The opening day of Google’s developer event focused on putting more AI everywhere — in your camera with Google Lens, in your phone/car/TV/speaker with Google Assistant — and connecting virtual reality to mixed reality with Daydream. It probably sounds like a lot, because it is, but we boiled down the speech to a 15-minute video with all the highlights, so click here and get acquainted with the Google-y new world we’re living in.
Google Lens is a broad term that encompasses all kinds of vision-based computing skills. It can recognize what’s going on in photos or videos and offer up clever shortcuts you might want to use. For instance, point your phone at a flower and Google Lens will tell you, on the screen, which type of flower it is, or aim the camera at a restaurant sign to see reviews and other information pop up. The least sexy application we saw on stage might be the most useful: Point the camera at a WiFi router’s name and password, and Google will apparently do the connecting for you. The new system will arrive in Google Photos and Assistant first, later this year.
We still don’t know what the “O” is for, but we do know a lot more about what Google is concentrating on this time around. Other than accelerating boot time, Android O has new limits for apps that are supposed to keep them from draining your battery and wasting resources while running in the background. There’s some AI secret sauce in there, with hardware-accelerated neural network APIs that can figure things out without shifting your private data to the cloud, and a smart copy-paste feature that easily figures out which text is important. Also, new notification dots bring alerts out of the top panel, and there are big emoji updates.
The most important news, though, is that you can try it out right now on various Nexus and Pixel devices.
Google Home was a decent first stab at taking on Amazon’s Echo, but there’s clearly room for improvement. Today, the company revealed that its smart speaker will soon be able to give you proactive notifications, like alerting you to traffic delays ahead of upcoming appointments. Google Home will light up to let you know it has an alert for you, so it thankfully won’t just start talking without any prompting.
A new book on Uber by Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky is coming out soon, but Bloomberg has revealed one juicy anecdote ahead of time. CEO Travis Kalanick reportedly called up Tesla boss Elon Musk to propose a partnership on self-driving cars, but Musk rebuffed the offer and even tried to talk him out of it. Kalanick stated in the book. “Elon spent the rest of the call convincing me that it’s too far out, and it’s not realistic, that I should just stick to what we do best and be focused, or I’m going to fuck it all up. That’s when I knew Tesla was competing.”
If you already own a Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus, then Samsung’s DeX dock is a fascinating proposition. For $150, you could cobble together a system that acts an awful lot like a PC. Mobile Editor Chris Velazco says the interface is familiar and overall performance is pretty impressive. The experience isn’t without its problems, though. There are a limited number of apps optimized for DeX and gathering up all the requisite parts could get pricey too, if you don’t already have a spare keyboard, mouse and monitor lying around. DeX blurs the line between smartphone and PC better than any other attempt he has seen — he’s just not convinced that many people will find it genuinely useful.
There’s nothing too drastic coming with Amazon’s Fire tablet update: the Fire 7 gets a thinner and lighter chassis and an improved 7-inch IPS display. Battery life and chip performance have also been improved, not to mention the addition of voice assistant Alexa. Amazon’s done even less to the Fire HD 8, throwing in faster, more power-efficient internals but leaving everything else the same. The device’s biggest new feature may be the $10 reduction compared to the last model.