Google kicked off its annual I/O developer conference with a balancing act, unveiling a host of new artificial intelligence (AI)-driven features for its forthcoming Android P update, while also positioning itself as a company with consumers’ well-being at heart.

Android P uses AI to offer features including Adaptive Battery, Adaptive Brightness and App Actions, which all track user behaviour using machine learning. Adaptive Battery automatically allocates power to the most used apps and services, while App Actions attempts to save users’ time by offering options based on what it thinks users will want to do next.

For example, Actions might offer up a fitness app around the time a user normally exercises, or suggest a music app if headphones are plugged in.

Actions will also incorporate options from Slices, shortcuts to key app functionality Google is now allowing developers to integrate into the broader Android P user interface. These shortcuts will, for instance, allow a user to hail a taxi through the Search function or using Assistant without having to open their app of choice.

Putting the phone down
But rather than trying to draw users in with these new features, Google insisted it’s actually trying to help users spend less time on their phones.

To prove it, Google included a number of what it called “digital well-being” features (pictured, left) into the update, including a dashboard which lets users see a breakdown of how much time they spend on different apps.

Android P will also let users set App Timers, which designate usage limits for apps and remind users when time is up, and includes a new Wind Down mode which switches the screen to greyscale at bedtime to nudge users to disconnect.

“The common theme across all this is we are working hard to give users back time,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured) said at the conference. “We know that people feel tethered to their devices…we think we can really help users with their digital well-being. This is going to be a deep ongoing effort across all our products and platforms.”

Android P is currently available in beta on the Google Pixel, Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, Nokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21, OnePlus 6, and Essential PH‑1.

Talking the talk
Google Assistant also got an AI boost designed to help it interact using more natural speech in six new voices.

Upgrades include a Continued Conversations capability which uses context clues to let users talk to Assistant continuously without having to repeat the wake phrase “Hey Google”, and a Multiple Actions feature to help Assistant field multiple requests from a single sentence.

Google said it’s also working on a new conversational capability called Google Duplex, which will allow Assistant to call businesses on behalf of users to handle tasks like making hair appointments and dinner reservations. These calls happen in the background without user supervision after a request is made to Google Assistant.

In a demonstration of the technology, Duplex used a realistic human voice and didn’t identify itself as a non-human to the other participants on the call, sparking ethical concerns from onlookers on Twitter.

But in a blog post, Google said transparency will be key in making the service successful: “We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.”

Testing of Duplex within Google Assistant will begin over the summer.