Google I/O 2019 has arrived—this is what caught Ars' attenti


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The Google Glass skydivers of I/O 2012

Google I/O officially kicked off yesterday, and the conference's first 24 hours have already included a number of new announcements, everything from an improved Google Assistant to a suped-up Home Hub called the Nest Hub Max.

This annual summer celebration of all things Google tends to bring out some surprises. Just seven years ago, the company strapped some Google Glass (lol, remember?) to a few skydivers and literally had them interrupt the event's keynote. The conference has also been the place where the world learned of Google Robotics (2011), Android Wear (2014), VR headsets made of cardboard (2015), and robo-assistants that can make dinner reservations (2018).

Ars is out in the Bay Area again this week taking in the sights, sounds, and green alien swag, so look for continuing coverage of the latest announcements and interesting developer tidbits on site throughout. For this week's Orbital Transmission, we're also sharing the most interesting Google I/O happenings to be aware of thus far. Maybe the skydivers thing will only happen once, but Google sharing something unexpected seems to be turning into tradition.

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Orbital Transmission 05.08.19
The Pixel 3a

Finally, an affordable(ish) Pixel phone has arrived

After a steady stream of rumors trickling out, Google has finally taken the wraps off the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL. Prior leaks seem pretty spot on in retrospect—we have what is essentially a cheaper version of the company's flagship Pixel 3 smartphone. The only big question not answered by all the I/O run-up was, "How much cheaper?" Now, we have that answer, too: the Pixel 3a is $399, and the Pixel 3a XL is $479. The headline feature beyond the price is perhaps what compromise Google refused to make: the new phones utilize the same 12MP single-lens rear camera as the flagship Pixel 3. And with features like night sight and other Google processing tricks, it remains one of the best cameras available on a smartphone. The fact that the Pixel 3a is the only Pixel phone on the market with a 3.5mm headphone jack is a nice bonus, too. 

The new Android Auto

Android Auto will be the latest tech entity to embrace dark mode

After the auto OS's three years of existence, 2019 will be the year of Android in the car. The Volvo Polestar 2, arriving later this year, will be the first car with a Google-blessed version of Android installed directly on the infotainment hardware. And at I/O, How to Build Android Apps for Cars is apparently the talk to watch. Before we get there, the company previewed Android Auto's new look coming "this summer" at the start of I/O. Like all great Internet and tech entities, the platform is taking a page from Ars and going with a dark mode. (Also, you can now view maps and control music at the same time.)

Waymo vans in Phoenix

Lyft users in Phoenix may end up in a self-driving Waymo soon

OK, technically this news doesn't stem from I/O, but Google's self-driving car branch is a familiar site on the schedule year-in and year-out. Right as this year's conference started up, Waymo revealed that it was expanding its commercial self-driving car service by adding 10 vehicles to Lyft's network in the Phoenix area "over the next few months." Once the vehicles come online, customers whose routes fall into Waymo's service area—currently limited to a slice of the suburbs southeast of Phoenix—will be offered the option to ride a Waymo car (with a safety driver) instead of a regular human-driven car. (Lyft has a similar partnership with Aptiv in Las Vegas.) The small scale of the expansion is just the latest sign that Waymo is deploying its technology at a more leisurely pace than most people—both inside and outside the company—were expecting a year ago.

The Shoreline Amphitheater, once a venue for Google I/O

Android's big anniversary, "Google Nest," and the rest of Google I/O

Self-driving cars, Android everywhere, and smart hardware are just a few of the things happening at Google I/O this year (and any year as of late, really). Luckily, Ars' Google Guru Ron Amadeo is on the scene to cover everything that unfolds over the next week—and in the meantime, he's also laid out an extensive list of everything to expect. Notably at I/O 2019, the tenth anniversary edition of the core Android OS should be front and center, and everyone's favorite smarthome products from "Nest" may soon be branded (and tweaked) as "Google Nest" gear.

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