general manager and vice president of Google Workspace, announced the Workspace news at the event. Soltero said the changes will transform a Google doc from a digital piece of paper to a collaboration platform that is always up to date and has built-in tools for keeping distributed teams connected. 

SEE: Android 12: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic) 

Quantum computing at Google

Pichai also discussed Google’s work with quantum computing, describing the technology as the best chance to understand the natural world. He said that the company’s current focus is to build an error-corrected qubit. 

Actor Michael Pena toured Google’s quantum campus with Google’s lead quantum engineer Eric Lucero. Lucero showed off the “qubit fridge” and other parts of the lab which included a painting that he described as an homage to mother nature because quantum is the language of nature. Pena’s job was to explain quantum computing to the average viewer, describing qubits as smart but picky about work environments and Google’s research as wrapping qubits in a Bob Ross blanket of love and keeping them there until they can teach us to think like the Earth.

Lucero said now that the company has moved beyond classical computing and described the next milestone as building an error-corrected logical qubit and then building an error-corrected quantum computer.

New privacy features for Google accounts

In addition to highlighting the company’s lofty research goals, executives also talked about work that affects the daily lives of users as well: changes to privacy controls. Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Maps, said the company is working toward a password-free future by improving phone-based authentication. 

“We want to free everyone from password pain,” she said. 

Fitzpatrick said Google has made these improvements to the company’s password manager:

  1. Import passwords saved in other password managers
  2. Provide a deeper integration across Chrome and Android
  3. Provide an automatic password alert in case of a breach
  4. Provide a new Chrome feature to make it easier to navigate to site and update a compromised password  

Fitzgerald also announced other privacy changes: 

  1. Easier navigation to delete recent search history from Google account
  2. Make it easier to turn off location history in a user’s timeline
  3. Create locked folders to allows users to save certain privately and keep the images out of the general photo roll

Android 12 updates

Sameer Samat, vice president of product management for Google, said the Android 12 updates represent the biggest design change in Android for years. He said the three big themes for the update are:

  1. Your phone should adopt to you, not the other way around
  2. The OS should be secure by default and private by design
  3. TVs, cars and watches should work better together with the Android phone in the center of everything

He showed off one example of the phone customizing itself to the user when he selected a personal photo for the home screen. The system created a custom palette for the home screen based on the photo.

“We use a clustering algorithm to determine which colors are dominant and which are compliments,” he said. 

The update also includes new uses of light that differ depending on the action a user takes such as unlocking the phone via the touch screen or a button. 

The update includes privacy changes as well. Suzanne Frey, the company’s vice president of engineering and product, said that a new privacy dashboard makes it easier to understand which apps are using what data. The OS update also makes it easier to revoke an app’s permission directly from the dashboard. Two new toggles allow users to turn off microphone and camera access from the dashboard as well. 

Frey said that Google is the first phone maker to enable technically enforced privacy with its open source Private Compute Core.

Better Together changes for Android phones

In addition to Android 12, Google executives announced several other new features that cement the phone at the center of a user’s connected universe. Erik Kay, vice president of engineering for Android, wrote in a blog post about the “Better Together” initiative: “When purchasing a phone these days, we’re buying not only a phone, but also an entire ecosystem of devices that are all expected to work together—such as TVs, laptops, cars and wearables, like smartwatches or fitness trackers.”

The new features include:

  • Fast Pair: This one-tap Bluetooth feature is expanding to more devices including earbuds, speakers, wearables and cars.
  • Phone as remote control: Android is building remote control features directly into the phone.
  • Digital car key: Android is working with car manufacturers to allow users to unlock their cars with the phone via ultra-wideband technology or nearfield communication.

Wear OS and Samsung

Google announced the biggest update to date for the Wear platform, including new features, APIs and tools for developers. The Android Studio Arctic Fox Beta includes a developer preview of the new Wear system image and tools for developing and testing Wear apps without a device. 

The company also announced the start of a health and fitness platform built in partnership with Samsung. According to a blog post from Google, the platform “provides fitness and health data generated from sensors, contextually aware algorithms and all-day health monitoring.” Developers can use the APIs to create fitness and health experiences for wearables with a simpler development experience. The platform makes it easier to manage hardware and sensors. 

Android for Cars

Mickey Kataria, director of product management, shared the latest news about Android Auto in a blog post, including the company’s newest partner, Porsche. The car company will being shipping Android Auto on new vehicles starting this summer with the 911.

The Android Automotive OS allows users to access Google Assistant, Google Maps and apps from Google Play directly from the car screen without needing a phone. This service will be available to order in more than 10 car models from Volvo, General Motors and Renault by the end of 2021. It’s available now on cars from Polestar and Volvo.

Android also made the Android for Cars App Library available as part of Jetpack. This means developers working on navigation, electric vehicle charging and parking apps can bring their apps to Android Auto compatible cars. Early partners include Parkwhiz, Plugshare, Sygic, ChargePoint, Flitsmeister and SpotHero. 

3D video conferencing and new sources of green energy

Pichai closed the keynote with two new pieces of technology. The first was Project Starline, which uses custom built hardware and high resolution cameras to capture a person’s shape from multiple angles. Pichai said that the real-time 3D model generates many gigabytes of data per second and required the company to build novel compression and streaming algorithms to reduce the data by a factor of 100 so the video could be sent through existing networks.

He also announced that the company is working on a carbon intelligence load shifting capability that will let data center operators to shift power sources across time and place. This allows operators to take advantage of currently available sources of green energy. 

He said the company is installing Dragon solar panels and a geothermal pile system at the Mountain View headquarters to create an on-demand supply of solar energy.

Google I/O is free to attend

Google I/O began on Tuesday, and it is a three-day event that will run through May 20. It includes a series of workshops, meetups and keynotes. It’s free to attend for anyone who wants to register. All that’s needed is a Gmail account.

This article was updated on May 19, 2021, with additional information. 

Also see

Google announced new video collaboration features as part of Smart Canvas, a new set of capabilities that is part of Workspace.

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Google announced new video collaboration features as part of Smart Canvas, a new set of capabilities that is part of Workspace.