Today, Google dropped a news clusterbomb, launching Android VR, a new Google Assistant and an Amazon Echo-like Google Home hub. Here's all the coolest stuff from today's keynote.
Google Assistant Finally Turns Google's Voice Commands Into a Helpful, Intelligent Conversation
Google has excelled at voice commands for a long time, but now the voice commands are finally becoming anthropomorphic. The company announced Google Assistant, which makes voice commands much more conversational. For example, you can say "I want to see a movie" and Google will provide some suggestions. If you want to narrow it down to kid-friendly movies, you can say "We want to bring the kids." Google will then help you order tickets automatically.
The Google Assistant will plug into a bunch of other services that can help you place a reservation at a restaurant via things like OpenTable, get a car with services like Uber and buy movie tickets with companies like TicketMaster. You can also use the same Google voice commands you're used to, like "How's the weather?" or "How tall is Jeff Goldblum?"
Google Home Will Compete With Amazon Echo, Run Google Assistant In Your Home
Google isn't content letting Amazon be the only one with a smart gadget sitting in homes awaiting voice commands. Today, the company announced Google Home. Much like Amazon's Echo, Google Home is a stylish speaker and microphone combo that sits in any room in your home. It can field your voice commands from anywhere. If reception to the Echo is any indication, this could be a lot cooler than it sounds. And it already sounds pretty cool.
Google Home will also be able to connect to smart home devices like light switches and speakers to allow you to control your smart home with simple voice commands. Of course, smart homes are still pretty complex and difficult for most users to get into, so this might only help a few niche users.
Android N Still Doesn't Have a Name, But You Can Suggest One
If you were hoping that Android N would finally get a name at I/O, you're out of luck. However, Google will be asking for suggestions for the name. You can head to this site here to submit your N-flavoured dessert. In terms of actual features, Google demoed several things that we already dug up, like double-tapping to switch to your last app and quick replies from notifications. Oh, and Android won't need to optimise apps after an update any more. Brilliant. A new "beta-quality" version of Android will be rolling out soon for users in the Android Beta Program.
Allo and Duo Are Yet Another Google Attempt at Messaging, But They Look Pretty Cool
Google hasn't done so well in the messaging world while trying to compete with things like Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. Their new attempt is called Allo, presumably pronounced with a bad impression of a British accent. It comes with a host of smart features like suggested replies, which Inbox users might be familiar with. The new Google Assistant is also built in, helpfully suggesting things like restaurants based on the context of your conversation. You can also adjust text sizes on the fly, for when you really need to get the point across.
If all that sounds like Google's doing quite a lot of snooping on your conversations, you're right. So, Google added an Incognito mode that turns off all smart suggestions and scanning for a while. So you can have a conversation without worrying about Google poking in. That might come as small comfort to the more privacy-minded who are worried about the rest of the time you're not in Incognito mode.
Duo is a separate app for video calling, reminiscent of Apple's Facetime. The key standout feature is something Google calls "Knock-Knock" (yes, really) which shows you a video feed of the person calling you before you answer. It's not revolutionary, but it's still pretty neat.
What Google hasn't said is how Allo and Duo affect their other messaging strategies. Google now has Hangouts for general messaging, Messenger for SMS, Google Voice for the users who still remember what Google Voice is and now Allo and Duo. That's a lot of messaging apps to manage. The smart money is that Allo and Duo will eventually replace Hangouts, but Google isn't saying right now.
Android VR Is Bringing Powerful Virtual Reality to Your Phone
As we've been expecting, Google is bringing VR to Android with N. The company is introducing a platform called Daydream that helps developers create high-quality VR applications and experiences. There will also be a set of minimum requirements for phones to determine what hardware is capable of running VR.
Google is also introducing a controller specifically designed to be used in VR, plus a new, non-cardboard headset to hold your phone. Both will arrive later this spring. Notably, Google's hardware won't require external tracking like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive do.
Android Wear Apps Now Work Without Your Phone, Smart Replies Make Responding Easy
Android Wear wasn't the revolution in wearables that Google hoped it would be, but it's still pretty cool for some people. Now, it's getting cooler. For starters, apps can now run on the watch without being dependent on your phone, which is awesome for those times when the connection between your phone and watch is wonky.
Wear is also getting some reply improvements. On the upside, Wear devices are now getting smart replies — again, lifted from Inbox — so you can quickly reply with messages based on the context of the conversation. Google also added handwriting recognition and a full keyboard because... well, honestly I'm sure someone wants this. Still, I can't pretend that typing on your watch will be a good experience.
Android Instant Apps Will Let You Download Just the Part of Apps You Need Someday
Google's tired of making everyone download entire apps just to use single links. Some time in the future, Google's planning to release a feature called Android Instant Apps, which will allow users to open just the parts of an Android app that they need. As an example, Google showed a user opening up a B&H product page. Android downloaded just the product page instance, without having to install the B&H app. This looks like a really cool way to deal with apps that you might want to use once in a while, but don't necessarily want to keep on your phone all the time. Google hasn't said when this will roll out specifically, but they're aiming for this to arrive over the next year.