At Google I/O, Sundar Pichai & Co had lots to show off. New smart home gadgets! New all-powerful AI bots! New VR goodies! Next-generation messaging apps! Dad jokes and hijinks! Whoa.
We synthesized the chaos into the 12 best and worst things from Google I/O today. Here’s a look at what Google has in store for your connected future.
Best: Google Home is the smart home hub I absolutely want to buy
We had a good idea that this little guy was coming thanks to a sprawling report by The New York Times yesterday, and the new gadget didn’t disappoint. Google Home is the first Google hardware that houses its new all-powerful AI bot, Google Assistant.
Home is very much reminiscent of Amazon Echo, which Google CEO Sundar Pichai even acknowledged during the keynote. But because it’s backed by Google’s powerful new Assistant, this odd, elegant table-top device has the potential to surpass the Echo. Home has speakers, a far-field microphone, and can connect with all your disparate smart electronics like Nest and Chromecast. It also comes in customizable colors and can even create a sort-of AI mesh network by connecting other hubs throughout your home. Convenient? Yep. Creepy? Also Yep.
Unlike in years past, Android proper (that is, for your smartphone) wasn’t the star of show, but that doesn’t mean it was all quiet on the mobile front. Instead of showing off big sweeping design changes—we already saw those in an earlier developer beta of Android N—Google introduced little additions that make the Android experience much better. The multitasking carousel gets a handy “clear all” button, and apps get picture-in-picture support.
Even Android Wear got some love!
Dammit, Google! Just name it Nerds and get it over with. Google said that for the first time it’s opening up the name choice for the new version to fans, but it reserves the right to choose the final nomenclature. So no, it won’t be called Android Namey McNameface.
Of course, 4chan is already trying to game the system.
When Google announced Project Soli at last year’s Google I/O, it was almost too futuristic to be believable. The idea was to use small radios to interpret intricate hand movements and extend the functionality of displays. You could even develop devices with no screens at all but still have built-in navigation with just your own ten digits.
During Google’s ATAP (Advanced Technologies and Projects) I/O session on Friday, the team demoed Soli in the most logical of devices—a smartwatch. Since smartwatches are limited by their teeny 1.5-inch displays, it makes sense to use radios—or even your skin—to expand the horizon of what a smartwatch can do.
In a familiar theme you’ll see running throughout Google I/O 2016, Soli + Android Wear still has no release date—not even a release year. I hope that gif can hold you over for a year or two or five.
One of the big things we wanted to see from Google this year was a more substantial commitment to VR. Thankfully, Google VR boss Clay Bavor provided more details on what lies beyond Cardboard. The big announcement was a new VR platform called Daydream.
Bavor promises that there will be Daydream-enabled devices of different shapes and sizes, but for now, it’s just a set of guidelines for creating next-gen VR on Android. Much like VR-ready specifications for desktop machines, Google will also have Daydream-ready smartphone specs, listing the specific sensors, display resolutions, and chipsets necessary for the best Daydream experience. Luckily, most Android makers have said they’ll eagerly comply.
Although Google’s plans are certainly interesting, there’s still no physical hardware. Google drew up a little reference design for a headset and controller that other people can make, but it would be nice if Google led by example here and built its own hardware. Right now, all we’ve got to go on is a video demo that doesn’t look drastically different from Gear VR. Google says it will build its own headset, but it’ll likely be a while before we can really strap Google’s VR vision to our faces.
Google’s messaging apps, like Hangouts, are pretty damn good, but not great when compared to Facebook Messenger or even iMessage. Google’s hoping to change that with Allo and Duo. These apps, which will be available on both Android and iOS, are the first software repositories for Google’s new AI brain. They include chatbot powers and also sport machine learning that will pre-populate responses so you don’t even have to text.
The demos looked cool, but we’ll withhold impressions until we actually get the app in our hands.
Duo’s Knock Knock feature beams an incoming video call straight to your lockscreen before you can even answer. Neat, in theory. Terrible if the person on the other end of the line wants to show you their genitals. People on Twitter already seized on this possibility.
Create a technology, and someone will find a way to fill it up with dicks.
Encryption in Allo will be opt-in, which obviously hurts people less tech-inclined who will likely not even realize it’s a feature.
It also shows how building a contextually aware app filled with chatbots that mine your personal data is fundamentally at odds with keeping your messages secure. It’s the ultimate showdown of convenience vs. privacy.
There are so many apps on our smartphones that only do one thing, like parking apps or apps for specific websites. Google’s new Instant Apps feature loads the sections of full apps that you need without ever having to download the standalone package itself. Combine this neat trick with the promise chatbots hold for doing away with most commerce apps, and needless smartphone bloat could soon be a thing of the past.
Allo. Is that a somewhat stereotypical reference to a British “hello?” Daydream. Sounds like the name of tween One Direction cover band. All cool ideas—with less-than-cool names.
We’ve been waiting a long, long time for Android and Chrome OS to get together, and now they’re closer than ever. On Thursday, Google announced during an I/O session that Chrome OS will be getting the Google Play store—with a million or so apps along with it. It’s a massive extension of Google’s previous Runtime App for Chrome, and it has huge implications for making Chrome OS a real competitor for your core computing needs.
What’s additionally awesome is the Google recognizes that it will need to up its hardware game to take advantage of all the Android apps out there, so the Chrome team is partnering with Samsung to make “high-end” devices for doing just that. Cool!
It’s been a long time coming, but Google promises this time (like for real) that the long-delayed Project Ara smartphone will be shipping to developers this fall. While it’s been slow getting out of the gate, the smartphone old guard have dreamed up their own visions of modular mobility. But Ara’s idea of a truly modular smartphone is a step beyond anything even being conceived by other companies. Let’s hope it was worth the wait.
Considering Google originally thought this phone would be shipping in January 2015, followed by another dedication to launch in a limited supply by late 2015, we’re starting to get into a “boy cried wolf” situation. The on-stage demoes on Friday look more convincing than they’ve ever been, but I don’t think I’ll ever believe this phone is real until I hold one in my hand.
How specifically non-Apple of you, Google.
Top Image: Adam Clark Estes