Taking on the Future Part 1: Assistant and Android P

Google I/O is always a big deal in the tech community. The announcements therein bring together consumer and industry interests, for an event that’s quite eagerly awaited by tech professionals, average users, and enthusiasts alike. This year was no disappointment. With a massive focus on AI and the kind of changes it can bring to the world, this was a particularly interesting I/O, and if you missed everything that went down,
allow us to give you a quick run-through.

Google Assistant
Assistant is something I tend to use a lot. From simple reminders, to hands-free searching, and basic phone tasks, Assistant is a great little trick Google has baked into a lot of their devices. With the increasing presence of stand-alone devices that carry Assistant, and more Assistant use on phones, Google has seen fit to apply updates to make it more conversational, natural, and comfortable. From changes in pitch, to the occasional “um,” and human pauses, you get a much more human Google Assistant.

It’s also smarter. With the ability to understand queries in their natural language context, Assistant will soon be able to handle more complex strings of questions, such as “What’s the weather like in Manila and Cebu?” You can also carry on with subsequent questions without having to call the Assistant up beforehand, more like a real conversation. Custom routines, another favorite of mine, will also get updated to accept your own keywords for firing off a string of instructions. A great time-saver has just been made even better.

Another small, but very nice touch is “Pretty Please.” Kids who use “please” when making Google Assistant requests get positive reinforcement for their politeness. This is a feature that is currently being tested within the company, but will see a rollout later this year.

One of the great things about assistant is being able to do so much without touching your phone. This is of great use while driving, and as such, Google has deemed appropriate to have better integration of Assistant within Google Maps. You can now more easily send text messages, play music, do quick queries, and a lot more, without taking your eyes off the road, or having to exit navigation.

Android is also going to see the expected update in Android P. While we don’t have a name for the next version yet, we do have quite a list of new features it’s going to bring with it. Central to the experience, as expected is AI, as well as simplicity, and digital well-being. Google has made a smarter, better operating system that removes all the little annoyances we’ve just come to bear with.

For the intelligence side, Google has struck a partnership with DeepMind, a company devoted to AI applications. Together, they built adaptive battery, which observes your phone usage, the apps you launch, when you launch them, how long they are in use, and other factors, and then gives priority where it is needed, powering down apps and services that don’t see much, or frequent use. The result is a noticeable increase in battery life that happens quietly in the background.

To further help with battery life, as well as save you from that all-too-familiar hassle of shading your phone from bright light so you can manually fix the brightness, Google has made Adaptive Brightness. A step up from the usual automatic brightness settings we have now, Adaptive Brightness does all the adjusting intelligently and quickly, so you can focus on just getting your phone to do what you need it to. The OS will now also allow you to set your bedtime, which, once the hour hits, turns the display monochrome, making it much less appealing to keep delaying your sleep.

The list of AI abilities continues with App Actions. This looks at what you do, and predicts what you’ll want to do next. For example, asking you if it should launch Maps, once it senses you’re in your car, or offering to launch Spotify once it sees you’ve connected your headphones. It’s a little quality of life thing that makes the smartphone experience that much better.

A new feature, Slices, brings you more relevant information. Slices shows you interactive snippets right within the Android UI, without having to open up a particular app. If you search for an app with the local search bar on your phone, for example, it will give you a snapshot of relevant information you might have wanted to open the app for, like prices for a ride sharing app, or a quick weather update. Think of it as a handy overview you can see without even opening the app.

Smart text selection also does some pretty clever things. Highlight a band name, for example, and along with the usual “copy,” and “cut,” you get the option to listen to them on Spotify. This, along with what is basically a “confirm” button for screen rotation, and volume controls that will now primarily control media volume, not alerts, all smooth out the user experience, and make using your Android phone much more pleasant.

There’s so much more that happened at I/O 2018, so this is just the start! We’ll be tackling more AI, and additional features to Photos, Maps, and a huge update to News next month!

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