TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with TechRepublic Associate Managing Editor Teena Maddox, Staff Writer Veronica Combs, Staff Writer Owen Hughes and Contributing Writer Brandon Vigliarolo about the recent announcements at Google I/O. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Karen Roby: We’ve got to cover it here on TechRepublic for Google’s annual developers’ conference. And we have several writers that have been covering different angles of this virtual event here for Google I/O 2021. We have Brandon Vigliarolo, Owen Hughes, Teena Maddox and Veronica Combs. Veronica, let’s start with you. As you covered the keynote address, what really stuck out to you?
Veronica Combs: The Google I/O keynote, it was pretty well done, I would say. They hopped around to lots of different people, and there was a socially distanced audience, and they had some live bits and some recorded bits, and overall, I thought it was pretty good. What really stood out to me was that Google was trying to show their range, right? They care about everything from quantum computing, to your privacy, to the environment. Sundar Pichai [Google CEO] started out talking about Google’s response to the pandemic and how many billions of people have looked up COVID-19 information via Google servers. And so that was sort of setting the tone for the whole session, making the world’s information easily found and well-organized.
SEE: The CIO’s guide to quantum computing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
I thought it was interesting that he mentioned Google’s new quantum computing lab. They’re building a new lab, and they had an actor come in and play sort of the, “I don’t know anything about science” role. So they talked about quantum computing really being the language of Mother Nature and how Google, now that they’ve moved beyond classical computing, the next step is an error free cubit. And then after that, is an error free quantum computer. So, it’s a long way to go, but it was nice to see them sort of translate this really complex science into something that we could all understand. And then, so they went from this macro, giant leaps forward in terms of computing to privacy controls for your apps on your phone.
They’ve made a couple changes to some of the settings on your phone, so that it’s easier to see which apps are using the microphone and the camera. They’ve made it easier to turn off that access. They want to free everyone from the pain of passwords. So they talked about centering some of those privacy controls around your phone, they do a pretty good job with their privacy and security checkup. Now, I know they ask you to run that little checkup every so often, but now they’re going to help you navigate to sites where your password has been compromised. So, if your password gets lost in a breach or compromised in a breach, then they’ll help you, “OK, here’s the site now, fix it right now.” So they touched on that. And then they went to sort of, I guess I see it as kind of touchy feely, but it’s certainly very relevant for our time. Something they call Project Starlight.
SEE: Google Assistant: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Project Starlight, it looks like something that is a different way of doing video conferencing. They couched it all in terms of seeing your grandchild for the first time or seeing your sister you haven’t seen, but basically it’s a 3D rendering of the person on the other side of the video call. They use special cameras and a lot of technology to make it look like not just a flat image, but a real person that you’re talking to. They said they even had to rewrite some of the data compression algorithms to get this experience to travel across some of the standard networks that we all use to communicate every day. So, that was their sort of looking up to the stars and what can we do, that’s new and cool.
And then it kind of felt tacked on at the end, but Sundar closed with some green energy news. He said that what they want is to be fully on renewable energy. And that’s hard because the sun isn’t shining all the time in all their data centers around the world, and the wind is not blowing all the time as well. They talked about geothermal, using some geothermal installations to get an on-demand source of green power. So he talked about geothermal and then also some solar panels that they’re going to install as well, I think at their headquarters, but also maybe at some data centers. So, the keynote had it all from cutting edge science down to “who stole my password?” It was a really nice way to kick off the event and once again, illustrated Google’s scope.
SEE: How to get the Android 12 beta (TechRepublic)
Karen Roby: All right, Veronica, thanks so much for that. Owen, I know one of the things that you’ve been writing about here is some of the Workspace aspects that have come out of this. These are details that people have been really excited to hear more about.
Owen Hughes: Yeah. There’s obviously a lot of interest around the future of remote work and collaboration as we kind of start thinking about what that’s going to look like in the coming months and years, and obviously Google already plays a big part in how we work in the cloud, particularly the past year or so. So Smart Canvas is this new, what they’re calling a product experience for Google Workspace that, basically it tries to take all of their collaboration and productivity elements of things like Drive, Docs, Sheets, and basically just tightens the integration to make it easier to work across different projects, different files, different tasks, while working in the cloud in real time, which is particularly useful for these distributed teams. A good way to think about Smart Canvas is it’s kind of an all-in-one template, I guess, for sharing documents and video chats, assignments, and checklists, that you can kind of link to other people and files using @ mentions, which we’ve seen before.
There were some other updates to Workspace as well, which are mainly designed to make it easy-to-use Workspace apps across different devices. So for example, there’s a pages format for Docs that just expands the boundaries of a page to fill the screen of whichever device you were reading or working off of, and new assisted writing features. So that would do things like flag problematic language or suggest more inclusive language. And there’s also a handful of updates coming to Meet as well. So the biggest one was this ability to launch a video meeting directly from a Google Doc. So teams can kind of talk together while collaborating on a document in real time. And yeah, all these updates Google says should be coming out to Workspace users over the course of 2021.
SEE: Chromebooks cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Karen Roby: All right, Owen. Thank you. And Brandon, you covered the developer’s keynote address here for us, for TechRepublic. Talk a little bit about what stuck out to you and in general, what’s going on in the Google developer’s world.
Brandon Vigliarolo: Yeah. So first things first—a lot. They took this 45-minute keynote and crammed so much into it I felt like I couldn’t keep up half the time. I was pausing and going back a minute, I think I finished the keynote probably 10 or 20 minutes after the rest of the world. So, a lot of big stuff, a lot of new changes coming for Android 12. They’re adding some privacy features kind of like Apple did in iOS 14.5. So, they want developers to be aware of that. There’s some additional changes coming to some of the development tools they have, Jetpack Compose, which is a native UI tool kit for Android that’s hitting 1.0 in July, and it had Wear OS integrated into it. But two big things stood out to me. There’s a lot of stuff to go through, feel free to read my article to get all the details or tune into some of the specific breakouts that Google is going to have.
But two things stood out to me as being particularly big news. First off, is a major change to SEO. And I know anyone who does web development or anyone who handles managing websites or people is going to be pretty largely affected by SEO changes. In this case, Google has created what it calls core web vitals, which are three things that it says make a website feel fast to internet users. And that’s load speed, responsiveness and stability. And so basically those three things are going to start being factored into SEO rankings. Any pages you’re in charge of, or any websites you manage, you’ve got to start checking them for those three factors. That’s going to happen this summer sometime. There’s a website that Google set up called web.dev, where you can go to check these measurements and it will audit your site. So you can see where you’re at and where you need to get to.
Lastly, Google is releasing a new open-source, fully managed machine learning platform called Vertex AI. And it’s pretty much like taking all the ML knowledge and hardware necessities out of the process. It’s got pipelines that can automatically update and republish models based on changes, like they gave the example of an email spam filter. If attackers start finding a way around the filter, then Vertex AI can retrain itself, update the model, and then republish all without taking production offline. Also, it’s going to be able to train machine learning models without user datasets. So you can basically determine what you want an AI model to do, and it’ll train itself based on data that Google’s already collated. So, lots of new features with that. It’s going to be really great for companies who want to expand their machine learning but necessarily don’t have the people or the hardware to dedicate to that kind of expensive undertaking.
Karen Roby: All right, Brandon, thank you. We’re going to expand a little bit on, from the developers frontier and from that keynote address, Teena Maddox is covering this for us. Teena, you took a kind of a deeper dive into some of these things that Brandon was writing about as well.
Teena Maddox: Yeah, this is the developers conference for Google, and there were so many great things that they announced. And a couple of the big things, well, it kind of involved well Firebase to start with. They said that Firebase has hit 3 million apps and they introduced a bevy of new updates. And one of the things was a new remote config option, which, that really matters for developers because with remote config, they can see what’s going on when they issue out a new version of their app and they can fix it right there on the spot before it really gets tried out by very many people. So that really makes a difference to developers. So they also introduced some Web SDKs, some analytics for testing and app stability, and they even have a redesigned Dashboard. So those were all really big things that they wanted to show off. And I think those are going to get a lot of attention because Firebase is just a really popular option for developers when they’re creating their apps.
There was even a virtual photo booth that they introduced and it’s powered by both Firebase and Flutter, and that’s new for Google. And speaking of Flutter, back in March, they introduced Flutter 2.0, and they’ve already unveiled 2.2, that was part of Google’s event and that was one of Tuesday’s announcements. And the biggest feature in 2.2 was a payment plugin. And that is something that allows developers to make obviously new ways to monetize their apps. And speaking of apps, there’s 200,000+ apps now available on the Google Play Store that use Flutter. Speaking of Flutter, it was introduced in 2018 and it’s just really gone kind of crazy in the past year. They said that there has been 47% growth from Q1 last year to Q1 this year. So it just shows how popular it’s really gotten and how many developers are using it. Apparently one in eight new apps in the play store are being built with Flutter.
Karen Roby: A big thank you to all of you for your coverage for us here for TechRepublic, Google I/O, of course last year had to be canceled due to COVID. So it’s good to see that they were able to get that back online for all of us here this year for 2021.