Google is weaving itself into the fabric of our lives

The curious case of the colorize button.


This is how Google takes over the world. It won't be with the inception of an all-powerful artificial intelligence application, via the advent of self-driving cars, or through Assistant's steady creep into our everyday lives, though Google will certainly use these tools to dictate our decisions, possibly before we've even made them ourselves. No, Google's plans for world domination are much more subtle than that. It all starts with the beer emoji.

At Google's I/O developer conference on Tuesday, CEO Sundar Pichai and a lineup of developers presented the company's vision for the next year and beyond, announcing things like Google Duplex, snow-traversing self-driving car systems, and major updates to Maps, ARCore, Assistant and News. These are big, bold steps, complete with Minority Report-level promises of the future. Still, some of the largest rounds of applause stemmed from seemingly innocuous announcements — small tweaks and cute updates to the services we've already allowed into our lives.

Google is already a massive force in modern society; it controls how we navigate the world, which businesses we see, the information we're provided and countless other fundamental aspects of the daily grind. As with Facebook, we grant Google unprecedented access to our personal information, and we use its services so much that the company's name itself is a verb.

Google no longer has to prove how useful or innovative its ideas are. Instead, it can just update the applications that we already accept as part of the fabric of modern life, make them more friendly, more adorable or more useful, and these ideas automatically feel like welcome and necessary improvements, despite any flaws, privacy concerns or unintended consequences inherent in the core feature.

Google is one of a few technology companies building our new, shared reality. At I/O 2018, Google took the time to share incremental, fun and weird updates to this reality — updates that were met with 🙌. Here are just 10 of those.

Beer emoji: Consider this one the granddaddy of today's tiny announcements. Pichai kicked off the conference by looking at two emojis Google recently fixed, the cheeseburger (the cheese is no longer on the bottom bun) and beer mug (the foam is connected to actual beer now). Politicians have long understood the mainstream appeal of consuming average Joe foods, and it looks like Google has seen the light.

Revisionist history: Google Photos is getting an update in the "next couple of months," and one of its most-applauded new features is an ability to colorize black-and-white pictures with the tap of a button. Pichai showed off the feature with what looked to be an old, cherished family photo, but it'll probably work just as well on your '90s-era hobbyist reels as well.

Convert to PDF: Only at Google I/O would an entire amphitheater of people cheer at the prospect of automatic document scanning. The incoming Google Photos update will also add a feature that spots paperwork in your photos and instantaneously scans them in as .pdf files. OK, fine -- that does sound amazingly useful.

Hey, Google gone: The frenzied cheers of 7 million Google Home owners rang out across the world today as Google announced they'd soon be able to interact with their devices without having to say, "Hey, Google," before every single sentence.

Never talk to a human again: Google Assistant will soon have the ability to call real humans and complete simple, conversational tasks such as setting appointments or buying tickets over the phone. In a recorded demo on the I/O stage, Assistant even said "Mhmm" when it was asked to hold on a moment, meaning it's nearly time to give up entirely and just assume everyone in your life is actually a robot, not just spam callers.

Pretty please: Kids these days, amirite? Assistant will receive a feature that rewards politeness, ostensibly teaching children the proper way to speak to their eventual robot bosses.

Learning how to walk: Google Maps has made it possible to show up in a new city and find your way around without any prior planning, asking for directions or unwieldy map-folding. Man, remember maps? Not Maps, but maps? I remember driving down desert highways as a kid with my dad, wondering where we were going and attempting to discern the meaning behind all of those zagging, winding lines, and that glorious, terrifying moment when I realized he didn't really understand what they all meant either, and we might just be lost forever.

I can still feel the gradually rising fear that led to elation when we actually pulled up to our intended destinations, tires crushing rocks in the dead of night, my heart settling into a steady rhythm once more. Anyway -- Google Maps is pretty great when it comes to driving directions, but it has some work to do in terms of walking navigation. A coming update will change the walking interface in Google Maps, providing responsive street and map views on one screen and ditching phrases like "turn south" for "turn left."

Fox and friends: That update to Google Maps' walking navigation system will include the option to have an adorable augmented-reality fox lead users to their destinations, providing a friendly, furry guide through strange new lands.

Save your eardrums (and earbuds): Smartphones are built for so much more than making calls or receiving texts, and Google is finally catching on to this fact from a consumer perspective. With Android P, volume controls will automatically default to media, rather than the ringer. This means we'll have only ourselves to blame when we open up YouTube and bust open our eardrums with a max-volume "HEY, GUYS."

Don't get it twisted: With Android P, turning off screen rotation will prompt a tiny icon to appear whenever you flip your phone sideways, allowing you to switch the screen between landscape and portrait modes on-the-fly. That's all fine and dandy, but there's still no word on a feature that prevents the camera from opening up in selfie mode when you least expect it.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from Google I/O 2018!