Key highlights from Google I/O 2021 event: New changes to Android 12, Wear OS updates

Google’s annual developer conference held yesterday 18th May is back after it was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The highlights from Google I/O 2021 include an opening keynote address in which Google executives and project managers took turns demonstrating new software features, AI-powered tools, and a bizarre prototype video booth designed for hyperrealistic teleconferencing. This three-day conference took place virtually.

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A rundown of the key highlights from Google I/O 2021

A new look for Android with Material You

material you google io 2021 scaled

One of the exciting highlights from Google I/O 2021 is the visual changes in Android 12 that make the next version of the mobile operating system feel more personal and playful. When you pick up your phone, the lock screen will light up from the bottom, but if you press the power button instead, the pixels will illuminate from the side of the phone. Many of these changes are part of Google’s new Material You design language. It will first be available this fall on Google hardware and software, and it will allow you to change the colour palette of all your apps, though you will be limited to the colours Google has chosen for its “Material palette.”

Wear OS updates

Google is dying for a major update to Wear OS

The next version of Wear OS—for now, just called Wear—will include some features pulled right from Samsung’s current wearable OS, Tizen. (Samsung’s forthcoming wearables will also use the Wear operating system.) Google says this and other optimizations will offer better battery life and up to 30 per cent faster performance. Some Google apps will work directly on the Wear platform without requiring a constant phone connection.

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New Android 12 privacy features

A new dashboard allows users to view application permission settings, see which data are accessed via which apps and cancel app tracking privileges from all screens. In addition, an indicator will now appear in the top right corner to let you know if an app is using your microphone or camera. More nuanced “approximate location” features enable you to give an app a general sense of where you are rather than pinpointing which bathroom stall you are in.

Google Project Starline

Google demonstrated Project Starline, which uses high-resolution cameras and depth sensors to create a real-time 3D model of a person who is “sitting” across you to re-create the feeling of having a face-to-face meeting. Imagine looking through a sort of magic window, and through that window, you see another person, life-size and in three dimensions. You can talk naturally, gesture and make eye contact.

Google develops a camera that is more inclusive

Google announced an effort to address that today in its own camera and imaging products, with a focus on making images of people of color “more beautiful and more accurate.” These changes will come to Google’s own Pixel cameras this fall, and the company says it will share what it learns across the broader Android ecosystem.

Over 3 billion Android devices are active globally

There are over 3 billion active Android devices in the world today. Google added over 500 million active Android devices since its last developer’s conference in 2019 and 1 billion devices since 2017. The number is taken from the Google Play Store, which doesn’t take into account devices based on Android but that use alternative stores, including Amazon Fire devices and the myriad of Chinese Android-based devices that avoid using Google’s apps altogether.

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