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Google announces a host of updates to Android, search and other features as part of I/O event

Google has released new updates for Android, search and its other products.

The new features include a redesigned look for its mobile operating system, updates to Google Maps that will allow users to specifically pick less environmentally damaging journeys, and new AI tools.

The updates came during Google I/O, its developer event, during which it reveals many of its biggest features of the year. This year, as with many other technology events, it is being held remotely, though presenters including chief executive Sundar Pichai made the announcements live from a stage within Google’s campus in California.

Perhaps chief among the updates was the reveal of Android 12, its operating system for mobile devices. The new update is also a hint at what will be coming in future updates, Google said.

The most obvious change to Android is the introduction of a new version of “Material Design”, the look that is present right across the company’s software. To create it, Google “rethought the entire experience”, including changes to colours and the motions between different apps, it said.

In addition to the new look, Google is working on new ways to allow the variety of different parts of the ecosystem – from the phone itself, to TVs and cars that run their own versions of Android – work better together. Android phones will be able to work as digital car keys, for instance, Chromebooks will be able to check in with a users’ phone, and they can also be used as a remote for Android TV devices.

It will also bring updates to Wear OS, its operating system for smart watches. That brings the same new look as well as a unified platform with Samsung, it said.

Away from those new features for mobile devices, Google added a range of other tools for its existing software products. Everything from Maps to Search is receiving such updates, it said.

They include new search powered by a machine learning system known as MUM, which will allow people to look for things in the way they might more naturally search. Users could ask for a route with “good views”, for instance, and the system would search for it.

Maps results will be more personalised based on the time of day and whether you’re travelling, and its routes can be chosen in a more smart way: it can highlight routes that won’t use as much fuel, for instance, as well as avoiding places where users might have to dangerously brake.

It also added new security and privacy features. They include the option to lock sensitive images in a specific “locked folder” with their own passcode, so that even someone borrowing a phone can’t see them; users will also get a new password manager will also now alert users’ to compromised passwords and makes it easier to change them.

As well as those new features, Google pointed to its improvements coming in the future. They include quantum computing, artificial intelligence and new experiences that let people be together even when they are miles apart.

It announced that it is opening a “quantum AI campus” in Santa Barbara, which will host its efforts to build a fully functioning quantum computer.

Its artificial intelligence work is also putting together LaMDA, a special dialogue system that allows its AI to speak like a conversation. And it can do so in the guise of another person – the company demonstrated it by allowing people to talk to Pluto, for instance, which was able to answer questions about how cold it was.

It also said it was revealing a new tool called “Project Starline”. That is an “early technology project that combines advances in hardware and software to enable friends, families and coworkers to feel together, even when they’re cities (or countries) apart”, it said – essentially creating a video call that feels far more real.

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