Augmented reality just took another step to becoming a central player in the life of modern shoppers.
At its developer conference in Mountain View, Calif., on Tuesday, Google whipped through a smorgasbord of tech announcements — including an intriguing new feature for search that could add rocket fuel to the retail industry’s AR push.
The example onstage was a Google search for sneakers. Search results will soon pull up 3-D images and then, with a click, the user can place their selection in an AR view, so they have a better idea of what it looks like in the real world.
“Say…you’re shopping for a new pair of shoes. With New Balance, you can look at shoes up close, from different angles, again, directly from search,” said Aparna Chennapragada, vice president of Google Lens & AR. “That way, you get a much better sense for things like, what does the grip look like on the sole, or how they match with the rest of your clothes.”
Various brands and academic outfits have been experimenting with AR. In retail, the obvious examples are eyeglass try-ons and seeing what furniture would look like in the shopper’s actual home. Typically, it requires some development to add the feature to a brand or retailer’s web site or app. Here, it all happens inside Google’s search engine.
There are other uses beyond retail. Chennapragada showed how the feature can help students learn things like muscle flexion by Googling the term, seeing images for it and then clicking to add an animated example, with all of its details, into its camera view of the real world.
The list of partners speaks volumes about the use cases. Google is working with companies like New Balance, Target and Wayfair, as well as NASA, Samsung, Visible Body and Volvo, to help them and others bring their content and 3-D models to the feature.
The feature will be available later this month.
The keynote also focused on the myriad other aspects of the Google ecosystem. The changes ran the gamut.
Google News will be able to index Podcasts and a concerted push to reduce the pesky “Hey, Google” triggers when a person commands their Google Home device.
Speaking of which, the latter got a new nomenclature — the family of products now goes by the Nest moniker, so-named after Google’s other smart home device line called Nest.
Along with the new name, the company unveiled a product: The $229 Google Next Hub Max — a smart speaker, security camera and video chat device with a 10-inch screen, gesture control and facial recognition that can pan and zoom to follow the user, all rolled into one. It also put in a kill switch for the camera and microphone, for the privacy-minded.
One of the most anticipated announcements was a new phone. Google’s latest is the Pixel 3A and 3A XL, a set of budget smartphones with high-end features, starting at $399. The device looks like a slightly taller Pixel, but unlike the flagship phone, it features a headphone jack. The camera, which adds depth of field to the front shooter, uses something called ”computational photography and AI,” so that it can accomplish what pricier devices can do — such as night sight — without the need for expensive hardware.
The Pixel 3A also boasts an adaptive battery, which uses machine learning to get up to 30 hours on one charge.
The company emphasized that more of the artificial intelligence and machine learning happens on the device, not in the cloud. That matters for privacy wonks — if the gadget stores data locally and merely sends computational models to Google, the company itself presumably stores less of the user’s actual information.
Android software updates will also make drilling into privacy settings easier.
In the upcoming software version Android Q, privacy will be a top-level setting, making kill switches and location data settings more straightforward to find. The software will also issue alerts if apps use location information when the user’s not actively engaged in the app. Android will also offer a range of updates designed to help the user, from Focus Mode to minimize distractions to a Dark Theme that saves on battery power.