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9to5Google Log Out: The shape and color of Google AI

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From what was shared earlier this week in Gmail and Docs, Google Workspace is using a pencil icon with a star in the top-left to brand its generative AI features. (The pencil or pen itself is a generic icon, and already used today in various FABs, like Compose in Gmail.)

So far, we’ve concretely seen it in:

  • Gmail (on mobile): FAB above your keyboard in the bottom-right corner. The sheet that slides up is titled “Help me write,” with Formalize, Elaborate, Shorten, Bulletize, I’m Feeling Lucky, and Write a draft. As the email is created, the gen AI icon remains in the top-left corner with the capability you selected next to it.
  • Google Docs (on desktop): Pill-shaped “Help me write” button with the icon. Tapping expands to a full-width text box to write your prompt. 

Besides the icon, and what’s more interesting, is the blueish-purple hue color used throughout. In the Google Docs example, it’s the background of the button and expanded text field. As text is generated, it first appears in that color before switching to black. Similarly, the blue “Create” button turns to “Creating…” with a pulsating background as it’s working. This was also the case in Gmail for Android.

The “new era for AI and Google Workspace” has more examples of this, though the UIs shown here are presumably less finalized than Gmail and Docs. It’s an interesting hue, with this text loading effect being somewhat whimsical, while also masking that generative AI literally needs a second to work.

I previously argued that “Google Assistant” should be how the company brands AI features that users manually invoke. For the initial launch, Google is just associating the generative AI capabilities directly with each product rather than suggesting that a separate AI product/service has been added to Gmail, Docs, etc.

Microsoft is taking the opposite path. After renaming the Office suite to “Microsoft 365” last year, it’s adding “Copilot” (branding that the company has previously used in conjunction with GitHub) to Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Outlook, and Teams. It’s the equivalent of slapping an “AI” sticker on metaphorical software boxes. 

Historically, Google has shied away from that flashier approach in its Workspace products. Features like Smart Reply and Compose just stand alone, even as they exist across Gmail, Docs, and Chat. It very much fits how Google names its products very plainly after their main function rather than coming up with a brand.

It remains to be seen which strategy wins out (i.e., attracts more users) for generative AI in productivity apps. Microsoft wants to make a splash and invigorate its (already widely used) tools. Inherently, giving something a name means people know what to call and credit it. Alternatively, it gives users something to blame. (Alas, poor Clippy!)

Meanwhile, Google is going for a somewhat timeless approach by framing the addition of gen AI tools as a continuation of how it iterates products to be helpful. In that sense, generative AI – once it becomes commonplace and widely adopted – could just be an evolution rather than a revolution in the long history of computing. 

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Google has discontinued the Glass Enterprise Edition: I continue to believe that “Google Lens” is the most obvious name for Google-made smart glasses. Visual search with an always-on AR overlay will be the key feature/differentiator of this next-gen form factor, and calling attention to that capability is a good and bold move.

That said, while there’s too much baggage for the “Glass” to come back, there was a simple genius to the name. In the way that the form factor is always in the “iPhone” brand, “Glass” does the same for smart glasses. 

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