Google IO, the headline event in Google's product calendar was this year set in the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. IO 16 opened up with the soothing sounds of stringed instruments before, under the sun soaked sky, Sundar Pichai introduced a range of new and evolving Google products. We attended the Digital Plymouth IO event hosted at ThinqTanq to view the main event with the local community.
As a continuation of Google's cardboard experiment, Day Dream, a platform for mobile based Virtual Reality played centre stage. The set of standards, coupled with the reference designs for headset and devices are set to properly introduce Google to the the growing VR marketplace. The headset, similar to that of Samsung's ‘Gear VR', extends the user's device to provide an immersive virtual environment. Whilst this is not a huge jump from the VR systems currently available, the wide adoption of Android is sure to provide a good base for people to experience their first virtual world. Afterall, VR is something which needs to be experienced before the full potential is apparent.
A theme running through the Keynote was the voice experience. The evolution of Google Now's “OK Google” into a context-aware assistant is an exciting prospect. The advances, thanks to the company's large machine-learning systems, demonstrate the power of a natural language and conversational interface.
These advances are best demonstrated in the newly announced Google Home. Part virtual assistant, part Google interface, Home is designed to sit in the heart of your personal space, be it the living room, bedroom or office. With a room-filling speaker and an always-on microphone, Home provides a voice controlled interface which promises to simply work.
The demonstration showed a family using the device to order food, book tickets and control the house's heating. The developer API and the organisation's years of experience with natural language processing could see the Amazon Echo knocked from the top spot of the home assistant market.
IO was not just about hardware. Allo, a secure and speedy chat application adds some interesting new features for giving more meaning to textual conversations. End to end encryption ensures conversations are not eves-dropped on. The presentation highlighted the tight integration between Allo and the virtual assistant, which allowed booking the of a restaurant and travel plans from within the group's conversation.
Duo, the video calling companion to Allo is Google's answer to Apple's FaceTime. What's interesting with Duo is the way in which calls are received. A full screen live video feed of the caller is displayed to help you to decide to pick up, placing you in the conversation before it's actually started. This innovative feature coupled with advances in the underlying network connection and codecs should result in a highly usable pairing of apps.
Whilst these are the headline announcements for us, there are a couple more worth noting:
- Android wear is updating to allow more on device functionality in Smart Watches as well as decoupling the watch from a phone.
- After a long wait, Android Auto is rolling out to more manufacturers and countries.
- Instant apps allow web links to open a full app experience without the need for installing the app.
- Improvements in Android Studio promises to reduce compile time and app sizes, two potential headaches for any developer.
You can watch the edited keynote highlights on YouTube right now and find more details on the key announcements on Techradar. As always, we're interested in hearing what the community thinks about this year IO event. Find us on Twitter and let us know.