Google held its annual developer conference, which it calls Google I/O, this week. And for the first time since the start of the pandemic, participants had the opportunity to show up in person. The company announced software updates and new devices and, of course, details of improvements to the Android operating system, which runs on most mobile phones around the world.
The event also sets the tone for other major technology conferences throughout the year. For this week’s “Quality Assurance” segment, where we look at a big tech story, I spoke with Ian Sherr, CNET’s editor who attended the conference virtually. He said one of Google’s biggest reveals was a new wearable device. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Ian Sherr: These are glasses that actually use Google’s real-time translation technology. And what you do is you’re wearing glasses it will somehow identify the language the other person speaks and automatically translate that to some kind of text that’s directly on the glasses . So, in many ways, you’re getting speech-to-text right in the real world. And so, to see Google think about all of this and show, “OK, well, we had a really cheesy Google Glass many years ago. We didn’t really know what to do with it. But now here’s an idea that absolutely the people would see a use,” I think that was really good.
Kimberly Adams: Talk about it a bit more because, yes, a few years ago Google tried to release augmented reality glasses, and it was a very famous flop. What’s different now?
Expensive : In a lot of ways, I think Google sat there and realized they had already created something looking for a problem. They’ve created this really cool technology that, yes, can have a bit of a computer in your vision, but not quite, and a camera so you can interact with the real world in nifty ways. But they didn’t know what to do with it. They had a few ideas, like giving you real-time directions as you walk down the street. But then we have all these phones that do it quite well, and some of us have these watches that do it quite well and [were] like, “Do I really need to wear these nerdy head glasses for this?” And so as a result, I think they sort of took a step back. And they are not alone, either. I think Apple, Microsoft and Meta have figured this out as well. They need to figure out what this thing can actually do that’s going to change my life, and not just give me some technology and say, “Go spend $1,000 on this and then figure out how you’re going to use it.” “And this demo – they didn’t show anything, they just showed the actual subtitles – you can kind of see what the point of that alone is. And I think it’s a very strong moment for them.
Adam: What kind of emphasis did you see on technology and accessibility at the conference this year?
Expensive : So there’s actually a lot about accessibility that ends up happening is that these features help everyone. They took their computer vision, where a computer brain is able to actually understand what you have a camera pointed at. You go into a store, you point it to one of the shelves, and it’s actually going to start understanding what it’s seeing on all the shelves. And you can actually do a Google search by tapping on it.
Adam: Now, of course, we’re still in the pandemic, marking approximately one million people in the United States so far who have died of COVID-19. How was the pandemic factored into the technology Google chose to highlight at this conference?
Expensive : Much of Google’s technology – and, again, it’s not just Google, it’s all technology companies. They have been building video conferencing and internet collaboration software for a long time. And it spread to some people, but it didn’t really take until we hit the pandemic. So one of the things they showed was that their Google Docs, which is their competitor to Microsoft Word but is on the internet, has a function that’s basically TL; DR — too long; did not read. It will take a very long document or maybe some notes you took in a meeting, and somehow using Google’s computer brain will shorten it into something easily readable in a paragraph. I don’t fully understand how this will work, and I’m fascinated to try it out. But this, again, speaks to this whole “We interact remotely, we use technology a lot more, and we rely on it a lot more.” And so that’s another example. Another thing I’m going to touch on is that in their video meetings, Google Meet – another one of those things that they’ve had for a long time, but really supercharged during the pandemic – they’re now going to start doing captioning and just as good in there. By the way, something Microsoft and others have done, but making these things widely available I really think makes life a lot easier. Now, does that change the world? I mean, in a lot of ways, it’s definitely going to tilt it a bit. But that’s what’s interesting. This is largely an evolutionary change.
Adam: Google I/O takes place before the Apple and Microsoft developer conferences. Do you think what we saw at this conference gives us any kind of idea of what to expect from these other big tech companies?
Expensive : In a way, yes, it could set the tone of, “We’re still figuring out what the next big thing is.” And the reality is that they don’t know. They don’t know what the next life-changing technology will be. And so they’re all making bets in all these different directions, but clearly no one has figured it out yet. And so I think that’s something that we’re going to see throughout. Apple will have their stuff, and they’re cool and they’ll have their oooh-ahhhhs owls, but they’re not going to change the world the same way. And if they do, I’ll be impressed. And Microsoft, same thing. I think we’re still at the point where they’re figuring things out.
Related Links: More from Kimberly Adams
Sherr was live blogging the conference during CNET with colleagues, and he includes more of his views on various Google announcements at the conference. He mentioned these augmented reality glasses that give consumers real-time translations and, according to him and The edgethere is still no information on the cost of the device or if the technology will eventually be widely available to the public.
For reference, versions of google glasses you can now run between $1,000 and $2,000 – mostly in the secondary market.
And speaking of gadgets, Apple this week announced the end of the iPod era. We want to hear your stories about your memories of the devices getting smaller and smaller over the years. Did you crave an iPod when you were younger? Do you still have one? Do you still use it? Send us a voice memo at [email protected]