The Google I/O Stage Is Set for Pixel AI to Push Phones Forward

Commentary: What will Google have up its sleeve at I/O for generative AI tricks on the go?

David Lumb Mobile Reporter
David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
Expertise Smartphones | Smartwatches | Tablets | Telecom industry | Mobile semiconductors | Mobile gaming
David Lumb
4 min read
Pixel 8 Pro

The Google Pixel 8 Pro introduced new Pixel AI features.

James Martin/CNET

Although Google's Pixel phones have held the edge in artificial intelligence for years, culminating in next-level features on last year's Pixel 8, the debut of generative AI on other phones has ramped up the competition. At Google I/O 2024, the stage is set for the company to introduce its next suite of AI capabilities -- and maybe set the bar for other handsets.

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Google is going to need to keep leading the AI charge with distinguishing features for its Pixel line of phones. Magic Eraser and the new Best Take feature have defined how the company's phones stand out in a crowded mobile market, but other advances have sprouted up in handsets using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chips and Samsung's lineup using Galaxy AI. At Tuesday's I/O keynote presentation, Google needs to move out of its AI comfort zone and introduce tools and features that advance AI on the go.

Google's photo-focused AI features gave Pixel phones a leg up in years past, but other phones have moved beyond the cameras. The Samsung Galaxy S24 series debuted with generative AI features that can translate in-person and text conversations in real-time. Even Circle to Search, which lets users tap whatever's on their screen to look it up online, quickly moved from the Pixel 8 to Samsung's new 2024 flagship handsets. 

Read more: AI Showdown: How Samsung's Galaxy S24 AI Tools Compare to Google, Apple

With the advent of generative AI features on competing phones, Google I/O is a prime opportunity for the company to reveal how it'll keep its AI lead.


A DJ on stage at Google I/O 2023.

Tharon Green/CNET

What AI features will be at I/O?

Google hasn't hinted at what's to come at Google I/O 2024, but we expect to see updates on every big product in the company's lineup. At last year's I/O, Google talked about its PaLM 2 large language model for developers, hinted at its next-generation LLM Gemini, and explained how its Bard chatbot integrates into Docs, Slides and other products to assist. There weren't details about how AI would fit into devices particularly, especially Pixel phones. 

Without knowing its plans, we can only speculate about which AI features Google should invest in. It would make sense for the search giant to follow up Circle to Search with new generative AI features that similarly take off from existing software products. Perhaps, like Nvidia's document-searching ChatRTX chatbot, Google could introduce a feature to parse through your packed Google Drive. In Maps, AI could more intuitively suggest travel routes and stops based on your habits and schedule via Google Calendar.

Google could take inspiration from generative AI tricks that launched with phones powered by Tensor-rival mobile chips. For instance, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 can use "on-device personalization" to serve suggestions with input from location, fitness and activity habits. Imagine the same happening with a Pixel phone, but with personalization sourcing from Gmail, Google Maps and your search history. Galaxy AI's Note Assist feature makes AI-generated summaries of notes and could theoretically easily parse and analyze Google Docs, Sheets or Slides files. 

Google's generative AI results in search could be a jumping-off point for other features that present simplified answers to complex questions. Given smartphone access to local and cloud-based files, as well as location and behavior, this could lead to a better version of a personal assistant. It could do things like asking your phone to hunt down a streaming service password tucked away in a Google Doc or indicating the best time to leave for work so you can stop by your favorite breakfast drive-thru on the way.

Google Pixel 6 Tensor

The Tensor chipset on the Google Pixel 6.

Screenshot by CNET

The Google hardware advantage?

Beginning in 2021 with the Pixel 6's Magic Eraser feature, which scrubs out unwanted elements in photos, the Pixel phone line's AI features have been powered by Google-designed Tensor chipsets. Though some versions of the features trickle down to older pre-Tensor devices, the newest and most dynamic AI tricks only reach those using Google's silicon. 

This trickling down of updates has been one of the most attractive perks for the Pixel line, the latest of which has an industry-leading seven years of pledged software updates. Unless Google changes the hardware requirements for its AI features, precedent suggests that new features that debut with the latest Pixel phones will soon make their way to older Tensor handsets.

With Qualcomm and MediaTek releasing phone-powering chips with generative AI features, as well as shared tools like Circle to Search coming out for multiple platforms, Google has its work cut out for it making the hardware in its Pixel phones power truly unique AI experiences. The stage is set for Google to once again lead phones in AI-enhanced software, but rivals are nipping at the company's heels. 

Read more: Exclusive: Google's Top Secret Camera Lab Is Like an Ikea for Pixel Testing

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