Google during the I/O 2021 revealed that there are more than 3 billion active Android device users, more than double the iOS/iPad platform.

The company has a big responsibility of keeping the people hooked to its mobile OS and the new Android 12 is said to be the major software update in the decade. It is coming with big changes and Google also promises to ensure user privacy is the top agenda.

But, it was not Android 12, which grabbed the limelight at I/O 2021. It was the new Wear OS.

Wear OS: Google +  Fitbit + Samsung
Having covered the technology for a little over eight years, I never in the wildest dream imagined Google seeking collaboration with Samsung to improve its average smart wearable platform Wear OS. Most predicted that Google may abandon Wear OS, like other products like Google Glass, Google Stadio (gaming platform) and just start over again, but this announcement is a big surprise to all.

Google, which completed the $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit recently, will unify Wear OS with Samsung Tizen OS to run smartwatches not just its own products but also offer the operating system to third-party smart wearable manufacturers.

The search engine giant is quite upbeat about the all-new Wear OS and it promises that the smartwatches will have longer battery life and also be able to deliver value-added features to improve the fitness of the device owners.

The new Wear OS is being developed by Google and Fitbit in collaboration with Samsung. Credit: Google

“For performance, our teams collaborated and made apps start up to 30% faster on the latest chipsets with smooth user interface animations and motion. To achieve longer battery life, we’ve worked to optimize the lower layers of the operating system – taking advantage of low-power hardware cores to enable better battery life. That includes handy optimizations like the ability to run the heart rate sensor continuously during the day, track your sleep overnight and still have a battery for the next day. Finally, our unified platform will make it easier for developers to build great apps for the watch,” said Bjorn Kilburn Director of Product Management, Wear, Google.

Apple Watch is at the top of the chart thanks to intelligent user interface and potential life-saving sensors, which can detect sudden hard fall, monitor heart rate, sense irregular heartbeat, ECG(electrocardiogram), AFib (Atrial Fibrillation). This type of advanced hardware is also found in most of the rival brands, but what makes Apple Watch superior is the intelligent watchOS user interface that can subtly nudge users to develop disciple without coming off as nagging.

Rival brands haven’t come close in that aspect, but with the Google-Fitbit-Samsung partnership, future Wear OS will be able to match Apple Watch’s capabilities.

Android 12

As said at the start, Android 12 is the biggest mobile OS update. It is coming with new material design changes including personalised interface, security control shortcuts, privacy labels, and more.

“We rethought the entire experience, from the colors to the shapes, light, and motion. The result is that Android 12 is more expressive, dynamic, and personal than ever before,” the company said.
If you choose a wallpaper, the Android phone will blend the colour with the interface, the notification shade, the lock screen, the volume controls, new widgets, and much more.

Once updated to the Android 12, the phone will liven the navigation process. It will be quick in responding to the touch of the finger with smooth motion and animations. For instance, when you dismiss your notifications on the lock screen, your clock will appear larger so you know when you’re all caught up.

Furthermore, the notification shade will become more intuitive and playful, with a crisp, at-a-glance view of your app notifications, whatever the user is currently listening to or watching, and Quick Settings that let the user control practically the entire operating system with a swipe and a tap. 

Also, Android 12 will improve the performance of the device. The company says that the software reduces the CPU time needed for core system services by up to 22% and reducing the use of big cores by the system server by up to 15%.

Android 12 features. Credit: Google

Also, Google is collaborating with top automobile-makers to bring Digital Keys feature with Android 12.

Android phone users, depending on the model, will be able to unlock cars using either UWB (ultra-wideband) tech or NFC. BMW will be one of the first to introduce its cars with Digitial Keys support. Initially, it will be available on Pixel and Samsung’s flagship phones.

In the coming weeks, Android phones will be able to use Fast Pair to connect with Beats headphones as well as cars from BMW and Ford. With a single tap, users can pair the Android phone to the accessories whether it’s earbuds, speakers, wearables or cars.

As far as security is concerned, Google has a taken leaf out Apple’s privacy policy and will offer transparency to the user on how much an Android app tracks and stores user information.

It is introducing the new Privacy Dashboard, which offers a single view into the permissions settings as well as what data is being accessed, how often, and by which apps. It also lets users easily revoke app permissions right from the dashboard.

Also, Android 12 will bring a new indicator to the top right of the status bar so users would know when the apps are accessing the microphone or camera.

Google has gone a step further with the introduction of Android Private Compute Core. 

It allows the company to introduce new technologies that are private by design, allowing it to keep the users’ personal information safe, private and local to their respective phones. 

“Private Compute Core enables features like Live Caption, Now Playing, and Smart Reply. All the audio and language processing happens on-device, isolated from the network to preserve your privacy. Like the rest of Android, the protections in Private Compute Core are open source and fully inspectable and verifiable by the security community,” Google concluded.

More features of Android 12 will be revealed as the new beta versions will be released to both registered and public developers in the coming weeks. Android 12 will be rolled to the public at the end of August or early September.

Computational Photography
Last year, Google launched Cinematic photos, which uses machine learning to create vivid, 3D versions of your photos.

Now, the company has gone a step further to bring next-generation computation photography tech to bring life to still images.

If a user has captured to two identical photos, improved cinematic photos will create artificial frames of the same photos and link them to create an animated short live video.

“Cinematic moments can be created with any pair of nearly identical images — whether they were captured on the latest smartphone or scanned from an old photo album. Creating this effect from scratch would take professional animators hours, but with machine learning, we can automatically create these moments and bring them to your Recent Highlights,” Google said.

Also, Google experts have tweaked Artificial Intelligence-powered computational photography to reduce overexposure and desaturation of darker skin tones in photos.

Google Photos will give more control to users to stop certain images such as an ex-friend or a person who lost his/her life popping up in Memories, which ends hurting the user. 

New Google Photos app create animation using still photos. Credit: Google

In the upcoming update to Google Photos, users will be able to rename a Trip highlight or remove it completely. And coming soon, users be able to remove a single photo from a Memory, remove Best of Month Memories and rename or remove Memories based on the moments the user celebrates.

Google Photos is getting a password-protected vault. Yes, the long-awaited feature is coming in the new update. It is called Locked Folder but will be available first on Google Pixel, and arrive on more Android devices throughout the year.

Locked Folder is a passcode-protected space where users can save photos separately, so that pictures won’t show up as they scroll through Google Photos.

Google Maps
The company is bringing several new features to Google Maps. The major improvement includes the fuel-efficient and safe route.

For instance, Every time a user gets directions in Maps, the app calculates multiple route options to the destination based on several factors, like how many lanes a road has and how direct a route is. With this update, Google Maps offers the fastest routes and identifies which one is likely to reduce the chances of encountering a hard-braking moment. The app automatically recommends that route if the ETA is the same or the difference is minimal.

Google Maps offers the ‘Glance’ feature to depict the traffic density of a particular area. Credit: Google

Also, Google Maps will offer a ‘Glance’ feature to help users know the destination they plan to visit, for instance in the morning, is busy or not.

Google Maps will show the relative busyness of an entire area, like whether a neighbourhood or part of town is busier than usual. If it’s Saturday morning and you want to explore the city without crowds bogging the user down, open up Maps to instantly see busy hotspots to avoid — like the streets near the local farmers’ market.

Also, depending on the day of the week, Google Maps will suggests places to visit based on the daily routine of the user.  For instance, on a weekday in Bengaluru, Google Maps prominently feature nearby coffee shops — instead of dinner spots — so you can start the day with a caffeine fix. And if you plan for a weekend getaway, it’ll be easier to spot local landmarks and tourist attractions right on the map. Want more options? Tap on any place to see similar places nearby. But, this feature will only come handy once all this pandemic gets over, hopefully in the coming months.

Google Search
Every year, we see Google Search is becoming user-friendly and is able to understand the context than ever before. The capability of understanding keywords has gotten improved a lot to give to right result most of the time.

Now, Google has developed a new-age tech dubbed ‘MUM’- Multitask Unified Model. 

The company says that it is now able to better understand much more complex questions and needs, so in the future. Users will require fewer searches to get things done or find accurate information. MUM is said to be built on a Transformer architecture and it’s 1,000 times more powerful and can multitask in order to unlock information in new ways.

“MUM not only understands language but also generates it. It’s trained across 75 different languages and many different tasks at once, allowing it to develop a more comprehensive understanding of information and world knowledge than previous models. And MUM is multimodal, so it understands information across text and images and in the future, can expand to more modalities like video and audio,” Google said.

The search engine company added that the Google Lens feature, which sees more than 3 billion searches, will get better. It is adding a Translate filter in Lens so it’s easy to copy, listen to or search translated text, helping students access educational content from the web in over 100 languages.

Even the AR feature, which helps in visual learning for students was hit during the pandemic-induced lockdown. Google added several wild animals to the 3D view on the search tab. With that, users were able to place any life-size animal in their living room. 

Must read | COVID-19 lockdown: Google AR can turn your living room into jungle


New AR feature on Google Search. Credit: Google

This time, Google is bringing new AR athletes in Search. Users can see signature moves from some of the top athletes in AR — like Simone Biles’s famous balance beam routine.

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