5 Little Things from Google I/O That Could Be Big News for You

By Sam Rutherford on at

Google I/O 2019 was a whirlwind of info about upcoming Android updates, demos of new features in Google Lens and Duplex, upgraded abilities for the Google Assistant, and more. But aside from all the fancy new things that got mentioned in the keynote, there were a number of other small changes and updates that came out of Google’s annual developer conference that didn’t get quite as much attention. So here’s a quick roundup of some news and tidbits that could affect you in the not-too-distant future.

Google Podcasts comes to iOS and desktop (kind of)

Last June, Google launched a dedicated podcast app and service for Android and Google Assistant devices, and at Google I/O 2019, Google announced that its podcast app now available on iOS as well. On top of that, Google Podcasts is getting new support on desktop too, well sort of.

Screenshot: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

If you go to podcasts.google.com on desktop right now, the only thing you’ll get is a link to download the mobile app. But if you try to look up a podcast in Google search, you should see a list of recent episodes for that podcast, and if you click on an episode, it should take you to a Google Podcast page that shows you your subscriptions and potential suggestions.

From there you can start listening to a new episode, or if you’re signed into a Google account, pick up where you left off on a previous podcast, as playback status should be synced across all of your devices. (You can also use Google Podcasts on desktop even if you’re not signed into a Google account, though obviously, you’ll miss out on things like synced playback.)

Nest accounts are going to get rolled into Google accounts

In early 2018, Google announced that it was going to absorb Nest and fold its family of smart home gadgets into the greater Google ecosystem, a move signaling that some big changes were on the way for the two companies that previously operated largely independently. Then, at Google I/O 2019, when Google launched the new Nest Hub Max and rebranded the old Google Home Hub as the Google Nest Hub, it appeared that transition was mostly complete.

However, what Google didn’t mention on stage is that as part of the merger, at some point in the future (likely in the next three to four months), current Nest users will be asked (or at least strongly encouraged) to convert their Nest accounts into a Google account in order to create a more unified and streamlined smart home platform.

With the launch of the Nest Home Hub Max and the rebranding of older smart home devices, we’re entering a new era for Google’s smart home efforts. Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Now there’s no need to panic right this second, as the whole process hasn’t started just yet. But you should know that while old Nest accounts will continue to work even after the migration, Nest users who don’t move over to a Google account may not be able to take advantage of new services and features launched in the future.

For many Nest device owners, this account transition should only be a minor inconvenience, and for anyone who paid attention to the Google and Nest merger announcement back in 2018, all of this probably doesn’t come as a big surprise. Also, since a number of Nest devices still don’t have support for setup via the Google Home app, there’s some important work Google needs to do to unify both platforms before people starting merging accounts. For more info, you can check out Google and Nest’s plans for the migration and its effects on Nest website here.

You’ll be able to pin specific channels to the Android TV home screen

While Android TV didn’t get mentioned during the main Google I/O keynote, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing new going on with Google’s streaming video platform. That’s because sometime later this summer, Google is giving Android TV users the ability to pin specific TV channels from over-the-top TV services like YouTube TV, Philo and others directly on the Android TV home screen.

Notice how the CW and Animal Planet have their own banners alongside traditional standalone streaming video apps. Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Currently, Android TV reserves space on its home screen for suggested or trending content from standalone video apps like Netflix or Hulu, but with the new update, you’ll be able to pin a channel like the Discovery Channel or ESPN from one of your services directly to the Android TV home screen.

This isn’t a huge change, but for people like me who can’t get enough Property Brothers, it’s nice to be able to pin HGTV to the main Android TV screen so I can save a little time wading through menus. However, at this time, it’s not clear which streaming TV apps will support this functionality, but Google says it’s hoping to add its channel pinning feature to as many partners as possible.

Google Photos’ Colorize feature still on the way

Remember when Google announced a feature for Photos that would use AI and machine learning to add colours to old black and white photos? We’ll forgive if you don’t because that announcement didn’t happen this year, but back at Google I/O 2018.

However, after getting called out by Mashable for not delivering on the feature after more than a year, Google Photos product lead David Lieb tweeted out a response saying that feature is “still in the works”, and explained that the reason why it’s taken so long for an official release is that the team “just didn’t want to rush it”.

Lieb then tweeted out an example of the Colorize feature in action, showing how Google Photos added new life to a picture of Lieb’s grandmother on her wedding day. That said, Lieb pointed out the feature still has a way to go, as Google’s Colorize feature incorrectly gave his grandfather’s pants an overly pinkish hue. Regardless, Lieb says that Google is hoping to release a beta for the Colorize feature “soon”.

Wider support for Linux on Chromebooks

Even though it’s almost two years old, the Pixelbook remains one of the best Chromebooks on the market thanks to its fantastic design, solid performance, and the ability to run Linux in addition to normal ChromeOS and Android apps. This is a big advantage for developers or IT pros looking to get a bit more power and flexibility out of their Chromebooks.

Unfortunately, Crostini – the feature that makes it easy to run Linux on Chromebooks – was only supported on a handful of Chrome OS machines like the Pixelbook. But at Google I/O 2019, Google announced that all Chromebooks launched in 2019 will be Linux-ready out of the box.

Previously, while you could run Linux on a Chromebook, you often needed to tinker around with security settings in order to gain root access to the machine, but with Crostini, Chromebook owners will only need to launch the Terminal app, which allows you to run Linux inside of a virtual machine.

For most users, it’s not a huge upgrade but, for people who use Linux, Crostini offers a much more streamlined way to test or develop new software with way less hassle.

Featured photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)