Google I/O & Apple WWDC Gadgets Highlights
Tushar Kanwar's pick of the key takeaways from Google's I/O and Apple's WWDC and why they matter to us
While they’re both ostensibly developer oriented events, Google’s I/O and Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) are platforms where the Silicon Valley giants show off major updates to software (and products) that Google and Apple users—that’s pretty much all of us—can look forward to this year. In a way, both events almost serve as a zeitgeist, a barometer for what we can expect to see in our phones, cars and homes.
Google’s next big update to the Android platform—Android 8.0 ‘O’ —was shown off at I/O, though what the O stands for is anybody’s guess (my money’s on Oreo!) What we did see were big new features, such as picture-in-picture for video calling, so you can continue that email while on a video call and smart text selection that allows instant text selection for things such as addresses, business names, and phone numbers more quickly. O also sees improvement in battery life and performance, and improved notification handling and password management.
Google’s smart speaker is among the best of its generation, and it can now show visual responses on the nearest Chromecast connected screen—you can, for instance, ask it to pull up your calendar for the day and Home will display it on your TV. Ask Home for directions to a place, and it can send directions to Google Maps on your Android phone, and even proactively alert you of traffic delays along the way.
Android’s sheer numbers boggle the mind—the platform recently hit 2 billion monthly active devices, and there are more Android users in India than in the US. Android Go is Google taking aim at the next billion, via what is essentially a version of Android O that’s purpose-built for entry level devices working in low-bandwidth environs. On Android Go, all Google apps come rebuilt to require less memory (as low as 512MB memory), storage and bandwidth, and users get greater control on how much data each app is using.
Standalone VR headsets
Current-gen VR headsets require you to strap in your smartphone onto the headset, and the phone handles all the VR content duties. Google’s now partnering with Lenovo and HTC to make headsets that don't need a smartphone to power the VR experience—they work on their own using something Google calls “WorldSense”, which enables the headset to track your precise movements in space, without any extra external sensors. These will be big when they hit later this year.
Why type and search when you can point and search? Google Assistant will soon be able to analyse your surroundings and display relevant content on your screen, using machine-learning tech that Google calls Google Lens. For instance, you’ll see a restaurant’s rating when pointing your phone at the store front, or identify the species merely by pointing at a flower, or even translating a sign from French to English simply by looking at it. Lens is even coming to Google Photos later this year, so you’ll be able to look at an old vacation photo and find more information about a landmark from a photo you took.
New iMacs and macOS High Sierra
The updated desktop iMac range features improved Retina displays, boosts to memory capacity and graphic performance, USB-C ports and Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors. The new macOS version, named High Sierra, bakes in a number of under-the-hood updates – the Safari browser will automatically block video autoplay on websites and even prevent sites from sharing your web browsing data. Plus, the new Apple File System promises to deliver faster file transfers and tougher disk encryption, the latter to keep data criminals away even if they have physical access to your drive.
Apple’s mobile platform dials itself all the way up to 11, with new capabilities in its latest update. Siri can now handle multi-language translations and proactive alerts based on your location, current weather and the like. iMessages on your iPhone will now be synched to the cloud, saving you storage on the device, and the already readily accessible Control Center will allow quicker access to phone settings. Live Photos will now allow you to select a photo from the Live Photo video if you happened to miss the moment. There’s a redesigned App Store, and my favorite – the Do Not Disturb mode for driving – which activates if a phone is connected to a moving vehicle and automatically silences notifications and keeps the screen dark to avoid driver distractions.
iMac goes Pro
Want more firepower from your Mac, and for it to look insanely cool to boot? Wait till the year end for the all-new iMac Pro to hit stores, which clads the familiar iMac design into a gorgeous space grey shell… and there’s a matching keyboard and trackpad as well! And of course, the new iMac Pro is a beast, with specs going all the way up to an 18-core Intel Xeon processor with up to 128 GB of memory and up to 4 TB of speedy solid state storage, with a Radeon Vega graphics chip with 16GB of video RAM handling graphics duties. Did I mention the base spec variant starts at $5000?
Sure, there was a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro launched at WWDC with fancy ‘ProMotion’ tech that allows the screens to automatically adjust the refresh rate based on what you’re viewing (higher refresh rate for fast-moving video vs slower for text or still images). But the big news—possibly the news of the event for me—was on the software side, courtesy some big iPad-specific improvements in iOS 11. From an app dock similar to the one seen on the Mac and the ability to drag-and-drop content between apps to the new Files app that makes file management significantly easier and amped up multitasking capabilities, iOS 11 makes major strides forward towards making the iPad a true laptop replacement.
Apple’s long-rumored Amazon Echo and Google Home competitor saw the light of day at WWDC, if only long enough for Apple to announce a December 2017 launch date. It’s called the HomePod, a pill-shaped circular speaker with a seven-tweeter array and an upward facing woofer for lower frequencies. Apple’s stressed it’s a high-quality speaker first, but the Apple A8 chip it houses inside—the same chip that powered the iPhone 6–powers not only its spatial audio capabilities (it senses its location in a room and automatically adjusts the audio) but also Siri voice assistant. Siri on the HomePod can play music from your Apple Music library, control compatible smart home appliances and respond to all our questions about what the news is, how the weather is looking and what the sports scores are.