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Google I/O 2018 - A travel app developer's perspective

Another year brings another Google I/O conference, an event that brings together developers, designers, creators and professionals from around the globe to hear about the latest and greatest developments from tech giant Google. Held from May 8 – 10 at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, this year promised to be a good one as it marked the 10th anniversary of the conference and also the 10th anniversary of the Google Play store.

Alejandra, Franciele and Hisham, android developers at Travelport Digital, were the lucky ‘chosen few’ from the team who got to head stateside to Google I/O this year, joining thousands of other attendants to take part in tech sessions, codelabs, inspiring chats and  enjoy some pretty cool swag. They tell us all about their experience of #io18.

Pre - Google I/O

We arrived in California the Sunday, 2 days before the conference kicked off to get to know our surroundings and get ourselves organized for a busy few days ahead! The badge pick up happens the day before the conference so we decided to pick them up early on Monday to guarantee good seats at the keynote and to visit Google HQ, which was just around the corner from the Shoreline Amphitheatre. Alongside our all important badge we also got an I/O ‘swag bag’ containing a t-shirt, bottle of water, sunglasses and lots of other cool stuff.

Afterwards, we had a few ‘pre conference’ get togethers to attend. The first one was the Android Certification Award Ceremony and Social Mixer where we were thrilled to receive the Travelport Digital Google Developer Agency certificate plaque on behalf of the company! It was a great event which gave us the chance to meet other developers from companies in the UK and Ireland as well as further afield.

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Straight after the Google event Alejandra and Franciele went to the Women in Tech get-together, as it was through this group that they got their tickets from the conference. The event gave them a chance to network with women from all over the world working on various different technologies. Hisham went to the Google Play mixer.  

Google I/O Keynote

Each year the CEO of Google Sundar Pichai gets onto stage and tells the world about the awesome things Google has been working on in the past year and gives a sneak preview of what’s coming down the line. Much of the focus this year was on the theme of ‘giving back time’ with a big emphasis on AI.

While the ‘Developer Keynote’ is usually the most interesting part of the various keynotes opening the conference for the developers, this year we found that the main keynote by Sundar was the most interesting, especially the demo of Google Assistant, but read on to hear more about that!

Google Duplex
This year the cherry on the cake for us was a short clip showing a real phone call made by Google Assistant, who seamlessly called a hair salon to request an appointment, and then a restaurant to book a table. This new technology, called Google Duplex, enables Google Assistant to have a conversation with a human over the phone in natural conversation. This really got us thinking about the many ways we could apply this to the travel industry and how travelers can use their Assistants to talk to travel agents or airlines on their behalf.

It’s incredible just how much AI and machine learning has grown since last year, powered by technologies like TensorFlow, an open-source software library for dataflow programming.

Google Maps
Building from the success and broad reach that Google Maps has delivered (Google has mapped over 220 countries and territories) a new integration between Google Maps and the phone’s camera was announced. It will be powered through a mix of AR and machine learning to overlay maps on your camera. On one hand the camera can be used to be recognise the world around you and let you know where you are and where you need to go, while on the other hand Google will suggest restaurants and different places that might interest you based on your interactions with the world.

Tensor Processing Units
The new liquid-cooled Tensor Processing Units version 3.0 was presented, the most important Google hardware piece for artificial intelligence workloads.

Google News
The newest news aggregator on the block, Google News, was revealed. It will use AI to pull news from a number of different reliable sources to give the user unbiased information for the topics they really care about with a real focus on ‘quality journalism’.

Digital well-being
Google are aiming to promote the balance between the 'digital' and 'non-digital' life with their new concept called ‘digital well-being’ It will allow the user to not only recognise how much time they are spending on their phone, but also how much time per app and configure reminders per app to stop using them, really useful in the case of games or video streaming apps.

Development Tools 4 (1)Image source - Androidheadlines.com   

What’s new in Android
Just in time for this years conference Google released the new Android Jetpack; a set of libraries, tools and guidelines that will help make development quicker and easier. They also introduced some exciting new tools for testing and a new version of the Android Support Library, which has now been updated to AndroidX.

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The new version of Android Studio, Android Canary, is also now available, which includes all the new developments so android developers can try them out and give feedback. One key feature in this new version is the  Android Bundler which decreases the application APK size.

Finally there was the introduction of the Adaptive Battery setting, a new feature that will allow the user to save battery for infrequently used apps by learning from the interactions a user has with their device.

Tents

While the keynote and tech sessions throughout Google I/O are really interesting, we found that for developers most of the value of the conference lies in the tents. 

We each went to different tents to learn about the applications of different technologies including AR/VR, Machine Learning, Android Things and Experiments.

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  • Experiments tent - In the experiments tent, we learned more about the Morse GBoard, a new google keyboard that also learns from what and how you type in morse code and is now available for download in the Play Store.
  • Machine learning tent - In the TensorFlow and Machine Learning tent, we found a car toy that drove itself following a path it learned before, repeating a pattern and correcting its mistakes.
  • VR tent - In the VR tent we got to play BBC Earth: Life in VR with the new Lenovo Mirage Solo powered by DayDream, the Google VR framework.
  • AR tent - In the AR tent we got the chance to play with apps that achieve different things, including an app that allows you to select and place furniture in the real world to see if it would look nice in your living room. ARCore, the Google framework for developing AR apps, is introducing support Multi-user Shared AR Apps with Cloud Anchors in ARCore, so we had the opportunity to see it in action by playing Just a Line, an app that will let uses do open drawings in the space around them.

A video round up of our android developers few days can be found in this great vlog by Franciele!

In summary Google I/O 2018 was an amazing conference where we were able to learn more about technologies that are changing and shaping the new world and see that technology having real applications. It has inspired us to learn new things and apply them to what we do everyday and got us thinking about the various ways this could be applied in the travel industry to help improve the travel apps of our clients.

Travelport Digital’s android developers Alejandra Stomato, FrancieleFirmino and Hisham Ghatasheh all attended Google I/O 2018 and reflected on all their learnings from their week in California.

For more details on what Google I/O 2018 means for the travel industry, we’ve summed up the key travel takeaways in this handy deck

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