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May 18, 2017

The Morning After: Thursday, May 18th 2017

by John_A

Google’s annual conference touched on all the zeitgeisty terms you’d have expected: More voice assistant features, artificial intelligence, visual search powered by deep learning and a whole lot more.

Here’s what you missed
Google I/O 2017 recap

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The opening day of Google’s developer event focused on putting more AI everywhere — in your camera with Google Lens, in your phone/car/TV/speaker with Google Assistant — and connecting virtual reality to mixed reality with Daydream. It probably sounds like a lot, because it is, but we boiled down the speech to a 15-minute video with all the highlights, so click here and get acquainted with the Google-y new world we’re living in.

Its latest search engine knows what’s in your photos.
Google Lens is a powerful, AI-driven visual search app

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Google Lens is a broad term that encompasses all kinds of vision-based computing skills. It can recognize what’s going on in photos or videos and offer up clever shortcuts you might want to use. For instance, point your phone at a flower and Google Lens will tell you, on the screen, which type of flower it is, or aim the camera at a restaurant sign to see reviews and other information pop up. The least sexy application we saw on stage might be the most useful: Point the camera at a WiFi router’s name and password, and Google will apparently do the connecting for you. The new system will arrive in Google Photos and Assistant first, later this year.

Practice saying ‘ok Google’
Google Assistant gets smarter and lives in more places (like your iPhone)

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For all the talk about artificial intelligence, most of us will experience Google’s work in the area via Google Assistant. The smart helper is opening up to app developers so it can do more things — like take a conversational delivery order — and accept typed input for your more private inquiries. iPhone owners can give it a spin outside of Allo, thanks to a new standalone app that (at least so far) narrowly edges out Apple’s Siri in terms of usefulness.

You just want to be in the beta
All about Android O

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We still don’t know what the “O” is for, but we do know a lot more about what Google is concentrating on this time around. Other than accelerating boot time, Android O has new limits for apps that are supposed to keep them from draining your battery and wasting resources while running in the background. There’s some AI secret sauce in there, with hardware-accelerated neural network APIs that can figure things out without shifting your private data to the cloud, and a smart copy-paste feature that easily figures out which text is important. Also, new notification dots bring alerts out of the top panel, and there are big emoji updates.

The most important news, though, is that you can try it out right now on various Nexus and Pixel devices.

The smart speaker is getting smarter.
Google Home is getting proactive assistance and visual responses

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Google Home was a decent first stab at taking on Amazon’s Echo, but there’s clearly room for improvement. Today, the company revealed that its smart speaker will soon be able to give you proactive notifications, like alerting you to traffic delays ahead of upcoming appointments. Google Home will light up to let you know it has an alert for you, so it thankfully won’t just start talking without any prompting.

“Elon spent the rest of the call convincing me that it’s too far out,” said the Uber boss.
Tesla turned down Uber’s self-driving partnership offer

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A new book on Uber by Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky is coming out soon, but Bloomberg has revealed one juicy anecdote ahead of time. CEO Travis Kalanick reportedly called up Tesla boss Elon Musk to propose a partnership on self-driving cars, but Musk rebuffed the offer and even tried to talk him out of it. Kalanick stated in the book. “Elon spent the rest of the call convincing me that it’s too far out, and it’s not realistic, that I should just stick to what we do best and be focused, or I’m going to fuck it all up. That’s when I knew Tesla was competing.”

Yes, the Galaxy S8 doubles as a desktop, but most people can stay away.
Samsung DeX review: The impressive, unnecessary, phone-powered PC

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If you already own a Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus, then Samsung’s DeX dock is a fascinating proposition. For $150, you could cobble together a system that acts an awful lot like a PC. Mobile Editor Chris Velazco says the interface is familiar and overall performance is pretty impressive. The experience isn’t without its problems, though. There are a limited number of apps optimized for DeX and gathering up all the requisite parts could get pricey too, if you don’t already have a spare keyboard, mouse and monitor lying around. DeX blurs the line between smartphone and PC better than any other attempt he has seen — he’s just not convinced that many people will find it genuinely useful.

The Fire 7 gets a new body, the Fire HD 8 is $10 cheaper.
Amazon’s Fire tablets get a little thinner and a little faster

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There’s nothing too drastic coming with Amazon’s Fire tablet update: the Fire 7 gets a thinner and lighter chassis and an improved 7-inch IPS display. Battery life and chip performance have also been improved, not to mention the addition of voice assistant Alexa. Amazon’s done even less to the Fire HD 8, throwing in faster, more power-efficient internals but leaving everything else the same. The device’s biggest new feature may be the $10 reduction compared to the last model.

But wait, there’s more…

  • Qualcomm sues iPhone suppliers to get to Apple’s money
  • Google launches a massive open AI division
  • The first ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ trailer is here
  • AMD’s 16-core ‘Threadripper’ CPU is built for ultra-high-end PCs
  • ‘The Witcher’ will come to Netflix, not movie theaters
  • Record labels are pushing Apple Music to have fewer exclusives
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