Google and Apple, the two major mobile technology competitors held their annual development conferences in May and June respectively. While aimed at developers, Google I/O and WWDC are often the platform for major announcements and this year was no exception.
With Google cancelling Google I/O last year it was good to see the event back. Some of the noteworthy announcements were:
Project Starline provides a glimpse into the future of video calling. The system builds on three research areas – depth sensors and cameras; compression and streaming algorithms; and Light field display. These are combined to produce an extremely detailed 3D image that is rendered in real-time, without the need for 3D glasses to be worn.
Google is quoted as saying that it’s applying its research in machine learning, computer vision, spatial audio, and real-time compression to build the futuristic system. The result creates the effect of a person sitting across from you.
Currently, the system is only being used internally at Google and there are no plans to release the system commercially. However, access to the technology has been given to some of Google’s enterprise partners.
LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) is the next generation of artificial intelligence (AI) conversational bots. LaMDA is based on Google’s transformer architecture which analyses how words relate to each other in order to predict what to say. However, unlike previous systems LaMDA can manage the open-ended nature of human conversations.
Natural conversations are derived by connecting topics, often in unexpected ways. LaMDA makes a major step towards being able to cope with this. This would mean that conversational bots could engage in natural conversations with people.
In simple terms, LaMDA makes it possible for computers to better understand natural language. This means in time the technology will make its way into search and voice assistants creating a better and more “human” interaction.
Google have failed to really capture the smart watch market – with Apple Watch proving more popular. Google will attempt to change this by their acquisition of Fitbit and the merger of Samsung’s Tizen operating system with Google’s Wear OS. This new operating system will now simply be called Wear. This promises to deliver a wider range of smart watches with better capabilities. It is reported that the next Samsung Galaxy Watch will run this new software.
Perhaps the main announcement at Google I/O was Android 12. Reported to be the biggest change to Android since the implementation of Google’s “Material Design” in 2014. The new “Material You” transforms the device interface. Creating a personalised and clearer interface with new widgets, simpler settings menu, larger and bolder quick settings tiles. A 22% reduction in processing time the new interface is more responsive with smoother animations.
Notifications have been revamped to present a clearer at-a-glance view. There is also a new snooze feature which allows you to snooze specific notifications for a set amount of time.
There is a new lock screen featuring a large digital clock that adapts, reducing in size to show any notifications.
A new fresh look to the PIN code keypad has been included with large round buttons.
The new one-handed mode, as the name suggests, when enabled makes it easier to use the phone, particularly those with larger screens using just one hand.
While picture-in-picture is not new, new controls will make it possible to enlarge the window without going full-screen.
Specifically for Google Pixel phones, Android 12 will enable you to double-tap the back of the phone to perform a programmed action like, take a screenshot, launch Google Assistant, open the recent apps, pause or resume media playback.
Privacy is a hot topic amongst mobile devices at the moment with the somewhat controversial release of iOS 14.5. Google has joined the party with their new “Privacy Dashboard” in Android 12. The dashboard will allow you to see what apps have accessed certain permissions. It also includes the option to quickly disable all app access to your camera and microphone.
When an app is first launched and requests access to your location you can now decide to have it only get access to an approximate rather than precise location.
Behind the scenes the Private Compute Core ensures that all audio and language processing are done on the device and can’t be shared over the network.
A new built-in app will also soon be available that will enable android phones to be used as a remote to control any television running Android TV.
More improvements and features that have not been mentioned above will be included in Android 12. Currently the Android 12 public beta is available for download with an official release expected in September this year.
While most major announcements typically happen at WWDC, Apple released iOS 14.5 in April. This caused some controversy notably with Facebook because of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency privacy feature. App Tracking Transparency allows you control which apps are able to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites. This data is typically used to display personalised advertisements or shared with data brokers.
Other mentionable changes in iOS14 include support for Apple’s new AirTag. This £2 sized tracker can be attached to objects like your keys, wallet, bag, etc. You can then use the Find My app to locate the object using visual, audible, and haptic feedback to guide you directly to the AirTag.
At WWDC 2021 Apple announced the coming release of iOS 15. As with every new version of the operating system this includes a host of improvements and new features. Some of these are:
A significant update to FaceTime. For the first time, FaceTime is now supported across platforms making it possible to use FaceTime on Windows and Android through a browser. Similar to Zoom, it is now possible to schedule individual FaceTime calls and send a link to join the call. FaceTime now also supports portrait mode to blur backgrounds, and a grid view to speak to multiple people at the same time. The new spatial audio feature creates a 3D audio experience allowing you to get a sense of where the person is on the screen during group calls.
ShareTime, enables users to now share music or their screen during a FaceTime call.
iMessage has been redesigned and now includes features that photos received in iMessage are grouped into galleries. Links that are sent to you get automatically saved in “shared with you” so they are in one place and can be access later. This works with Apple Music, Safari, Apple Podcasts, Apple TV and Apple News.
While notifications continue to be displayed on the lock screen, a new feature now collects the notifications and displays them in a custom summary, ordered by priority.
If “do not disturb” or a new “focus” mode are enabled this status will now be shared with other users, like an away message.
The new Focus mode filters and hides notifications and apps based on specific user preferences. Focus, also uses on-device intelligence to suggest which people and apps are allowed to notify them. These suggestions factor in the person’s context, for example work hours or when winding down for bed. Once Focus is set on one Apple device, it gets automatically applied to any other Apple devices the person may have.
A new feature in the Camera app, called Live Text can automatically identify and scan text in photographs. This text can then be copied and extracted to use in other apps.
The Wallet has been updated to now support the inclusion of corporate ID badges, keys to get into hotels and houses with smart homes.
Apple’s Safari browser on the iPhone has received a major update with a redesigned tab interface and support for the same extensions used in the desktop version.
Similar to iOS 15 for iPhone, the iPad operating system will also be updated to iPadOS 15. Included in the new version are new ways to rearrange iPad apps, put widgets on the home screen and the App Library feature – something that until now was only available on iPhone.
A new multitasking interface that makes it easier to place two apps side by side on the iPad screen.
The Apple notes app is now able to better interface with other apps. Swiping up from the bottom corner of the iPad will now launch the “Quick Notes” feature. This enables you to quickly make notes using the Apple Pencil.
A new version of the Translate app has been added to iPadOS 15. This app enables people to have a conversation and have it translated on-screen in real time.
Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app which is designed to help people learn how to code (program) has been updated and it is now possible to create full apps, that can be submitted to the App Store.
Both iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 are expected to be released in September this year.
Many more announcements covering other products were made during WWDC. It remains exciting to see the ongoing advances in technology and its potential to improve people’s lives.
As always, I am interested to hear about how you are using mobile and other smart technology. If you would like to have a particular topic covered in the next newsletter, please let me know. I am also available at any time to support and help where I can.