While the shiny new gadgets might have stolen the show—you can learn about the Pixel Watch, new Pixel phones, and other objects that were announced in our separate story—I/O is still primarily a software affair. To that end, Google used its keynote event to detail a dizzying array of new features for Android, Search, Maps, and Google’s voice assistant services.
Here are the biggest updates Google announced.
We got a few more details about the next version of Android, Google’s OS for mobile devices. When Android 13 arrives this fall, it will introduce some updates that make the OS more secure and more interoperable with other devices around you. Google Messaging will expand support for the RCS texting standard, bringing end-to-end encryption to group texts. Multilingual users will be able to set specific apps to use specific languages, so you can search in English and tweet in German. Support for quick-pairing with devices using the Matter smart home standard will be built in, and it will be easier to cast videos or photos to more televisions, displays, and other screens in your home with additional support for more manufacturers’ products.
We’ll have a deeper look at Android 13 when it gets closer to arriving later this year.
Google Found Its Wallet
The company has revived its previously abandoned Google Wallet name and branding, and the refreshed app is going to become Android’s default digital currency container. Wallet will hang out on your device and hold all your credit cards, transit cards, vaccine verification, and even your park pass to Disney World. If you’re thinking, “Wait, that sounds exactly like Google Pay, a thing that already exists,” you’re correct. Wallet is basically the same as Google Pay, except that Google says its Wallet app will also soon support digital IDs, including drivers’ licenses. Google has a habit of frequently killing off its own services, so we’ll see how long both of these options stick around.
New Safety Features
Google also laid out a variety of new additions to its software platforms aimed at protecting against cyberattacks. It is improving its two-factor authentication system and enabling it by default on Google accounts. Phishing protections are being carried over from Gmail to Google’s office suite (Docs, Sheets, and Slides). It will also flag when account settings can be changed to better protect privacy.
A new feature called Virtual Cards aims to keep your credit card info private while you’re shopping. When you autofill credit card information, Virtual Cards will generate a randomized card number and keep you from having to manually enter sensitive info on some potentially suspect storefront.
Last month, Google rolled out a feature called Multisearch. It lets you combine elements in a single search query, like using a photo and text at the same time. Soon, Multisearch will get a new tweak. Called Near Me, the feature lets you factor in your location while Multisearching, helping to sniff out local restaurants or shops based on photos and text. Multisearch Near Me will be available globally later this year, though it only works with English input for now.
An upcoming feature in Google Maps is something Google calls Immersive View. It’s a sort of tricked out Street View that lets you swipe to move around in a CGI-rendered 3D space. It can simulate whole cities, and even the insides of offices and restaurants. You won’t see a 100 percent accurate rendering, because much of it is based on user photos and then filled in with an algorithm. Google says the feature will work on any smartphone and is rolling out in “select cities” this year.
Google has made moves to make its voice assistant understand more nuances of conversation and react accordingly. A new feature called Look and Talk, which is available exclusively on the Nest Hub Max, aims to make talking with a voice assistant less like shouting at a slab of concrete. You won’t have to say “OK Google” anymore, because the system is designed to recognize when you’re directing a question at it. To do that, the Nest Hub Max uses its built-in camera to monitor how close you are to the device, which way your head is turned, and which way your gaze is directed. So it can detect whether you’re looking at the device and waiting for an answer.
The Assistant also allows for pauses in a query, in case you need a second to get your thoughts together. Just like talking with a person! The company did not say whether Google Assistant will ever be capable of love.