Google I/O 2021 Recap: What you need to know from Google’s big tech event
Google I/O 2021 kicked off on Tuesday, and we’re already on cloud nine seeing all the exciting stuff that has come out from the event. In fact, there’s so much to unpack here, it’s hard to even know where to begin. From a radical Android 12 redesign with Material You, to the biggest Wear OS update in years, to a groundbreaking language model, and onwards to quality of life improvements to Maps and Google Photos, pretty much every major Google product and service is getting better.
The XDA Portal team has been hard at work covering the latest announcements and breaking news from this major event. But it can be overwhelming for the average person to keep up with the busy news cycle. We hear you. To save you time and effort jumping from one news post to another, here’s a recap of every major announcement and development that we’ve covered from Google I/O 2021.
Android 12 Beta 1: New features, GSIs, and more!
As expected, Google officially dropped the first beta release of Android 12 at Google I/O on Tuesday. As always, Google Pixel users are the first in line to get their hands on the latest software, with the first beta already rolling out to users with the Pixel 5, Pixel 4/4a, or Pixel 3/3a that are enrolled in the beta program. Several flagship phones from partner OEMs are also joining the Android 12 beta party. So far, the following OEMs have confirmed an Android 12 beta release for their Snapdragon 888-powered flagships:
Android 12 Beta 1 eligible devices
Don’t own a Pixel or a Snapdragon 888 flagship? Don’t worry. You can still get your hands on the latest software through the Android 12 Beta GSI. If you have a Project Treble compatible phone, Skanda has put up this excellent guide that walks you through booting an Android 12 GSI.
Android 12 Beta feature highlights
- Android’s ancient widgets are finally getting a major facelift with Android 12.
- Android 12 will take device personalization up a notch by automatically theming your notification panel, lock screen, quick settings, and other UI parts from your wallpaper.
- Privacy is one of the core themes of Android 12, and Google is doubling down on its efforts with the introduction of Privacy Dashboard, Private Compute Core, clipboard access alerts, and more. Not directly related to Android 12, but a welcome addition anyway is the introduction of a button in the Google App to delete the past 15 minutes of search history.
- Your Android phone already lets you control many of your smart home devices, and with Android 12, it will even let you unlock your car. This feature will be coming to select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones running Android 12 later this year.
- Apps that need to scan for nearby Bluetooth devices won’t have to request location permission. Android 12 is decoupling the Bluetooth scanning part from the location permission and turning it into dedicated BLUETOOTH_SCAN and BLUETOOTH_CONNECT permissions.
- Starting with Android 12, several OEMs will start using the H.265 codec by default for video recording. The reason behind this is H.265 offers the same video quality as H.264 while using half the bitrate, thus significantly reducing the file size. H.265 is widely supported by high-end and mid-range Android phones, but the only issue is that it’s disabled by default on almost all supported phones.
- Android 12 will have a new Performance Class API that developers can use to identify how powerful a device is and scale the features and performance of their apps accordingly for a more optimized experience.
Material You is Google’s boldest redesign since 2014
After being shown off in multiple Android 12 leaks, Google officially showcased its new design language, Material You, at Google I/O 2021. The latest redesign is coming at a time when the current Material design, which has been mostly unchanged since Android 9 Pie, had started getting a bit long in the tooth. Material You is bold, colorful, and refreshing, with the main focus on offering users endless customization through its dynamic theming capabilities. Material You will not be limited to just Android and will be coming to all major Google products, including Wear OS, Chrome OS, smart home devices, and more.
Wear OS is getting a helping hand from Samsung and Fitbit
- After neglecting the Wear OS platform for so many years, Google is finally getting serious about its smartwatch OS.
- At Google I/O 2021, Google announced that it would be collaborating with the South Korean electronics giant Samsung to build a unified platform that combines the best of Wear OS and Tizen, Samsung’s smartwatch OS.
- On top of that, some of the most popular features from Fitbit will also be making their way to Wear OS.
- And yes, Wear OS will be getting a fresh coat of Material You as well.
- Another nifty improvement coming to Wear OS is the ability to download apps directly from your smartphone. Right now, users are forced to download apps from the Play Store app that comes pre-installed with their smartwatch, and we all know it can be frustrating to navigate through so many menus on a tiny screen.
- Google has confirmed Wear OS will be getting a YouTube Music app later this year that will allow users to store music on their smartwatch for offline listening. The same feature will also be made available on the Spotify app later this year.
Meet LaMDA: Your new digital friend
One of the fascinating things coming out of Google I/O 2021 is LaMDA, a conversational language model built on Google’s neural network architecture called Transformer. Unlike other language models, which are trained to answer queries, LaMDA is trained on dialogue and can engage in free-flowing conversations on pretty much any topic. During the Keynote, Google gave a demo of LaMDA acting as the planet Pluto and a paper airplane, and it was scarily good. LaMDA is still in the research and development phase, but it will likely be used to power Google Assistant and other Google products in the future.
Project Starline: The future of videoconferencing
Video calling is more popular than ever, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing millions of people to stay home. While video conferencing apps like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc., have allowed us to keep in touch with our friends and family, many of us wished we could’ve met in person during these hard times. Even if many places in the world are easing up on restrictions, there’ll still be a need for better remote conferencing tools as the world is more connected than ever. Meet Project Starline: Google’s project that uses 3D imaging to make video calls feel like you’re really talking to someone in person.
Google Maps: Eco-friendly routes, Safer routing, and new Live View
- Eco-friendly routes and Safer routing are two new features coming to Google Maps.
- Eco-friendly routes will help reduce environmental footprint by suggesting routes that will lead to lower fuel consumption.
- On the other hand, Safer routing will use AI to suggest the safest route for your destination by taking into account current road, traffic, and weather conditions.
- Google Maps will also provide a more detailed overview of streets by showing where sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian islands are and will even show you how busy a neighborhood or a particular place is.
- Maps will tailor results based on the time of the day and when you’re traveling. For example, in the morning, Maps will prominently highlight nearby coffee shops.
- Finally, Live View, which provides augmented reality-based navigation, is also receiving some new updates. The new Live View will be easier to access, more dynamic, and can be used to navigate indoor builds too.
Google Photos: More control over your memories
- Google Photos will let you lock your private photos in a secure folder that can only be accessed by you. This is coming to Pixel phones first and later to other Android devices.
- Photos will gain a machine-learning trick that will let it create an album of photos that have three or more similar objects, shapes, or colors and highlight them in Memories.
- New types of Memories such as Best of Month Memories, Trip highlights, celebrations, etc., will soon be added.
- If you don’t want to relive certain memories, Photos will make it easier to hide certain people or time periods so that they don’t surface on your Memories again.
- Cinematic photos will use computational photography to bring life to your still photos. It takes two similar-looking images from your camera roll and adds missing frames with the help of AI to produce animated, GIF-like photos.
Google Chrome: Password Alert
Google Chrome’s built-in password manager already makes our digital life a lot easier by remembering all our passwords and offering to auto-fill them in apps and sites. Moving forward, Chrome will alert you when it detects any of your saved passwords have been compromised and will even help you reset them across websites. When you receive a password compromise notification from Chrome, it will show a “Change password” button alongside it. When you click on it, Chrome will take you to the website and walk you through updating your password.
Google Assistant: Personalized shortcuts
Moving forward, the suggested shortcuts that you see at the bottom of the Google Assistant UI will be more context-aware and personalized. Google is adding a new Suggestion Chips feature that will provide proactive Shortcuts suggestions based on your usage patterns. App developers will be able to surface shortcuts that lead users directly to a specific page in their app with just one tap. Google is also lifting the arbitrary limit set by the ShortcutManager APIs, which only allowed developers to build 10 shortcuts. Now, developers can build an unlimited set of shortcuts. Moreover, Google Assistant on Android 12 will automatically find shortcuts from third-party apps and feature them in the Assistant Shortcuts gallery.
Chrome OS: Android 11, stable Linux app support, and more
Native support for Linux apps is finally coming to Chromebooks in the next stable release, Chrome 91, which is scheduled to roll out in the first week of June. Aside from Linux app support, Google has also confirmed it will soon be updating the underlying version of Android on supported Chromebooks from Android 9 to Android 11. Finally, Chrome OS’ Phone Hub will soon gain the ability to access your recently taken photos from your Android smartphone, a feature that its Microsoft rival Your Phone has offered since Day 1.
A less fragmented shopping experience
At Google I/O 2021, Google announced that they are working with Shopify to make it easier for merchants to feature their products across Google. And for consumers, Google is introducing a new feature in Chrome that will help you “pick up your shopping right where you left off.” When you open a new tab, Chrome will display your open shopping carts from across different shopping sites. On Android, Google Lens in Photos will soon get a “Search inside screenshot” button that will scan things like shoes, t-shirts, and other objects in a photo and surface relevant products.
Machine Learning will become faster and more consistent
Machine Learning already powers many of our most favorite features on Android, including Google Assistant, Google Lens, Smart Reply, and even Snapchat filters. But there are several hurdles in deploying Machine Learning-powered features on Android, and Google wants to change that. Google is releasing a new updatable, fully integrated ML interface stack for Android that will provide developers a standardized platform with a common set of tools and APIs to deliver a more consistent ML experience across Android devices and versions. As part of this project, Google will also roll out TensorFlow Lite on all Android devices through Google Play Store, so developers don’t have to bundle it with their own apps, and thus can reduce the APK size.
All major developer-focused announcements from Google I/O 2021
- Jetpack Compose 1.0 is graduating to the stable channel in July and will include more components, better support for big screens, among other improvements.
- After spending months in the Canary channel, Android Studio Arctic Fox is now finally making a jump to the beta channel. The beta version includes some new debugging tools such as Accessibility Scanner and the Memory Profiler.
- Firebase, Google’s cloud-based app tooling suite, is gaining a plethora of new features, including Storage Emulator in the Firebase Emulator Suite, support for Android App Bundles in the App Distribution tool, App Check, real-time data processing in Performance Monitoring, new Web SDKs, and much more.
- Flutter 2.2 is the latest version of Google’s cross-platform app development language, and it introduces several new improvements. For one, null safely is now enabled by default. Flutter Ads SDK has also been updated with adaptive ad banners and built-in null safety, and there are some performance-related improvements to reduce app size and make animations smoother.
- ARCore, Google’s augmented reality platform, is gaining two new APIs. The first is the ARCore Raw Depth API, which will enable developers to capture more detailed representations of surrounding objects. Meanwhile, the ARCore Recording and Playback API allow developers to capture video footage with AR metadata.
- For Google Maps Platform, Google has released several new tools to help web developers deliver a richer embedded Maps experience in their web apps. The new tilt and rotation feature will bring a whole new perspective to the embedded maps with 67.5-degree tilt and 360-degree rotation. Meanwhile, WebGL Overlay View will let developers render complex 2D and 3D objects right on the base map.
- Sudden app removal from the Google Play Store without any prior notice or explanation is the worst nightmare of Android app developers. To improve the communication and transparency on this front, Google has detailed some changes that it will be bringing to the Google Play Console. In some cases, Google will soon start showing warnings under the “Policy and program” section in the Google Play Store when it detects any potential violations in your app and will provide guidance on fixing them.
- Google Play Billing Library v4.0 will add new ways for users to pay for apps and subscriptions. These new ways include multi-quantity purchases, multi-line subscriptions, and prepaid plans.
- Google is also making it easier for developers to develop apps for Android Auto and Android Automotive with the new Car App Library.
That’s a wrap folks! Which announcement from Google I/O 2021 are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments below. For a video recap of the event, check out Google’s 9 minute summary on YouTube linked below.