If you wanted to summarise 2019 for Google, it should probably start with Hey Google. The company has pushed Google Assistant in a number of directions, but it's starting to feel as though Assistant is the glue that's holding together Google's many-stringed bow.
Google is really a data company: it knows what you search for, it knows how you're approaching the world, serving you with maps, indexing the contents of your photos and running about half the world's smartphones through Android, but it's Assistant, or rather Google's growing AI, that can return this data as something useful to customers.
- What to expect from Amazon in 2020
- What to expect from Apple in 2020
- What to expect from Facebook in 2020
- What to expect from Microsoft in 2020
While Google has expanded its Home devices - now under the umbrella of Nest - and refreshed its smartphones, it's really Assistant and AI that makes these devices. Google's phones are good because of the camera AI, its home devices edge out Amazon because of Assistant's AI - and things like the live transcription of voice, or ability to answer phone calls for you only help to reinforce how important AI is going to be for Google going forward.
While the home devices have generally been well received, in 2019 Google struggled with its smartphones. The cameras are still great, but the Pixel 4 particularly was criticised for its short battery life; Google did find success with the Pixel 3a however, putting that potent camera in people's hands at a lower price.
Google Assistant and AI smarts
This is going to be a key focus for Google in 2020. In 2019 we saw the small (but hugely significant) detail that Google Assistant now did its voice processing on the device, rather than in the cloud. This is not only key for privacy, but it reduces data demands and latency: as Google's AI gets more sophisticated, we'll see more local processing as things get faster and remove the need to have a connection, making it more accessible for those in developing countries or on limited data plans.
Google Assistant is going to get smarter in 2020 and it's going to be in more devices. We're also likely to see more services like live translation and live transcription appearing in other services, and functions like Google Duplex getting wider international release.
Google Pixel smartphones
Google has only been making its own phones for four years. The success has been in the camera and that's what we're expecting the Pixel 5 to offer: more camera skill, better low light performance. But there's a general feeling that Google's rivals are out performing the Pixel in terms of battery life and excitement. Google is already showing that it's price aware and we're expecting a Pixel 4a to hammer home the affordable offering - but it's going to be all about computational photography rather than the number of cameras on the back.
Nest and home devices
Google has pulled Nest and Google Home together into the Nest brand, making Nest all about the home. The device that's not moved is the original Google Home, so an updated version of Google's original Home speaker could be expected, to fight back against the growth of the Amazon Echo.
Wear OS and wearables
You might have noticed that the Wear OS ecosystem has slowed, from the deluge of devices to a trickle from the same manufacturers. There's also long been rumours of a flagship Wear OS device - Pixel Watch - which was cancelled for 2019, having followed a couple of years of rumours. Wear OS sort of feels like a platform that Google's own hardware division isn't getting involved with - there's no pure breed champion as it were and think there should be.
But we think Google is going to pivot on wearables, leveraging the acquisition of Fitbit to bring smarter fitness devices using Google AI to sports fans.
We know that we'll be getting Android 11 and we know that it will likely bring AI boosts and more Assistant goodness. But what else will it offer? It's hard to predict what Google might add to Android, but there's already talk of scheduled dark mode as well as a sharing feature to rival Apple's AirDrop, which could make it easier to move your files around for everyone in the Android ecosystem.
Google's big cloud gaming service Stadia launched in 2019, but it's so early in the life of this platform that 2020 can only be seen as a chance to push the service and expand its growth as Google attempts to make it accessible to as many people as possible. We'd expect incentives, integration with other platforms and lots more games, because it's going to be competing with the new Xbox and the new PlayStation 5 for attention.
Chrome OS and Chromebook
Google has officially called time on Android tablets, so it makes sense to see Chrome OS as the platform for Google tablets moving forward. Chrome OS still has some obstacles to overcome, because it doesn't handle things like multiple accounts for the same user anywhere near as well as Android does. But with support for Android apps, Chrome is becoming a more competitive proposition, especially in the low cost laptop market, popular in education, even if Apple's Phil Schiller doesn't agree.
We're expecting a range of new Chromebooks, from premium to 2-in-1 from a range of partners. We might even see a Qualcomm Snapdragon powered Chromebook.