Want to know what happened during the three big developer conferences, but have no time to go through all the materials and videos? This article is for you. We combined all the most important takeaways in a nutshell. Read what’s new in the tech world after Google, Facebook and Apple played their cards for the upcoming year.
The past 1,5 month was all about announcing innovations, products, trends and development tools that are going to rule in the upcoming months. The three giants of the digital world – Google, Facebook and Apple – held their developer conferences in Silicon Valley; where else? Google’s I/O and Facebook’s F8 took place in the first half of May and Apple’s WWDC followed shortly after, from 4-8th June.
A lot has been discussed and announced throughout those three events. Videos from all the sessions are available online – but it is virtually impossible to watch them all. That’s why we gathered the most important takeaways for you in this single report.
As expected, the main tech themes of all the conferences evolved around four buzzwords: VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning). As we wrote in our opening article for 2018, these are the technologies that are setting the tone for web and mobile development in the nearest future.
How are the three giants planning to implement those technologies in their existing and upcoming products and services? We cover all the main points connected to VR/AR and AI/ML further in this article.
If there was one most important theme of all the three conferences, it was responsibility. Shortly after GDPR coming into force and the scandal around Cambridge Analytica, all the big players care to present their businesses as ones that pay attention to user security and data privacy.
Every keynote speech – and Google CEO’s Sundar Pichai’s in particular – also touched upon a bigger dimension of this responsibility. The technologies developed by Google, Facebook and Apple are obviously changing the world we live in. And all three companies recognise the need to be mindful of those changes.
Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that his company’s officials will do everything in their power to encourage people to use Facebook’s services in a beneficial, constructive and responsible way. In his keynote, he says:
“I believe that we need to design technology to help bring people closer together.”
Healthy use of technology was also something tackled in all the three opening keynote speeches. The CEOs referred to it as digital wellbeing and introduced new ways of helping their customers maintain balanced relationships with digital services and devices. That seemed to be another aspect of the wide spectrum of the “responsibility” mentioned by the representatives of Google, Facebook and Apple.
Every year, CEOs of all the three companies set the tone for the entire event during their opening keynote presentations. They also deliver overviews of what is going to be discussed during the conference. This year is no different.
Each of the keynotes reflects current focal points of the companies and – even if unintentionally – the areas in which they have been struggling. If you don’t have time to go through this entire article, read at least the overview of the keynotes. This will give you a general idea of what was announced during each of the events.
“Responsibility” is, again, the keyword here. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai talks about the role of Google in shaping the future of tech industry. The overall message is that Google wants to get it right and intentionally define the role that technology plays in users’ lives.
The concept of digital wellbeing comes up quite early in the keynote. Google wants to tackle this in four main ways, which are to become signposts for the future development of the company:
Google introduces new features in its products, that are designed to help create “meaningful engagement”. Some of them come with introducing the new mobile OS – Android P. They are supposed to help monitor and manage screen time, enable easier “Do Not Disturb Mode” or show notifications in bulks to minimize distraction.
AI is the most important technology Google talks about. Various speakers of the keynote cover the areas in which AI can be particularly helpful. Those include:
Android P is the new intelligent mobile OS introduced in the keynote. It is designed according to three main principles: intelligence (it is based on machine learning), simplicity and digital wellbeing.
VR and AR are also important for Google’s new products and services. The biggest announcements in this realm are the demonstration of Google Lensand incorporating text recognition into the camera so that user can “copy-paste” texts from the real world (such as the content of a restaurant menu).
Among other important news, there are also improvements to Google Maps, including the VPS (Visual Positioning System). It is a feature that allows users to orientate themselves using their phone’s camera vision.
The last big update is a video demonstration of Waymo – self-driving cars that Google already operates with a group of real, everyday users.
“Yes, this is an important moment. We need to keep people safe, and we will. But we also need to keep building and bring the world closer together.”
Mark Zuckerberg wraps up his keynote in the above words – and they reflect the order in which he talks about the two currently most important aspects for Facebook. Having to address the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he begins with emphasizing the company’s responsibility to protect user data and privacy in the first place. Mark also assures that Facebook is working hard to prevent misuse of the platform in such forms as hate speech, fake news or harmful political interference.
Having granted user safety, Facebook is still focused on its primary mission – building tech solutions that bring people closer together. Mark points to the two possible ways of using social media. One way is to passively consume content online. The other is to use social platforms to create deeper and more authentic relationships.
Facebook obviously declares that is does everything to encourage people to do the latter.
One of the new ways to achieve that is launching Facebook Dating – an opt-in extension to regular Facebook accounts. It will allow users to look for a date/partner online, in a secure and private way (not being matched to their friends, for example).
An important new feature for Facebook users is the Clear History option. It will allow each person a possibility to clear their entire browsing history on Facebook with just one click. Mark announces that the feature is being built at the moment – but no exact release date is mentioned.
Other innovations coming into the Facebook platform are the Watch Partyfeature (allowing users to watch online streamings together and comment on them in real time) and extended possibilities coming to Facebook Groups.
Then it is time for the updates about the other three of Facebook applications: Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
Updates to Instagram revolve around introducing AR features, like custom filters that users can create on their own and share throughout the platform. AR camera effects are going to be available in Insta Stories. A big step forward is also an easy integration enabling users to upload GoPro footage to Instagram.
Main WhatsApp update is a long-expected feature of multiple-user video calls.
Messenger is mainly upgrading for businesses with new AR features. It will now allow brands to create custom AR filters to present their products and enable users to easily share those products’ 3D visualisations with one another. Additionally, Messenger is getting a brand new, clean design.
Possibly the most exciting announcement of the keynote (or even the whole conference) is the launching of Oculus Go – Facebook’s standalone VR headset. It comes at an affordable price of 199 USD, and with a set of more than 1,000 apps and VR experiences. Mark Zuckerberg announces that each of the conference participants will be gifted 3 pairs of Oculus Go.
The opening word is very much addressed to the developers. It is emphasized right from the beginning, by the screening of a humorous introduction video that depicts developers as a separate and very special species. You can watch the video here.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook makes it a software-focused keynote (and conference) from the beginning. Without announcing any upgrades in Apple’s hardware this time, he talks about the importance of coding as a skill and even mentions introducing it to school education.
The issues of digital wellbeing and privacy appear early on in the keynote. Similarly to Google, Apple introduces new features to its software to help users control their (and their kids’) screen time, use of applications and maintain a healthy relationship with technology. This mainly comes with Apple’s new mobile operating system – iOS 12.
The main way to tackle the privacy issue is Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature which disables social media button tracking.
Now: what are the announced updates for each of Apple’s four main platforms? Let’s take a look.
iOS 12 (the new mobile OS)
Mojave (the new MacOS)
The most important news for the developers is introducing AR Kit 2 – a new version of Apple’s toolkit that allows iOS developers to incorporate AR in the apps they design. Additionally, Apple announced a new file format, USZD, to enable a unified, cross-application scheme for AR elements.
Augmented and Virtual Reality are (along with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence) the most exploited technologies in the announcements from all the three conferences. How exactly are they employed? How can they be helpful to end-users?
Below, we uncover how exactly the three giants of tech are approaching AR and VR in their products and services.
While employing VR and AR in its products, Google seems to focus on accessibility and usability. In the session called “Accessibility For AR and VR”, they introduce new ways of making those technologies more accessible for people with various needs.
One way of doing it is a mobile app called Google Lookout to help the visually impaired navigate the world by identifying objects, text and people around them. This is actually an example of how AR pairs up with AI to create a usable solution for many users in need.
Paired up with Google Maps, AR can now also help Android users orientate themselves in space. By scanning their surroundings with the camera in your phone, it is now possible to instantly know which direction you are facing, on the map. Especially useful if you are in a place for the very first time. This is what Google calls Vision Positioning System.
Finally, there is Google Lens which now comes with new device integrations (e.g. phones from Motorola and Xiaomi) and combined with Google Assistant – more than ever. Using Google Lens now allows users, for example, to:
Facebook’s new AR features on the existing platforms focus around Instagram and Messenger.
In Instagram, AR comes to please individual end-users in the first place. It will now be possible to apply AR filters to stories, as well as design your own add-ons and share them with friends. The impact here is on interaction, funand connection with other users.
Messenger’s AR features target brands in the first place. The new possibilities for business players include designing custom filters to feature their products and making them available to audiences. An example is a virtual try-on make-up from Sephora – which Messenger users will also be able to share with their friends.
AR in Messenger is focused on marketing, user experience and product advertising.
All the above are certainly important steps in Facebook’s AR advancement. But still, the most enthusiastically-received news during the F8 was launching of the Oculus Go –first affordable VR headset at just 199 USD.
Oculus Go comes with over 1,000 VR 3D experiences and apps – but it also allows recreating physical space. This means providing a virtual environment for people to interact in a whole new way. For example, one of the features available with the headset is creating an avatar of your conversation partner in 3D, just in front of your eyes!
Apple’s big thing about AR this year is releasing AR Kit 2 – a new version of their developer framework, enabling to create AR-based apps. Features of the new AR Kit include improved face tracking, realistic rendering, 3D object detection, persistent experiences and shared experiences.
Additionally, there is a new file format already available for developers (and later this year for users) – USDZ. It will make AR experiences easier to integrate into popular apps – including the camera.
New AR features for users include:
Artificial Intelligence will be assisting our lives more and more in the coming decades – no doubt about that. How are Google, Facebook and Apple taking advantage of this to create innovative solutions for their products and services?
It certainly is a part of well-designed PR – but Google noticeably uses “health”, “digital wellbeing” and “accessibility” as most common buzzwords when explaining their new AI achievements. It seems that the company is genuinely putting their users’ needs first when thinking about new solutions.
Major breakthroughs in the realm of accessibility are applications based on ML, that help visually or hearing-impaired people interact with the world. Examples include Google Lookout, Looking to Listen and… Google Duplex, which is one of the key features of the new mobile OS – Android P.
Google Duplex is a new feature of Google Assistant, which allows for AI-conducted phone calls in the background (the user doesn’t hear them) to make simple arrangements. The demonstration of Google Duplex setting a hairdresser’s appointment and booking a table at a restaurant was one of the most enthusiastically received parts of the I/O this year.
Android P also uses AI and ML to learn user’s habits and optimize device performance accordingly. This includes a feature called Adaptive Battery, which enables power saving by adapting the battery use to predicted user’s actions.
Google’s AI will also help us communicate better. With Smart Compose available in Gmail, the user will be prompted with suggestions to complete whole sentences – based on their writing habits, keywords (e.g. topic of the email) and the addressee. Google Photos will have a feature called Suggested Actions, to help with face recognition and sharing photos with friends who are on them.
There is also some news on Machine Learning for the developers – we will talk more about it below, in the “Developer Updates” section.
Following the motive of improving user experience and usability of the platform, Facebook puts a lot of emphasis on using AI and ML for those purposes. This can help the company tackle issues like fake accounts and fake news. One way to do it is by employing AI in detecting specific types of content – especially the ones that are potentially harmful.
Another large AI area where Facebook is expanding is computer vision(objects and people recognition). DensePose is the system that the company is currently working on. It allows identifying people and their faces, even if when they move. Facebook is proud to announce that the computer vision system they developed scored 85.4 % accuracy on the famous ImageNet benchmark.
Apart from computer vision, Facebook is also developing and researching methods of understanding natural language. The system they use for that is called MUSE (Multilingual Unsupervised and Supervised Embeddings).
In Apple’s case, AI is mainly employed to make Siri smarter. There are two aspects to that.
One of them is introducing Siri Suggestions – a feature based on Machine Learning that prompts users to take certain actions throughout the day. Thanks to available integrations with other apps, Siri will now be able to learn from all user behaviours on the device.
Siri Suggestions are meant to improve and become more relevant to you over time – Siri learns that based on your engagement with the notifications.
Another improvement to Siri is called Siri Shortcuts. This function enables the user to programme specific sequences of actions activated by a single voice command. In the demo during WWDC keynote, the exemplary command “heading home” activates a series of actions, such as turning on the fan, playing a specific soundtrack in the car and notifying family at the home that the person is on the way.
Similarly to Google Photos, Apple also introduces AI in their Photos. The feature called For You helps to share pictures with relevant people and prompts the user to edit images that are underexposed, blurred, etc.
All the three events – Google’s I/O, Facebook’s F8 and Apple’s WWDC – are by definition developer conferences. And although a lot of fancy new features is created and announced with the end-users in mind, there is also the part that is of particular interest for the devs.
What new tools become available? What simplifications are there in stock for Android and iOS developers? How can AR and ML be used in new ways, to create the best possible user experience?
Below we have listed the most important updates for the development world – together with links to the videos from the most relevant sessions.
As you can see – a lot happened during the three conferences. A lot of big changes came to users, businesses and developers. But what are the overall conclusions? How is the world different after Google, Facebook and Apple came up on stages and announced their innovations, research outcomes and prophecies?
The big tech shift is all about the responsibility and realizing the impact those three tech giants have on the world. The executive officers – as well as the public – start to talk about intentionally shaping the future of technology. As a society, we are beginning to understand how important it is to give our words and actions meaning. This applies to software development, as well as to business.
One manifestation of this sense of responsibility for the future is the increased emphasis on the security and privacy in digital services. The events of the past months – such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal or GDPR coming into force – are yet another reminder of the importance of those issues. Google, Facebook and Apple all seem to be in accord in that they want to give priority to user safety while offering their products and services. Or at least, they say so.
Another side of being a responsible player in the digital market is making sure that users benefit from the products and services which are offered to them. That is expressed with the emergence of the concept of digital wellbeing in the conferences’ discourse and beyond.
Finally, all the three companies made their 2018 developer conferences a breakthrough in terms of employing AR and AI in the products and services they build. Google, Facebook and Apple are bringing the technologies of tomorrow into today’s reality. With everything that was announced during I/O, F8 and WWDC, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality have established themselves for good in the realm of user experience. And it seems that they are going to stick around for a while.
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