Google’s spoiling us today, with news of Android Pay’s UK launch this morning and now a slew of announcements from its I/O developer conference taking place in Mountain View.
Meet the Google Assistant and Google Home
A context aware, conversational service that lets you get things done in the real world; that’s the promise that Google CEO, Sundar Pichai made when introducing his company’s newest service, Google Assistant.
With chatbots a hot topic right now, Google Assistant looks to be Google’s offering, allowing for conversation and continued questioning along a single thread. On stage, Pichai took one conversation in two separate directions, booking cinema tickets for his family and finding out what reviews said, all with his voice.
To put Google Assistant into users’ households, the company also unveiled Google Home – an Amazon Echo style device, designed to answer your questions, play music, movies, keep tabs on flights and packages, and even control your IoT connected home devices (switches, lights, thermostats etc).
Allo is Google’s new context-aware chat app
Google also unveiled a chat app called Allo, that understands the content and context of your conversations. Users can have a conventional threaded conversation, but ‘whisper’ or ‘shout’ by holding and sliding up or down to change the point size of text, creating a more dynamic experience that’s closer to spoken conversation.
Allo is also able to create context-aware canned responses to questions and pictures using Google’s knowledge graph and like Google Home, can leverage Google Assistant to reach out to connected chatbots to make a restaurant reservation. Users can even speak to Google directly by typing @google in a current chat or by tapping on the @google entry in Allo’s contact list.
You can even play games directly with Google (the onstage demo had the user guess movie titles using just emoji), but developers will be able to tie in their own games into the Allo experience if they wish as well. For the security conscious Allo also features an incognito mode, not too dissimilar to Google’s Chrome web browser, which adds end-to-end encryption and destructive messaging threads that are completely deleted on both users devices.
Duo is its new simple, reliable video app
Allo was only one part of the chat story at I/O 2016, with new service Duo aimed at alleviating the hassle of video calling. Google claims that it’s uniquely positioned to offer one of the most stable video chat experiences and Duo capitalises on that fact.
Users see a video preview of who’s calling before answering to add context to a call with a feature dubbed Knock Knock and like Allo all calls are end-to-end encrypted using the QUIC protocol. Both Allo and Duo are on track to arrive this summer.
You decide what to call Android N
This year the Android team changed tact by releasing the next developer preview of Android, dubbed ‘Android N’ ahead of the I/O developer conference. It brings expandable notifications with individual app control and split-screen multitasking to the stock Android experience, as well as a number of other behind-the-scenes improvements to technologies including the Doze power management tool.
One thing that the we hadn’t yet gleaned from the previews, however, was a name, which I/O 2016 addressed by opening the naming process up to Android users, who can make suggestions by going to Android.com/n. Google did, however, explain that it reserves the right to choose the final name, in order to prevent choices along the lines of ‘Boaty McBoat Face’.
Aside from the naming woes, we also learnt that Android N will boast support for Vulkan graphics assets and file-based encryption with background updates helping maintain Android’s underlying security technologies. The multitasking view finally gets that much-need ‘clear all’ button, N will remove running apps beyond the last seven used and you can double-tap the recents key to switch between the last two apps used quickly.
Android’s VR platform launches as Daydream
Two years ago Google Cardboard was the company’s first deliberate push into virtual reality, but this year’s developer conference showcased the next major step in its plans as a key player in the VR space.
Daydream is the new name for Android’s VR platform and Google’s put together reference hardware lists for both phones and headsets. Companies like Huawei, Samsung and HTC will apparently have Daydream ready smartphones available this summer, whilst there are also new headset specs to facilitate a higher quality experience than what’s currently available from Google Cardboard.
The big new element to virtual reality on Android is control and I/O gave us a glimpse of a new motion-sensitive controller that adds new interactivity options for Google’s mobile VR experience. The company also cited a number of partners creating games and other experiences specifically for Daydream, alongside native instances like YouTube, which have been rebuilt from the ground up for this new VR platform.
Android Wear 2.0 will let you leave you phone at home
Android Wear, the company’s wearable platform is getting a major overhaul, with a renewed focus on watch faces, messaging and fitness.
Users and developers will be able to add complications showing data from any app installed on your smartphone, on a watch face and you’ll be able to leverage standalone apps that don’t rely on a smartphone to function and can instead transmit and receive data over Bluetooth, WiFi or a cellular connection.
Previously you could reply to messages with speech-to-text, canned responses or emoji, but Android Wear 2.0 will allow for handwriting-to-text directly on your watch, so you can continue conversations with your contacts with greater nuance without being constrained by noisy environments or pictures alone.
With regards to fitness, Google has expanded on the Google Fit API, so a nutrition app tracking calories consumed can synchronize that data with calories burned in a running app.