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Google I/O 2021 recap: Android 12, Wear OS, Project Starline and all the big news

Here's all the biggest Google I/O announcements

Google IO 2021
(Image: © Google)

The Google I/O 2021 keynote delivered a ton of Google news, ranging from Android 12 and a completely new Wear OS to innovations in Google Maps, Google Photos, shopping and more. 

Google CEO Sundar Pinchai promised there would be "significant product updates and announcements" and Google lived up to the hype in some ways. However, those hoping for a Google Pixel 5a or Pixel Buds A appearance will be disappointed, as there was no new Google hardware launches during Google I/O, save for a few allusions to Pixel phone releases in the fall.

Here are the biggest Google I/O 2021 announcements, and check out the entire live blog below. 

Google I/O 2021 highlights

Android 12:
Google debuted a new Material You design for Android 12 that will debut later this year with the new Pixel phone, likely the Pixel 6. The interface is sleeker and also more customizable; for example, you can change the entire theme color based on the photo wallpaper you choose. 

Android 12 is also gettin a redesigned Quick Settings menu that will make it easier to access various options, and you'll be able summon Google Assistant with a long press of the home button. Android 12 is also getting a new privacy dashboard to give you more control of what apps can access what data. Other highlights include a built-in remote control for Google TV, an AirDrop-like feature for ChromeOS and Digital Car Key for using your phone as a key for vehicles. 

Learn more about Android 12 and all the new features. 

Wear OS: This is the biggest news of Google I/O. Google is completely revamped Wear OS, working with Samsung to merge the best bits of its own OS with Tizen. The goal is better performance, longer battery life and an overall improved user experience.

You'll get access to the Google Play store, Google Pay, Google Maps and an overall interface that's more intuitive and faster to use. Google is also bringing Fitbit integration to the platform for fitness tracking, and Fitbit itself will be making Wear OS watches.

Here's everything that's new with Wear OS.

Project Starline: Holy crap! Google may have invented the next Zoom. Project Starline takes communication to the next level by leveraging hi-resolution cameras and cutting edge compression techniques to capture 3D models of callers in real time. You'll feel like the person you're talking to is sitting right across from you.

Take your first look at Project Starline right now.

Google Photos: Cinematic Photos is coming to Google Photos, and it animates your still shots in a new way by filling in the gaps between the multiple pics you take. It's creepy and cool, but maybe more the former? Plus, Google will be analyzing your photos to offer Little Patterns, groups of photos around a theme or place or shapes to help you relive similar moments. 

These are just some of the biggest announcements at Google I/O 2021. See all the news below. 


If you want a run-down of what's expected at the keynote today, our Google I/O preview will take you through what's expected for Android 12, the Pixel 5a, the Pixel Buds A and the Pixel Watch.

google i/o

(Image credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

We're expecting the Google Pixel 5a to be one of the things Google announces today. And in our opinion, the success of the Pixel 5a will all come down to one thing: pricing. 

Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer/Voice)

Android 12 is the only dead cert for Google to cover today at I/O. We've been trying out the various beta versions of Android 12, and have rounded up all the new features here.

Android 12 release date, beta and features

(Image credit: Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

We aren't expecting to hear much about the Google Pixel 6 at I/O. What we may hear about however is its new "Whitechapel" chipset, to prepare us (and more importantly app developers) for Google's new hardware design.

Google Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Jon Prosser x Rendersbyian)

Google's already accidentally revealed the Pixel Buds A in a tweet, but today might be the official debut of these budget earbuds. Learn more about what we already know here.

Pixel Buds A accidental tweet

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Today may see the reveal of Google's first smartwatch. This is what we've heard so far about the Pixel Watch.

Google Pixel Watch leak

(Image credit: @jon_prosser x @rendersbyian)

Google's Wear OS platform for smartwatches is getting some airtime today for its newest features. But while Google's software is rumored to be powering the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, Wear OS will need more than a new partner if it wants to be a serious competitor. 

James Tsai's concept design for the much rumored Pixel Watch

(Image credit: James Tsai)

Android 12 may be getting more substantial features, but its new look is quite a departure from the current version. Have a look here.

Android 12 widgets and icons

(Image credit: Jon Prosser/Front Page Tech)

We should expect some Google Assistant news at I/O today, both in terms of Android 12 and Google's smart home products. One of the big changes that's been rumored is new methods of activating the assistant without using the classic "OK Google" wake word.

Google Assistant

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The Google I/O keynote kicks off at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm BST, and you can watch right here or on YouTube

If you haven't checked it out yet, Jon Prosser of Front Page Tech has a video breaking down what he says is the first "official" look at Android 12. Check out all the new design and features, and we can compare everything against the real thing later today. 

Here's some good news. According to The Verge's Dieter Bohn, Google I/O 2021 will reportedly be live as opposed to a live stream of pre-recorded content. And should make for a more interesting presentation. 

Wear OS should definitely take center stage at Google I/O 2021, as Google has published a teaser on Twitter saying that "It's almost time" to tune into the keynote with the image of a smart watch. That's a strong hint that smartwatch news is in the works.

We don't know if we'll see a Pixel Watch teased today, but it's already been leaked that the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 will be running Wear OS

Google I/O 2021 is starting soon, and and it's free for anyone to virtually attend the keynote. Check out the official Google I/O schedule for the keynotes as well as breakout sessions. 

Google IO 2021

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Google I/O is about to get underway. But first, a very creepy AI music experience! 

Google IO

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Google I/O is live and the company's CEO Sundar Pichai is talking about how Google is providing high-quality info to help people around Covid and find accurate info around vaccines. 

Google IO 2021

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Google is introducing two new features in Google Maps, including eco-friendly routes. This can reduce car emissions and fuel costs. There's also going to be Safer routing, which will use AI to help pick you the best route, such as having less sudden stops. 

Google is introducing a new feature called Smart Canvas for collaboration, which is designed to reinvent how we work. You can share a document that everyone can use to share their ideas. 

There's assisted writing capabilities built in, which includes language suggestions. In addition, Google Meet is going to get integrated to Google Docs this fall. There's also tools like voting tables people can uses. 

Google IO 2021 Smart Canvas

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A new companion mode is coming to Google Meet. It gives everyone a remote tile, and it integrates tools like polls on the right hand side of the window.

Google Meet is also getting smarter with improved lighting and noise cancellation. You'll also be able to rearrange attendees' tiles on the fly while keeping your presentation up. Other features include live transcriptions and even translations. These upgrades are coming later this year. 

Google IO 2021

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Now Google is talking about advancements in Google Search. Translation is first up. Usage is up four times with Google Assistant translation versus last year. Sundar says we are getting closer to a universal translator.

Image recognition is another big area of focus. Google Lens is being used over 3 billion times each month.

With voice recognition and text-to-speech, Google can live caption anything on your phone locally. WaveNet has allowed Google to deploy 51 voices in Google Assistant.

Google IO 2021

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Google Assistant is getting smarter with LaMDA. It's in research and development and is designed to help with natural language conversations.

In example, the Google team had an actual conversation with the planet Pluto. For example, Google asks if it had any visitors and it responded with the New Horizons spacecraft. However, it's creepy to see Pluto talk about itself in the first person. 

The beauty of LaMDA is that it synthesizes concepts based on data. It's an open-ended dialogue. Conversations never take the same path twice. 

You can even talk to a paper airplane. Seriously. For example, if you want distance you really need a nice wide wing span. 

Google IO 2021

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LaMDA's natural language capabilities will likely be coming to Google Assistant, Search and Google Workspace, and Google will also be working with developers to help build out the models and make the system more useful. 

Google IO 2021

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Google's image and video search is also getting smarter. For example, not long from now you will be able to say "Show me the part where the lion roars at sunset." when watching a video. 

Google has announced its new TPU V4 pods. It has a mind-blowing exaflop of computing power, and they will be operating in Google's data centers. 

Google IO 2021

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Google is rolling our a new quantum computing initiative with a special campus. The goal is to show the future of computing. Google is approaching near absolute zero in some of these facilities to protect its qubits. 

The goal is to create an "error-corrected quantum computer." It's all about advancing the state of the start.

Google is now pivoting to security and privacy. Jen Fitzpatrick, an engineer at Google, is talking about how bad passwords continues to be a threat. Google is trying to create a password-free future. Google's password manager is used by half a billion people, and it's getting better.

Google is announcing four new upgrades. It's now easier to get started, so you can import passwords from other managers. Plus, the integration of Android and Chrome for passwords is getting better. Automatic password alerts are also coming. And there's a quick fix feature in Chrome to help you navigate to compromised passwords and change them in seconds. 

Google claims that it never sells your information, which appears to be a retort to Apple's recent moves with iOS 14.5. 

Google IO 2021

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Google is announcing new privacy controls in its apps. For example, in Google, you can now delete recent search history from your account directly from Google Search.

You can also turn off Location History in Google Maps. And there's a Locked Photo feature coming to Google Photos; the photos are saved separately and it's password-protected. 

Google IO 2021 search history

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Next up is Google Search. Prabhakar Raghavan, senior vice president at Google, is talking about unlocking information in new ways using what's called MUM. 

MUM can Acquire deep knowledge of the web; it generates languages and trains on 75+ language at once; and it understands multiple modalities. 

I've hiked Mt. Adams and now want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall, what should I do differently to prepare. Now Google can understand that you're comparing two mountains, and it could recommend gear based on the weather (like a waterproof jacket) based on the location and time of year.

MUM can understand different types of information. For example, you could take a picture of your boots and ask if these are right for hiking Mt. Fuji. "The goal is to solve more complex questions no matter how you ask them."

Google IO 2021 Mum

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Google Lens is getting a new capability to help people learn. For instance, you can take a photo of a math problem, and Google will translate the answer and information in your language. 

Google is bringing some of the world's best athletes in AR straight to you. For example, Google has a demo of gymnast Simon Biles, so you can see some of her best routines right in front of you. Or you could see Megan Rapinoe juggle a soccer ball right in front you so you can see how it's done. 

Google IO 2021 AR

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Google is building features to help you understand the credibility of information directly within search. This is one weapon to fight misinformation on the web.

Google is starting to roll out About This Result across more search results so you can evaluate information before you even click on that result. And it's going to be adding more info to site profiles over time. 

Google IO 2021 — about this result

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Google Maps is beefing up Live View. Its adding virtual street signs, and it will point you to key landmarks (including your hotel room). Indoor Live view is also coming, which will help you navigate areas like train stations. 

Google IO 2021

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Google Maps Street Views are also getting a lot more detailed. You'll be able to see crosswalks and more. It's coming to 50 cities by the end of this year. Google Maps are getting smarter based on the time of day; for example, you'll see nearby breakfast places in the morning in Google Maps and restaurants in the evening.

Google Maps will soon also be able to tell you how busy certain areas are in real time, such as in Rome. Area Business will be rolling out later this year. Google promises that this feature will protect user privacy. 

Google IO 2021 Maps Live View

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Google Shopping is getting a bunch of upgrades. A new Shopping Graph brings information together, such as prices, reviews, videos and more. It will be able to access 24 billion listings across the web.

Google IO 2021 Shopping

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Google Lens can turn the world around you into a personal showroom. For example, you can take a picture of a patio chair and see if it's in stock. There's also going to be a search with Lens option when you're looking at a screenshot, which a lot of people use to save favorite products.

Google Chrome is also getting more shopping savvy, as it can display your open carts across the web. Google says this will remain private. Google can also integrate with membership cards so you can take advantage of discounts at retailers.

Google IO 2021 Shopping

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Thanks to AI, Google Photos is getting a bunch of new features to help you relive your favorite moments. Little Patterns is one new feature, which will surface photos based on what you've been snapping and where. For example, you might see adventures with your backpack, or photos over time of you on the couch with your family.

Cinematic Photos is also coming. It's kind of like Live Photos from Apple, but Google fills in the gaps between still images to animate them. It brings your photos to life but in a slightly creepy way. All of these upgrades are coming this summer. 

Google IO 2021 Photos Little Moments

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Android 12 is up now! Google is rolling out a new design language called Material You. It's designed to give you more control and customization options. It's a "radical new way to think about design."

Material You is coming to the Google Pixel this fall. You'll be able to tailor the look and feel of the interface based on your mood. In fact, Android 12 is shaping up to be Google's "most personal OS" ever.

Google IO 2021 Android 12

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Android 12 is clearly a bold departure for Google. Google calls it "the biggest design change in years." 

There are three big themes. Smart phones are deeply personal. The OS needs to be secure by default and private. And our phones need to work better with other devices.

Google IO 2021 Android 12

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Color is a big theme for Google Pixel. For example, if you change the wallpaper on your phone, the system creates a custom palette for the interface. This is coming to Google Pixel in the fall.

The design is more playful with dynamic lighting. So for example, the screen will illuminate from the right side out if you press the power button. 

The Quick Settings space is getting redesigned, too, so you'll see Google Pay and smart home controls. And you can now activate Google Assistant just by long pressing the power button. 

Up next is security and privacy in Android 12. Google has created a new privacy dashboard to tell you what sort of data was accessed and when. You can also easily revoke an app's permission from the dashboard.

Plus, there's a toggle in quick settings to disable the camera and microphone for all apps at once.

Private Compute Core enables things like Now Playing for music and Smart Reply for messages. All of this happens on the device itself and is isolated from the network. 

Google IO 2021 Android 12

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Chrome OS will work better with Android 12. Soon you’ll be able to access your phone’s recent photos, which reminds us of AirDrop 

Google is also building remote control features into your phone using Android TV or Google TV. So you’ll be able enter passwords on your TV without endlessly scrolling.

Android Auto wireless is also coming with no more cords. And Digital Car key is coming, which works with NFC and ultra wideband. You just walk up to your car and you’re in. Car Key is launching this fall with select Google Pixel and Samsung phones. 

Google is announcing the biggest update to Wear OS ever. It’s a new unified platform focused made in partnership with Samsung. It designed to combine the best of Wear OS and Tizen.

App load times are 30% faster, and Google is promising better battery life. Other highlights will include access to the Google Play store, so you'll be able to download apps directly from the watch. 

Google IO 2021 WearOS

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Wear OS now offers better navigation between apps. For example, you can just double press to get to Spotify from the Strava app to change tracks, then get back to your run.

Google is also expanding its selection of tiles. You can customize your home screen carousel how you want. 

Google IO 2021 WearOS

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The wearables app experience is also getting better with turn by turn directions with Google Maps, Google Pay integration and the ability to download music on the go with YouTube Music. 

Fitbit is also coming to Wear OS with deep integration into the platform. This is big news and is an important step towards Google better competing with the Apple Watch. The idea: bring the best of Fitbit to Wear OS. You'll be able to track your progress through the day.

Google IO 2021 WearOS

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More big news: Fitbit will be building smartwatches based on Wear OS. So Fitbit's OS looks like it will be getting killed off at some point. 

As part of Android 12, Google is making changes to its computational photography to bring out natural brown tones in those with darker skin tones. Google is also working to more realistically render hair in order to be more inclusive. 

Google IO 2021 photography of persons of color

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Google is working to make mammography better through AI. It's collaborating with Northwestern Medicine on an investigative device that could prove to be a breakthrough. 

This new research scans the mammogram image and flags images to help patients. The goal: prioritizing patients that need care first. AI could help clinicians to triage patients.

In addition, Google is developing a dermatology tool that will allow you to upload up to three images. You'll get a match of dermatologic conditions, thanks to AI. The tool will be accessible through your browser and cover 288 conditions. It's coming to the EU as early as the end of this year. 

Google IO 2021 mammography

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Sundar Pichai is back to talk about Project Starline. Its available in just a few Google offices. You can see someone else you're speaking to and feel like they're in the same room as you. 

Google IO 2021

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Google uses hi-resolution cameras to capture your shape in a real-time 3D model. Thanks to 100x compression and a new light field display, you get the feeling that you're sitting across from someone. It's amazing and creepy, and looks like the future of communication. This could be the next Zoom. 

Google IO 2021

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Google is looking for multiple ways of being greener and reducing its carbon footprint. The company is partnering on a new geo thermal power project and its building a new campus with a sunlight panel skin. Sustainability is a big theme for Google.