My takeaways from Google I/O Event 2021 as a developer

Chidume Nnamdi
My takeaways from Google I/O Event 2021 as a developer


I've been following the latest Google I/O Event and wrote down some highlights. Check out the general announcements and the developer-focused releases!

Short intro - What is Google I/O

Google I/O is one of the most popular and well-attended software conferences in the world. It is hosted by the tech giant Google, and this event is aimed at bringing us up-to-date to the new tech that is emerging in the Google space and super-enhancements that have been applied to already existing Google techs.

The Google IO event is an annual conference, and it is usually done around May, June each year. The event didn't hold last year, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also, the event lasts for 3 days maximum.

Some history in brief

The Google IO event began in May 2008, and it was held in Moscone Center. Moscone Center is George R. Moscone Convention Center, in San Francisco, California, this event was held in this place for 7 years starting from its inception year 2008 to 2015. Then it was held in Shoreline Amphitheater for 4 years from 2016 to 2019, this Shoreline Amphitheater is an open door theatre based in Mountain View California. This year the event was held online.

Like we already said, this Google I/O event is where major announcements, surprises, and highlights on Google products and services are laid to bear. This is where major Google products were first shown to the world; Android, Flutter, App engine, Maps API, Chrome, Firebase, etc.

The keynote

Each Google I/O event has a line of speakers selected by a special Google team. These speakers are assigned topics (either keynotes, highlights, new features, or announcements) they would talk about. The event is ended with an afterparty and performances by some music group. The Google IO 2021 is one of the biggest so far in its history. There were major topics and announcements that brought mind-blowing enhancements and new techs being launched; new Android 12 look, AI integrations, 3D tech and so much more. We will cover all of them in the below sections.

Google Keynote (Google I/O ‘21) - American Sign Language

Highlights from the event

Major highlights of the event this year are:

Android 12 gets a new look

Android 12 new look

Google's Android was launched in 2007, and up to now, it has 3 billion active devices. Thus becoming the most popular and most-used Operating system in the world. Google announced its newest version of the mobile OS, Android 12 around February this year. At this event, Google announced that they are giving the Android 12 a new look.

The Android 12 integrates the brand new "Material You" as its new design. The Material You UI is an adaptable UI design that focuses on the entire experience, from the colors to the shapes, light, and motion.

Material You gives us the power of more personal experience. We can personalize our phones with custom color palettes, wallpapers, then from these, the OS will be able to choose colors from all these, determines which is more dominant, and also determine the colors that complement the wallpapers and our custom colors and applies the colors across the entire OS. It will affect the notifications UI, lock screen, volume controls, etc.

Android 12 UI

The Android 12 also includes privacy features, including a new privacy dashboard. The privacy dashboard gives us more transparency on the apps that have access to various data in our device, eg Location, SMS, Calls, Bluetooth, Camera, Microphone, etc.

WearOS and Tizen; Google and Samsung

Two tech giants Google and Samsung have a growing alliance between them. Today, both companies announced that they will be creating a unified wearable platform for wearable devices where developers can build apps that can work on Google's Wear OS and Samsung's Tizen. The platform's software will be based on Tizen combining Wear OS to the mix.

WearOS and Tizen are merged

This will lead to apps starting faster than before. It will be 30% faster than the previous devices and have longer battery life.

Project Starline 3D modeling

Google is bridging the gaps between distance in recent years, this time they are trying to bring it home. We might feel calling ar talking with loved ones over Zoom, Google Meet really connect us together well, no matter what, nothing surpasses actually seating down and talking face-to-face with a person. This is why a few years ago Google announced Project Starline. In this event, Google demonstrated the project, yes, but it still experimental.

This new technology involves a high-tech 3D call. It uses high-resolution cameras, depth sensors, Lytro DNA to create and show realistic 3D avatars of people that we chat with. It uses real-time compression, computer vision, machine learning, and spatial audio to create the effect.

Screenshot of project starline

It is kind of a phone calling booth, where the person you are talking to is created in the adjacent mirror. Like we said earlier, the created avatar is in 3D shape, and takes the looks and features of the actual person in real life. How the person reacts, the contours on the face, and how the person speaks are all in effect. The effect is the feeling of a person sitting just across from you like they are right there.

Wow, Google is really breaking boundaries.

AI and LaMDA

Google's involvement in AI and Machine Learning has been on a huge rise. This time they are showing off their newest AI language model called LaMDA. LaMDA was created to be an improvement on other language models, it will be much better at following conversations in a more natural way.

Screenshot of LaMDA

Without prior training, LaMDA will be able to make conversations and perform queries more naturally, and also have the ability to answer more open-ended questions. In this event, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated LAMDA's ability to converse, by showing a pre-recorded demo of LamDA-powered Pluto and a paper airplane conversation.

Pluto: "what's the worst place you've ever landed?" Paper airplane: "That would have to be in a puddle. I was just barely still intact so I was stuck there for a few minutes."

"Smart Canvas" on Google Workspace

Google is reforming its productivity suites making them more interconnected. Google feels that its productivity and collaboration tools don't actually connect the users. The users in a team working on a Docs are isolated from each other, Google decided to create a tool to unite them. So, they announced "Smart Canvas".

Google Workspace artwork

"Smart Canvas" is a new tech tool integrated into Google's Workspace office software that allows users working on a project to brainstorm, and plan projects. Users can share their thoughts, drop comments and they can have a Google Meet video call while working on a project. This goes all the way to Google Docs, Sheet, and Slide.

Smart canvas example

This is so great because teams won't have to do a presentation in Slide while streaming the presentation from Zoom. Now, everything can be done from the Google Slide :) that's awesome.

Animated photos from Google Photos

Google is one of the companies that invests heavily in AI and uses it in most of their products. Now, they are taking AI to Google Photos.

Google announced that Google Photos can now create cinematic moments/experiences from your photos. Google Photos can generate an animation from two photos taken seconds apart.

Example of animated photos from Google Photo

That's weird, I must say, but how do they do that? With the two photos, Google Photos uses AI to correctly guess what comes between them, the visual patterns, thereby creating a moving image just like GIF. That's mind-blowing. That's a whole lot of Memories added to your photos thanks to Google.

Locked folder in Google Photos

Google with biometric sign

Google announced that they are adding a new feature in Google Photos. This feature allows users to create a password-locked folder. The folder can be locked with a touch sensor, PIN, face sensor, or Pattern drawing.

Locked folder example

The photos stored in any locked folder won't appear while scrolling the photos.

Google Password Manager

We do forget passwords all the time and almost find ourselves retrieving the passwords or changing the passwords. Google came up with Google Password Manager that lets us store and retrieve passwords on the fly. Now, Google announced that they are adding a new feature to the Google Password Manager that will let users change a stored password for a website from inside the Google Password Manager.

Google Password Manager screenshot

This for now only works on Twitter and other sites via Chrome.

Google Maps is now safer via "safer routing"

With Google Maps we plan the routes we take to a destination, and most times the routes aren't that fuel-efficient and safe.

safer routing image

Google announced that they are adding a new feature to Google Maps that will make it plan safe and fuel-efficient routes. It is the Safer Routing option, which uses machine learning(yeah machine learning) to plan routes using data on the routes' road network, weather conditions, and traffic to give us routes that will be safe, less prone to traffic jams, stops, and weather disturbances.

safer routing illustration

So our routes are getting safer. That's great!

Google Maps AR

Google has been making some serious changes to this Map tool. The latest was the addition of the Live View augmented reality tool, a tool that gives the users ability to help them find their way through indoor spaces example the tool can guide them in airports, train stations, tunnels, etc.

It uses the AR tech to overlay these places over the real world with digital markers and arrows so the users can navigate with ease.

Google Maps AR screenshot

Now, Google announced that they will be adding more features to this. These new features will be able to show the users new landmarks, hillsides, how busy a certain area is, photos, reviews and it will be able to highlight places of nearby businesses depending on the time of the day. For example, Maybe you are going for a break in the afternoon, if you open Google Maps, it will show you places where you can grab a quick lunch.

Android TV hits a milestone!

Google's Android TV has been on the surge lately despite the heavy competition in the smart TV space. In this event, they announced that they had reached 80 million monthly active devices.

Android TV screenshot

Google is not lagging, earlier it was their Android hit 3 billion, now it's their Android TV. Kudos Google.

Android TV add remote to Android

Still on Google's Android TV matter. They are adding more features to their Android TV. They announced the addition of a TV remote app on Android devices. This will enable users to control the TV from their phones, they can control the volume, switch apps, and control other Android TV connected to the phone.

Android TV remote

Google's new health tool

Google is putting its hands in every sector, now it is the health sector. Google revealed a new health feature that will help users identify skin conditions. The app will let you take a close-up photo of the affected area in your skin, then you answer questions like your skin type, symptoms, any underlying disease, general health, and from this it will diagnose your skin condition.

Google health tool screenshots

The diagnosis will contain the name of the skin condition, symptoms, whether it is highly contagious or not, the severity of the skin condition, treatment of it, the duration of the skin condition if any, how common the skin condition is, and so much more. This is just like having a dermatologist living on your phone.

Privacy-friendly machine learning

Privacy-friendly machine learning photo

Google is the powerhouse of machine learning. Lately, they announced that they will be adding a lot of privacy features to Android. This is the Private Compute Core. This is a software partition in the Android OS that will keep the user's data safe, private, and local to their phones. This includes a sandbox for machine learning. This sandbox will be private storage for models generated and trained using machine learning.

Google's custom AI chips

Google announced a new version of its TPU units. It is version 4, TPUv4. TPU is a Tensor Processing Unit, Google's custom-developed application-specific integrated circuits used specifically for neural network machine learning. This new TPUv4 is the fourth generation of the TPUs and it is faster than the previous versions.

TPUv4 photo

Google's CEO Pichai stated that these chips will be combined in a pod, and each pod contains 4,096 v4 TPUs, with each pod having a processing power of one exaflop(10^18 floating-point operations per second).These TPUs will be available to developers to use in the Google Cloud Platform.

More announcements Google made in the event

Wear OS

Google's WearOS

Wear OS, Google OS for its smartwatches has announced that it will have more health apps. Also, it will host other healthcare apps that track health stuff like a heartbeat, mind relaxation, etc. This announcement followed after Google's acquisition of Fitbit, a wearables leader that dominated fitness bands.

Google is advancing image processing

Cameras tend to capture light-colored skin very much and have issues when capturing dark skins. Google has been making advancements in image processing and lately, they announced that their new camera in Android will be very able to capture and render dark skin tones and natural hair. They made serious changes in their auto-white balances and rendering algorithms to produce an accurate result of people's color and hair in photos.

Android phone as car key

Google won't cease to amaze us. Google is in collaboration with giant automaker BMW to build a digital car key that lets the owners lock, unlock and start their cars from their Android smartphones. This will be available in Google's newest version of its mobile OS, Android 12.

Android phone as car key image

The car can be unlocked from the Android smartphone when the user gets near it and can also exchange basic commands with the car. This feature uses the UWB(Ultra Wideband) and NFC(Near-field communication) technology. This is kinda what we see in a James Bond movie. It's all becoming real.

Developer focused highlights

Flutter: Major update

Flutter brand image

Flutter is gaining momentum in the mobile app world, lots of developers including myself are delving into the mobile app due to the simplicity that Flutter brings into the game. Google announced Flutter in 2017, and suddenly lots of apps were built and deployed, Google state that Google Play hosts over 200,000 Flutter-powered apps, and that 1 out of 3 new apps in Play is a Flutter app. So with this Google ain't gonna let go of Flutter. They made an announcement on a new major upgrade in this UI toolkit, it is Flutter 2.2.

This release focuses more on performance, streamlining. The upgrades include:

  • More material icons
  • Improved text handling
  • Auto scrolling behavior
  • Android deferred components
  • Windows Flutter support in UWP alpha

Firebase: Major updates

Firebase brand image

Seems like Google is seriously updating its tools, next on the list is Firebase. Google announced that they are updating its developer platform, Firebase. These updates were majorly done on its tools like Remote Config and Firebase Personalization feature. Google also improved Firebase's analytics and monitoring services, especially the Crashlytics that helps gamers figure out why their apps crashed.

Android Studio

Android Studio is not left behind. Google did a series of rework around its popular IDE, Android Studio. Google revealed that Android Studio will have a new UI design system called Jetpack Compose. This new UI design environment will help devs design and develops apps that will be accessible to the disabled.

Android studio animated GIF

Videos on developer-focused presentations

Most recommended talks to watch

Here are talks and videos from this year's Google I/O that I recommend you watch:

What's new in Firebase | Keynote

What's new in Firebase

What's new in Flutter | Keynote

What's new in Flutter

What's new in Jetpack Compose | Session

What's new in Jetpack Compose

What’s new with Android for Cars | Session

What’s new with Android for Cars

Project Starline REVEALED! Talk to your friends in hyper-real 3D

Project Starline REVEALED! Talk to your friends in hyper-real 3D

Building a more Equitable camera

Building a more Equitable camera


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