Google I/O 2016 kicked off today. And while the company spilled the beans with “Android N” a couple months back, there is a lot of new stuff unveiled today that leaves plenty to be desired for.
To kick things off, there are a number of new services and apps including Google Assistant, Allo and Duo. Google Assistant is like a smart chat “app” (with Google) that operates a lot like Google Now but with the aforementioned chatting feature so it doesn’t feel so machine-like. Basically, Google Assistant is a chat bot. The new Googley assistant can be found within Allo, a new and separate chat app, by simply striking up a conversation with @google individually, or invoking the mention inline in any other chat thread. By default, the chats with GA are encrypted and “transient” on Google servers (they say they won’t be storing them). If that’s not enough, there’s a further lockdown by way of an incognito mode of sorts to further obscure things from reality. And actually, incognito mode should be pretty legit consider it’s powered by Whisper System’s Signal Protocol.
Along the same lines, Allo (mentioned above) and Duo are 1-2 punches for chat and video calling. Allo in particular feels a lot more like a modern chat app such as Telegram that integrates a lot of inline features and functionality (such as the aforementioned @google chat/search feature set). Duo on the other hand is a more personal 1-on-1 video calling app.
So what about Hangouts you ask? Honestly, we fully expect it to slowly die just like Google Voice is. Google execs admitted that Assistant, Allo, and Duo are fresh starts and clean slates for the mobile messaging environment they’ve failed to conquer with Hangouts. That’s basically them saying Hangouts has lost favor amongst Google and is more or less “boring”. It’s sad, really, because all of the stuff we saw unveiled thus far could have easily been built into Hangouts (or alternatively, Hangouts integrated into them). Instead, they unveiled a bunch of new apps that people will once again have to move over to and in turn, convince their friends and family to adopt thereby introducing an immediate pain point in the experience.
Mini-rant aside, there’s some other great stuff packed into Android N including built-in support for multi-tasking, multi-window and PiP for both phones and tablets. With 30 chat apps on your platform, quick replies are a boon to have. Naturally, Android N bakes in quick reply from the NC. Emoji’s getting a big boost with Unicode 9 support bringing with it skin tone variations and new, more humanoid emojis.
Other other potentially very useful but small addition is dubbed “Instant Apps” and basically is a way to allow you to use an app or part of an app with the absolute least amount of code possible. Developers will need to build their apps in a new, more modular way so small functions of an app can be broken apart and done independently of the entire app thereby making this possible. On paper it sounds nice. How many times have you tapped on a link somewhere only to be pestered to download an app to do some simple function?
Besides Chat/bots, the other somewhat big announcement out of Google I/O 2016 was Google Home. Think of GH as their answer to Amazon’s Echo and Alexa. Coming out later this year for an as of now undisclosed price, Google Home with use all of Google’s brains and brawn to take the smart assistant to another level. As for the device itself, it’s a small speaker that gets plugged into a power outlet in your wall. Always listening, the Google Home will, much like Alexa on the Echo, be always listening for commands to conduct tasks such as playing music, telling you the weather, searching the web, and control various home automation “things”. Considering the Google Home project comes from the guy behind the Chromecast, media should be something Home has nailed down. With the Google Cast support means you will be easily able to share audio to it and have it work with Google Play Music among other services. Google is making the explicit declaration however, that the Home will not try to be the jack of all trades (for now) that Alexa and the Echo have tried to be. Whether or not this approach pays off remains to be seen.
Android Wear is Google’s wearable initiative. Thus far it’s actually been quite good. At I/O the company took the wraps off of Android Wear 2.0, bringing with it a ton of new features and changes including Standalone Apps, a Complications API, a redone and freshened up UI (example: notification cards feature light text on dark background – woot!), on-watch keyboard and handwriting recognition and a handful of Google Fit additions. Overall, it looks like Android Wear 2.0 is quite the upgrade, perhaps more exciting than Android N…? Speaking of Android N, Google is giving us, the users, the ability to vote on its name. We sincerely hope that Android N’s Boaty McBoat Face name, whatever it may be, is upheld by yours truly, Sudar, who jokingly referred to the naming “accident”.
Other notable mentions include:
- Google Photos gained it’s own in-app chat/commenting feature (another chat app….)
- A VR headset and motion controller is in the works that plays nicely with a new Android N feature, “Daydream”. The headset this time around is a more upscale Cardboard (think of the Samsung Gear VR).
- Building on the previous, a “VR Mode” further shows the huge focus VR has with Google
- Overall: 250 new features in Android N – New developer preview available today (Nexus and Pixel C tablet)
More: The Verge