Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O opened on Monday. As with all of these conferences, we were glued to the screen to see what Google has in store, particularly for Android.
Android is, of course, only one of Google's offerings, and each year we keep an eye out to see what new features may be of use to our clients. Here’s our impressions, after the main keynote and developer keynote.
AI is Everywhere
I think it is safe to say that 2023 will go down as the year that AI exploded. The launch of ChatGPT seems to have wowed everyone, and made some of the big companies accelerate their AI offerings. Google was no different. They showcased Bard, their ChatGPT competitor, and opened access so there’s no more waiting list. They showed the use of AI in Google’s Office Suite, automatically writing documents, and assisting in writing. They showed it working with gmail to help with writing mails, and more.
Tapadoo’s Take: This is just the beginning of the massive wave of AI assistants; they are finally becoming really useful and will be incorporated into our daily lives very quickly. Unfortunately, no Bard for us as though launched in 180 regions, Ireland wasn’t one of them. Hard to see why given their EMEA HQ is in Ireland.
A number of new devices were announced too. A new Pixel phone (Pixel 7a), a foldable device called the Pixel Fold, and new look Pixel tablet.
Tapadoo’s Take: We love the pixel phones, as Google devices are quick to receive updates which can be great for our testing. They also tend to be reasonably priced given the performance.
While the fold is interesting, we like what they’ve done with 2 screens. A demo of using translation that can be read by both the person translating and the person who reads the translation is very compelling; but we weren’t wowed by the foldable tech just yet. In the demos, the light reflected off the folding area, meaning the fold doesn’t really ever go away. Foldable screens look to us like a solution to a problem nobody has. We think these will remain somewhat niche; they’ll have a fan base, but most people won’t desire these.
The pixel tablet comes with a very nice addition; a charging speaker dock. This is exactly what it sounds like: A place to leave the tablet for hands free use such as watching video, which charges automatically, and has a room-filling speaker. And, it comes free with the tablet. We can’t help but think this is aimed squarely as an Alexa competitor. Great for the kitchen. This gets a thumbs up from us.
What’s new for Developers
Again, we’re back to AI. Google unveiled their Large Language Model PaLM, along with an API which they are making available to developers. Their AI assistant, Bard (based on PaLM2) can write code, and they also demoed “Android Studio Bot”, an AI assistant that works right in the Android Studio Development Environment.
Tapadoo’s Take: One of the things that can really explode the effort of a mobile app are the bells and whistles that Apple/Google like to showcase. Features such as: Ensuring the app works at all orientations and all device sizes, managing adaptive text sizing, providing multiple languages, and properly supporting accessibility become real multipliers of effort. This isn’t just coding effort, but design and testing too. Each feature needs to be designed and coded for, and tested in light mode and dark mode; the same applies for multiple screen sizes. AI Assistants can really help in the generation of boilerplate code which already utilise features such as size classes and accessibility features. Based on the demo, Android Studio Bot gets a double thumbs up from us.
“Modern Android Development” and Flutter
Google announced enhancements to Jetpack Compose, Kotlin and the ability to view Crash reports from the app store directly in Android studio. Flutter got all of 2 minutes.
Tapadoo’s take: Ouch. This section was surprisingly short. For a developer conference, we were surprised how little of the developer keynote referred specifically to Android development; We suspect little attention was applied to this area this year, and it shows. As we said, this year is all about AI. Google sometimes appear conflicted on Flutter; on one hand they have a great ecosystem in Kotlin + Jetpack Compose, and on the other hand they claim Flutter is a first class citizen. It clearly isn’t. It’s probably best described as “Google’s first class citizen for cross platform development”. We’ve tried Flutter. We believe it is the best cross platform toolkit we’ve seen to date, but apps developed in Kotlin/Swift are still so much better.
The latter part of the developer keynote looked into how developers can use open sourced AI models, and illustrated the advanced capabilities of Vertex AI, Google’s platform for building, scaling and deploying machine learning models based on the Cloud platform.
Tapadoo’s take: There’s no ambiguity where Google are putting their efforts! But they haven’t left their core strengths of Web, Search, Android and cloud computing behind. The I/O sessions have plenty of in-depth talks and demos, which will keep us busy for the next few weeks. We’re excited by the advances we are seeing and can’t wait to bring these to our clients.