Google I/O, which is Google’s annual developer conference has returned on its 10th edition. With the keynote concluded, here are the new developments from the silicon valley giant:
1. Assistant and Home: The I/O keynote started with Sundar Pichai talking about how Google Search and smart search results has made information more accessible. Improving on this, Pichai announced ‘Google Assistant’, a context-aware AI personal assistant that is always available to you through your phone and Google Home. Google Home is inspired by Amazon’s Echo which uses Alexa (a voice activated AI assistant) to answer queries and perform tasks. Home, which is a physical product that you’ll keep in your house, is both customisable and personal, and it runs Assistant.
The biggest feature of Assistant is that it is context-aware. You can ask it something like: “Who has won yesterday’s game?” to which it will reply with the game and team you follow, take Real Madrid in this case. Then you can go ahead and ask “when is their next game” or “who are the players” and Assistant will know that you are taking about Real Madrid. Pretty cool, eh? Not surprisingly, many companies including Facebook (through the Messenger platform) are trying to develop content aware systems, but Assistant puts Google right in the middle of the game. Because Google is backed up with its huge content web that identifies people, places and things, Assistant has the potential to tap into and retrieve any sort of information. Assistant is also self-suggesting, so if you are looking at movies playing in theatres, it’ll ask you if you want to book tickets without you needing to ask it to do so.
Assistant will roll out soon, through Allo first and then through Home which is coming later this year.
Allo and Duo: Google set out to re-build the messaging app and video calls app. First up, Allo is a messaging app that’s just like many others. You can chat with people personally or in groups, and conversations are encrypted. What’s unique with Allo is the fact that it has Google Assistant built right in, so that you can ask it to perform tasks in a personal conversation, or also call it in the middle of an ongoing conversation to pull information from the web. For example, you are planning to go on a dinner with your friend. While in the chat on Allo, you can type “@google Show Italian restaurants” to bring up the usual card view of Italian restaurants around you, just like on Google web search. Now, you can follow up by conversing with the assistant to book a table at a particular restaurant, and Assistant will do it for you through a service like OpenTable. Remember, all this has happened right inside Allo, right inside the conversation with your friend. No more spending time going back and forth to your browser or apps to achieve the same task!
Allo also smartly suggests responses by reading the conversation above (again, understanding context!). So when your friend send you a picture of a bowl of pasta, Allo will scan the picture and learn that it is pasta, then understand from your previous interactions with Assistant that you like pasta, and suggest a reply like “Yummy” with an emoji.
Duo is a one to one video calling app, essentially made to reduce the uncertainty that goes into making a video call. Duo’s greatest feature is that is shows the receiver a video stream of the caller even before picking up the call. This is called “Knock Knock”. Why is this so important? Because unless you knew what’s happening on the other side, you may be reluctant to pick up the video call. For example, say you get a normal video call (not on Duo) from your friend who wants to tell you about his/her new-born child. Normally, you wouldn’t know your friend’s intention and you might not pick up the call. But on Duo, you’ll see him/her with the baby and you’ll instantly be compelled to pick up the call and congratulate your friend. Duo is also enhanced to work on low bandwidth cellular connections and is overall less laggy than most video calls.
Both Allo and Duo will be available on Android and iOS this summer.
Android N: Android has evolved a lot in the last few years, and Android N will be the most refined version of the OS. This year, Google improved on the fundamental aspects of Android. Vulcan improves 3D graphics performance, just like Metal on iOS. Android Runtime on Android N is 30-600% faster and improvements to the JIT compilers allows from up to 75% faster app installations, while consuming up to 50% less memory space. Google also introduced security updates to the OS through file-based encryption and 'media framework hardening'. These also help reduce the time required to update Android OS, making it a background task. Then, you can simply pick up your phone and find a software update installed without you being intervened! Security on Android has also been improved through Google Play, and Google makes sure that all apps on the Play store are safe to use.
Features like split screen multitasking (and picture-in-picture on Android TV) and notification panel improvements were already discussed a few months ago because of the Android N developer preview, and you can read about them here.
Virtual Reality and Daydream: Google was the first to introduce VR to the general public through Cardboard two years ago. Now, virtual reality will be an integral part of Android N, with support for full System UI and notifications in VR. In order to make VR more accessible and powerful, Google introduced Daydream. Daydream focuses on both hardware and software aspects of VR, providing an end-to-end solution. On the hardware side of things, Google announced that phones will be rated 'Daydream Ready’ if they have better specs than a general spec sheet required for VR to work readily. Google is also providing a general schematic of a VR headset and controller to simplify headset design and make it compatible with Daydream.
In VR, the ‘Daydream Home’ will drive interaction between the user and the headset/phone. Daydream Home will hold VR apps and the Play store for VR where news and entertainment apps as well as VR compatible games will be available for download. Google is making efforts to make its own apps VR ready, and YouTube will receive a massive VR overhaul so that you can watch 360 degree and well as normal YouTube videos in Daydream VR.
Daydream is what ‘Android VR’ could have been, but is a rather toned down version of it. Daydream compatible products, including phones and headsets are coming this fall.
Android Wear 2.0: Google knows that the Android Wear platform has a lot of fallacies. The 2.0 release has improvements to the watchface, allowing watchfaces to access third-party app data, and messaging, where a better keyboard and smart reply suggestions have been introduced. In terms of fitness, Android Wear will continuously keep track of your activities and Google Fit will handle data exchange with third-party apps. When you start running wearing an Android Wear smartwatch, the watch will automatically start a run on Strava and let you pick music. Also, Android Wear 2.0 makes smartwatches capable of being used completely untethered to the phone by connecting to Wi-Fi or cellular data and having native apps.
A developer version of Android Wear 2.0 is out for download, with the final release expected in a few months.
Developer Products: Google I/O, being a developer conference, is the obvious place for Google to share updates in the development space. This year, Google talked about 'progressive mobile apps’, which where links on a browser optimised to work like apps, and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to create web apps that load almost instantly. Android Studio, which is the go-to IDE for Android app development, got many small but important updates such as improved speed, a 3x faster emulator, C++ and Java8 compatibility and a code inspector to resolve issues.
After their acquisition of Firebase, a backend development tool to power mobile and web apps, Google today made a huge announcement - Firebase is completely redesigned and is now a suit of tools for developers to harness the potential of the backend. It includes Firebase Analytics that provides detailed mobile app analytics, crash reporting, cloud messaging, notifications and the ability to test multiple app configurations. You can learn about the new Firebase here: firebase.google.com
Android Instant Apps: Perhaps the most intriguing part of this I/O keynote was the introduction of Instant Apps. When you click on a link, say a Buzzfeed video link, and you do not have the Buzzfeed Video app, your phone will open the link in the browser. Well, not anymore. With Instant Apps, the portion of the Buzzfeed Video app that can sufficiently cater to opening that link will be downloaded and you’ll have the app at your fingertips within seconds after clicking on the link. This works when developers create ‘modules’ of code while building their app, so that only certain modules can be loaded instantly. Through the use of Instant Apps, users will be able to experience content the way they were meant to be presented. It will also be the means of promoting the app. Android Instant Apps will work on all Android OS versions above JellyBean and will roll out slowly in the coming year.
And there you go! Those were the seven biggest releases and updates from Google I/O 2016. Sundar Pichai concluded the keynote by taking about the Google Cloud Platform to power Artificial Intelligence systems. He considered the potential of AI deep learning systems helping in all aspects of the world and commented...
“…now consider what the best climate change researchers, doctors, or educators can do with the power of machine learning assisting them.”
Truly, the future of artificial intelligence is bright.
Google’s I/O keynote this year has been full of examples that’ll make you smile. Rather than focusing on a small number of products in Google’s arena, Google took a holistic approach and a bold intention to show the world that they are still ruling the Internet-connected world.
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