Yes, believe it or not, it’s time for another tech event. This time it’s Google’s turn in the spotlight with their ‘Made by Google’ event held in New York. Here’s some of my initial impressions.
The event kicked off with the introduction of the term “Ambient Computing”. Google explained that they feel using technology should be unobtrusive, with the technology itself just being part of the environment and not requiring you to wrestle with an interface to get things done.
It was announced that the much-anticipated Stadia service will launch on November 19th. This game streaming service has the potential to revolutionize the way we play games and could be a real threat to the game console market. It does away with the need for expensive hardware in your home by running the game you’re playing on Google’s own servers, then simply streaming the video to your home.
Of course, the biggest hurdle is latency. For example, if you’re playing a game, you may press a button on your Stadia controller to make your on-screen character jump. This needs to be sent to the Google servers, they then have to render the video for this action, and then send it back to you. Any delay in this process would make playing fast paced games impossible. Google claims they’ve solved this problem and it looks like we won’t have long to wait to see if they really have.
In terms of its relevancy to the visually impaired, we have only recently started to see accessibility features implemented in main-stream console games, so it’ll be interesting to see if Google has given any thought to this also.
Google Pixel Buds
We were also given some details on the new Pixel Buds. Featuring a very small design and promising a five hour battery life with up to 24 hours charge in the carry case. The most interesting thing for me was in the design. They have included a vent in the buds to allow some environmental noise through which obviously would be great for us when it comes to mobility. They also spoke of an adaptive sound feature, which would adjust the volume depending on the noise of the surrounding environment. Again, not having to adjust volume every time we moved from a noisy street to indoors would be a nice touch.
Expect to see these released Spring next year.
After last year’s Pixel Slate, the Chrome OS powered tablet, Google seems to have returned to familiar ground with their new Pixelbook Go. It’s a traditional laptop form factor, but with the emphasis on portability. With its small and light design and claimed great battery life, this does look to me like it could be targeting the education market. That is, of course, depending on price.
Like a lot of the devices unveiled at the event, they didn’t give away a lot of details of the actual hardware so expect to see more details over the coming weeks.
At first glance, this replacement to the popular Google Home Mini smart-speaker seems pretty… unexciting.
It sticks very closely to the previous design, improves the sound with 2 x the bass of the previous Mini, adds a wall mounting option and comes in more colours. All updates that you’d expect in a new generation device. However, they did also announce that it has a new chip inside dedicated to processing your voice commands on the device itself, rather than sending a recording of your command to Googles servers. This is a very smart move from Google as it addresses some of the privacy concerns people have over exactly who’s listening to these recordings and should make using the device feel more responsive.
I think this could be a big selling point for consumers and I would expect to see other smart speaker manufacturers implement a similar feature.
Nest Wi-fi Router
Google’s previous Wi-fi system was popular due to its good performance and simple setup. It seems that Google are carrying on with that winning formula with the new Nest Wi-fi. Consisting of two parts, a router that you connect to your modem and something they call a Point which you can place anywhere else in the house. Google claims that the two devices will deliver a far reaching, reliable wi-fi network. Mesh networks are nothing new but Google’s ease of use and simple set up is always something people like. And for us, being able to easily access and change router settings via an app is tempting. The Nest Wi-fi also includes a built-in Nest Mini meaning you can play music, ask questions and control smart devices from your router.
It will be available November 4th.
As someone who has the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3A and use them every day, I can say from experience that it’s probably the best way to use stock Android. The Pixel 3 was also highly rated due to its camera and the photos it could produce. With the Pixel 4 announcement Google, like Apple, seems to have made the camera quality the main selling point of their newest device. With two camera sensors on the back, one standard and one telephoto, plus a mysterious Hyper Spectrum sensor the photos on show were certainly impressive and I’m sure will appeal to many users.
But for me, the most interesting feature of the new Pixel 4 is the fact that it’s the first smart phone with built in Radar. Built into the front of the phone this special sensor can detect very small movements and even recognize faces… If what Google claimed turns out to be true. It could be faster than Apples Face ID. Google showed off its gesture control functionality, with users being able to swipe the air, etc. to perform different actions on the phone. We have seen gesture control before on Samsung devices, but it has always been a bit of a gimmick and nothing you would use seriously. So, Google has a challenge on their hands to convince people this is something that actually adds to the user interface.
From an accessibility point of view, I’m wondering if the Radar functionality could be used to help with mobility or mapping our environment or maybe even recognizing objects. If it’s as accurate as they say, it could have some very interesting applications for accessibility. Like the Nest Mini, the ability to process voice commands locally was also shown as was a new voice recording app that would not only record your voice but also transcribe it in real-time and save this with the audio. You can then search all your recordings for specific words or phrases, which could be really useful.
The Pixel 4 and 4 XL will be available on October 24th starting at $759.
There were no show stopping announcements at the Google event this year, and I did feel a little frustrated by the lack of detail given on some of the devices. I’m sure we’ll see more specs revealed shortly, but the main points of interest for me are the on-board voice processing that was in the Nest Mini and Pixel 4. Not only does this improve processing speed but also address the concerns we’ve all had about just who is listening to us. Also the Radar feature in the Pixel 4 has the potential to change the way we use our devices, and also could have possible accessibility use cases, but previous attempts at gesture control from other manufacturers have failed to impress users.
Can Google change their mind? Only time will tell.
Co-host & audio producer on the Double Tap Canada radio show. Occasional contributor to Double Tap TV, full time shed resident.