AI Was Google's Biggest 'Product' at I/O. Tech Keynotes Will Never Be the Same

Commentary: The lack of hardware announcements made this year's keynote a drag.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET analyzing tech trends while also writing news, reviews and commentaries across mobile, streaming and online culture. Credentials
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Abrar Al-Heeti
3 min read
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AI took center stage at Google I/O.

Screenshot/James Martin/CNET

After last year's Google I/O developers conference, the internet was awash with articles and videos chronicling the number of times the tech giant uttered the word "AI" during its keynote. (It even inspired me and CNET's Patrick Holland to poke fun at its repetition in a lighthearted skit.) Despite the influx of AI-related announcements, Google still spent a decent chunk of time discussing hardware, like the Pixel 7A, Pixel Tablet and Pixel Fold, during last year's event.

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But not in 2024. 

This year, Google went all in on AI, AI and more AI. It shared updates about AI in Search, Android 15, Photos and Workspace. It outlined its vision for your future AI coworker (endearingly named Chip, but whether or not you have warm fuzzy feelings about an AI colleague is another matter). It showcased all the ways Gemini, Google's ChatGPT competitor, opens the door to better assistants and smoother conversations. CEO Sundar Pichai even began this year's keynote by stating Google is "in our Gemini era." But by largely doing away with any hardware updates, the many, many software updates just blurred together.

Read more: Google I/O Was Confusing and That's a Big Problem

The only (brief) mention of hardware came when Google introduced upcoming Trillium Tensor processors, and noted Nvidia's Blackwell GPUs will arrive at its data centers in 2025. It didn't talk about the Pixel 8A, instead opting to unveil its more budget-friendly handset a week earlier. 

Given AI has taken center stage in the tech scene for the last year and a half, it's not surprising Google placed such an emphasis on touting its developments in that space. Other companies like Meta, Adobe and Amazon have also doubled down on their AI efforts, in an effort to compete (or keep step) with OpenAI

But the appeal of tech events like Google I/O often lies in creating a palatable balance of software and hardware. Last year, Google's AI announcements like Magic Editor and Help Me Write stood out because they weren't buried beneath a sea of other AI announcements (some with similar-sounding names). And one of my favorite parts of 2023's conference was the post-keynote hands-on with the Pixel Fold and Tablet. Presenting a combination of hardware and software updates allows for a more tangible (literally) experience, and showcases the broad range of developments a diversified company like Google can achieve. It also makes the new software feel more impactful, since there are fresh devices to experience those features on.

But now, Google has made it clear that AI is its big product, which manifests in practically every gadget and platform. It's in your phone, tablet, smart home display, search engine, apps and pretty much anywhere else you can imagine. It's being billed as a dependable teammate, helpful party planner, informative tutor and talented ghost writer. And we're just getting started. 

And although Google usually saves its most important hardware product announcements for the fall, I wouldn't be surprised if AI dominated the conversation at its annual Pixel event, too. (After all, the Pixel 8's new AI features like Best Take and Magic Editor were the biggest phone updates last year.) 

And so, this year's Google I/O is a turning point for the quintessential tech keynote (your move, Apple). As more companies collectively turn their attention to promoting AI as their hottest "product," all the hardware that previously claimed sole ownership of that title will take a step back, making room for this rapidly advancing space to dominate the spotlight. 

Google's new Pixel 8A shines with core features

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Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create a handful of stories. Reviews of AI products like this, just like CNET's other hands-on reviews, are written by our human team of in-house experts. For more, see CNET's AI policy and how we test AI.