photo by Flickr/rjshade
Google I/O 2016: A fresh start for the Internet giant
Google I/O is the Internet giant’s biggest showcase of everything going on inside Mountain View, and boy did they take advantage of that spotlight. Here’s what was announced:
Google Assistant is a virtual assistant that does everything you know and love from Google Now and other voice assistants, but with a conversational touch.
That touch is being offered in two ways: Google Home, an Amazon Echo-esque speaker, and chat app Allo. The assistant is customized based on the platform it’s on.
Google Home is a small speaker that lets you converse with it in natural language, and gives Google a token into your everyday life. It’ll be available this fall.
If this seems a lot like Amazon’s Echo, that’s because it is. In a video launched Wednesday, Google laid out its vision for the product: where people can communicate with Home to do everything from play music, check the weather, change dinner reservations, and send texts.
In the case of Allo, the free app will be available later this summer on iOS and Android.
The app lets you sign up with your phone number, with your Google account connected to it if you choose.
When you send photos, they show up full-bleed on screen with the ability to doodle on them. You can also drag your finger up/down on the send button to enlarge or shrink text in a feature Google dubs WhisperShout.
However, Google Assistant is the star of the show. You can set up a conversation with Google (@google) and ask it questions. The assistant will respond with the information you’d expect from the search engine, but with a conversational touch. It’ll suggest further searches, and give you ways to take action through Google.
Allo’s chatbot is smarter than others, thanks to the power of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which allows you to ask more complex questions that can’t be answered by simply crawling the web. If you get bored, @google can also play a game like “guess the movie based on a string of emoji.”
Inside conversations with friends, Allo will put suggested replies at the bottom of new messages powered by a machine learning engine. For example, a graduation photo will spur lines like “Congratulations!” and “You look great!” These responses are grouped into meaning clusters, giving you a range of possible reactions. These chips are based on machine learning applied to the way you type.
When you hit one of these suggestions or type @google, everyone in your conversation can see and respond to the answers.
In terms of privacy, all conversations are encrypted “on the wire,” meaning that nobody online can read them as you send your messages. They are read by Google’s servers, but aren’t kept around and have no identity attached to them. If that’s not strong enough for you, there’s also an Incognito Mode – similar to the Chrome mode of the same name. When you enable it, your conversation is subject to end-to-end encryption, with Google not even having the ability to read it. Notifications for Incognito chats also don’t reveal their contents on the lock screen, ensuring a high level of privacy.
Google Duo speeds up mobile video calls
Alongside Allo, Google is launching the Duo video calling app for iOS and Android.
The app greets you with a selfie-cam video preview, and giant circled photos of contacts that can be used to start a call – scrolling up will reveal more contacts. When you call, the person on the other end answers, and a video chat begins. You can mute your microphone or flip the camera, but you can’t video conference.
The kicker is a live video preview of the person you’re calling when receiving one on your lock screen. When you answer, the video call has already started.
Under the hood, Google has spent time optimizing for speed and latency to work even on flakier connections, with audio/video quality adjusting to fix the connection. Duo can also seamlessly handle switching from WiFi to cellular data without dropping the call.
Google has launched a website to let you suggest a name for Android N, with Google using those suggestions to pick a final name.
The OS’ multitasking menu has been streamlined to be limited to the last seven apps used, because that’s what most people jump back too, along with adding a “Clear All” button to dismiss all active apps.
However, the biggest addition comes in the form of a VR mode that’s part of Google’s wider Daydream initiative. Phones that adhere to a “Daydream Ready” spec will come from all the major Android manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Huawei, HTC) this fall. The company has also secured content partnerships with HBO, Netflix, Hulu, CNN, the NBA, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and IMAX.
A beta version of Android N is available for download today for Nexus devices and the Google Pixel C tablet.
Lastly, there’s Instant Apps, which allows Android users to use apps from a link without having to download it from the Play Store. Google pitched it was a way to use single purpose apps, like paying for museum parking, without having to deal with the mobile web or having another app clutter your homescreen. After clicking a link, Google Play downloads the parts needed for the desired experience. Users will then have the option to download the full app.
Instant Apps will be compatible with devices running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or later when it launches later this year.
In addition to using a headset, Daydream also features a new control system for mobile VR.
The headset is a step up from Cardboard, with a front slot made to hold a smartphone that latches at the top.
That control system comes in the form of a remote with volume buttons and a round pad on top, similar to the Oculus Touch controller that ships with the Rift headset. These design also features basic motion sensing capabilities.
Android Wear 2.0 is the biggest update to the wearable OS since it launched in September 2014. The headline feature is the ability for apps to run standalone without the need for a nearby phone. This’ll help Android Wear focus on fitness, messaging, and customization. For instance, watch faces can show data from any app now, similar to the Apple Watch’s complications.
Conversing via text with the watch is now easier, with better automatic exercise recognition, sync with third-party apps, and exchange data via Google Fit.
The Google Play Store is on its way to Chrome OS users.
Starting in early June, Android apps will be available to touchscreen-toting Chromebooks like the Asus Chromebook Flip, 2015 Chromebook Pixel, and Acer Chromebook R11.