Google unveiled a series of planned upgrades to its search and maps services, revealing the company’s augmented reality ambitions — and its appeal to a generation of internet users drifting away from the company.
The new features include ways for people to search for nearby items using images and identify physical objects with their smartphone cameras. On Google Maps, the company promised a way for people to explore detailed 3D digital models of landmarks and neighborhoods before setting foot in person. Google shared the plans on Wednesday for the first day of its annual I/O developer conference held near its Mountain View, California, headquarters.
Google is working to keep its products relevant and growing as users’ needs evolve beyond text.
“Search should be something that you can do anywhere, in any way you want, using any of your senses,” Prabhakar Raghavan, Google’s senior vice president and product chief, said in an interview.
People in emerging markets are more likely to search with voice features than typing, which has driven Google to invest more in its voice assistant feature. And according to Google, younger internet users have started turning to social media apps for both entertainment and information on world events and daily decisions.
Google will start letting people use photos and text together in local searches with a new “multisearch” update that taps its computer vision and data resources. This feature identifies products nearby, which will likely appeal to marketers that pay for ads in a certain geographic proximity to a user.
And Google is expanding the utility of Lens, its feature for identifying objects in the real world, which investors are eager to see contribute more to its e-commerce operations. Google said there are over 8 billion visual searches on Lens a month, up threefold from a year ago.
The company also demonstrated a more “immersive” version of its maps product. The company said people will be able to zoom in and view the architecture of sites like Big Ben up close, and use a tool to understand what it looks like at different times of day, in order to guess traffic, crowd size or weather conditions. In the future, developers will be able to build similarly three-dimensional experiences.
Google shied away from making grand pronouncements about futuristic virtual and augmented reality tools. A decade ago, co-founder Sergey Brin sky-dived into the conference wearing the Google Glass headgear; the company showcased several VR units in later years. All of those projects have been shelved or set aside. Google has since focused more deeply on artificial intelligence and, unlike rival Meta Platforms, hasn’t eagerly pitched a vision of a virtual world replacing our own.