The Biggest Stories from Google I/O 2016

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Google I/O is the company’s biggest conference where they reveal what they are going to working on in the coming months. This year’s conference was notable for being the first since Google restructured itself; becoming a sub-brand of Alphabet. Read this blog to find out what the top stories were from this year’s conference.

Google Assistant

Although we’ve had a taste of Google’s ambitions for virtual assistants with Google Now, the company will soon be releasing a new Siri and Cortana competitor - the snappily named Google Assistant.

It will work similarly to Google Now, but with the added ability to learn about you and tailor your experience as you use it. Google Assistant is also able to answer questions that come with additional follow up statements; for example, if you were to ask "what films are on at the cinema?", and mention that you’ll be bringing your children along, Google Assistant will filter the search based your statements.

Google Assistant will be a prominent feature in the next two projects Google revealed - one of them being...

Google Home

As expected, Google announced their Amazon Echo competitor, Google Home. Like the Echo, the Home is a pint-sized speaker/microphone combo that sits in a room and answers questions or performs tasks using Google Assistant. Examples might include turning down the lights or ordering a taxi.

Although Home is arriving nearly two years after Echo, Google isn’t afraid to take on the retail juggernaut, wielding their strong AI and voice recognition technology as well as their large stash of data which they can use to their advantage. They even referred to the Echo during the reveal of their competing product.

Google Assistant will also be making an appearance in their new messaging apps...

Allo and Duo

Google announced that they will be doubling the number of messaging apps in their arsenal to four with new arrivals Allo and Duo. The former is a mobile-only app that uses machine learning technology to make talking to your friends easier by learning more about you and how you talk. Google Assistant will be implemented into the app, meaning that you can book tickets, ask for the score in the football and more without having to leave the app.

Additionally, Allo will fall in with the numerous other messaging apps by featuring an incognito mode, plus end-to-end encryption. Some critics, including Edward Snowden, have criticised Google for not enabling this encryption by default, leaving those who are unaware of the option at risk.

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Duo, on the other hand, is a one-to-one video calling app - Google’s answer to FaceTime. One notable difference between Duo and FaceTime is that unlike Apple’s video calling app, Duo can call on both Android and iOS users. Duo was also not without its critics, who were keen to point out that its “Knock Knock” feature - where you can see the video of who is calling before you pick up - may not always be welcome.

An interesting omission from the conference was some form of chatbot, something which Google’s rivals have focussed heavily on in recent months - particularly Facebook, where its chatbot service with Messenger was one of the major talking points of their F8 conference in April. Maybe Microsoft’s hilarious mishaps with their bigoted, drug-smoking chatbot Tay has put Google off public announcements regarding chatbots for the time being.

#NameAndroidN

Google’s new OS, codenamed Android N, doesn’t have an official name yet, and the company is allowing the public to offer suggestions. To avoid a Boaty McBoatface situation, Google has reserved the right to choose from the most popular choices (how boring).

Daydream

Many were anticipating big VR news from the conference this year, and their expectations were (mostly) met with the unveiling of Google’s new VR platform, named Daydream, and their plans to implement a new VR mode into Android N, which will optimise devices for use in VR headsets.

While Google isn’t launching a competitor to VR headsets such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, it is releasing a reference design for a VR controller and a headset, which consists of a strap and a phone holder, to third-party manufacturers. Unfortunately, we didn’t actually get to see the hardware (apart from a sketch of it), so we’re unsure how this will play out.

Android Instant Apps

One of the bigger surprises of the conference was the reveal of Android Instant Apps. The concept behind Instant Apps is that you will be able to use apps on the Play Store without having to download and install them. To do this, Android only downloads the necessary assets and code for the specific location of the app that has been requested. This was demonstrated on stage by a user clicking on a link to view a recipe in Buzzfeed Video - much like visiting a new website, the user was transported to the particular section of the app that contained the recipe.

App developers will have to rework some of their code for Instant Apps functionality, but according to Google most dev teams will be able to implement it within a day. Although Instant Apps certainly sounds convenient for users, but it seems hard to believe that many organisations would be overly keen to put extra work into ensuring that people no longer have to install their apps to receive their content. Time will tell how this feature will be adopted by app devs.

Conclusion

Although the talk was impressive, we won’t be able to get our hands on most of what was talked about for a while, so we were left a little unsatisfied. Let’s look forward to next year’s talk, where we may be getting our hands on the next big thing in VR.

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