The shape and color of Google AI

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From what was shared in Gmail and Docs earlier this week, Google Workspace uses a pencil icon with a star in the top left corner to highlight its generative AI features. (The pencil or pen itself is a generic icon and is already used in several FABs today, such as Compose in Gmail.)

So far we’ve seen it concretely in:

  • Gmail (on mobile): FAB above your keyboard in the bottom right corner. The magazine that slides up is called Help Me Write, with Formalize, Elaborate, Shorten, Bulletize, I’m Feeling Lucky, and Write a draft. While the email is being created, the gen AI icon will remain in the top left corner with the opportunity 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.

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

The “new era for AI and Google Workspace” has more examples of this, though the user interfaces shown here are presumably less definitive than those of Gmail and Docs. It’s an interesting hue, with this text-loading effect being slightly whimsical, while also masking the fact that generative AI literally takes a second to run.

I’ve argued before that “Google Assistant” should be how the company marks AI functions that users call manually. For the initial launch, Google is directly associating the generative AI capabilities with each product rather than suggesting that a separate AI product/service be added to Gmail, Docs, etc.

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

Historically, Google has shied away from that flashy approach in its Workspace products. Features like Smart Reply and Compose stand alone, even though they exist in Gmail, Docs, and Chat. It fits very well how Google very clearly names its products according to their main function instead of inventing a brand.

It remains to be seen which strategy wins (i.e. attracts more users) for generative AI in productivity apps. Microsoft wants to impress and breathe new life into its (already widely used) tools. Intrinsically, naming something means that people know what to call it and credit it. Alternatively, it blames users for something. (Alas, poor Clippy!)

Meanwhile, Google is taking a somewhat timeless approach, framing the addition of gen AI tools as a continuation of how it iterates products to be helpful. In this sense, generative AI – once it becomes commonplace and widely adopted – could 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 main feature/differentiator of this next-gen form factor, and drawing attention to that capability is a good and bold move.

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

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