Every year Google outline its plans for the year ahead at its I/O conference’s keynote. This year was no different, with the tech giant announcing a new chat bot, smart home tech, virtual reality platform and more. Here’s the top five things you need to know.
No, this isn’t an air freshener or oversized saltshaker, this is Google Home, the tech giant’s plan to take on the Amazon Echo.
Specs are thin on the ground, but essentially Home is a speaker and microphone that connects to your Wi-Fi. Like the Amazon Echo, you can chat with and it will search the web to find you information and complete tasks. You can also customise the base to match your living room’s décor.
Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which basically combines Google Now, OK Google and other features into one system like a supercharged version of Siri. The I/O demo was pretty impressive, showing the Assitant book cinema tickets for you, by working with third-party services like Ticketmaster, Spotfy and Uber as well as Nest smart home products. However, Amazon Echo has been around for a few years now and can do a lot more.
Google Assistant will also play a role in a new chat app for iOS and Android called Allo, in which it will make be able to make suggestions based on what you and your friends are talking about, such as recommending an Italian restaurant.
Google has done a lot to popularize virtual reality with its low cost Cardboard headsets, but this isn’t enough in an Oculus Rift world. So Google have announced Daydream, a new VR platform.
Like Samsung’s Gear VR, Daydream will run on your phone, which will slot into a high-tech headset. But where Gear VR only works with Samsung phones, Google says Daydream will work with a range of headsets that meet Daydream’s criteria. This includes having the relevant sensors and processors to deliver a lag time of less than 20 milliseconds between movements of the user’s body and on-screen responses. Excitingly, Google confirmed Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei and more will have compatible devices by this autumn.
However, while Google’s VR head Clay Bavor showed off a reference image for the Daydream headset and demo gameplay for using a handheld controller, he had nothing physical to show us. Google won’t be making any of the hardware and are hoping manufacturers will adopt it.
However, he did say YouTube, Street View, Play Movies and Google Photos are coming to Daydream. The tools to create Daydream apps and games would be included with the Android N developer kit and Hulu, Netflix, HBO, IMAX,The New York Times, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts have all partnered with Google to develop content.
Yes, that’s right, we called it Android N. Though we were all hoping that Google would confirm that Android 7.0 official name would be called Android Nutella, they turned it back around and asked us to pick one. They are crowdsourcing the name and you can submit your suggestion at www.android.com/version/name-n.
In terms of features, we learnt quite a lot about what Android N will offer. Due to popular demand, Google’s adding a Clear All button for notifications. Something that may prove less popular, Android N will also automatically close tabs that you haven’t looked at in a while.
Another neat feature is the ability to long-press on each notification to control how you’ll receive alerts from the app in future. If free-to-play games bug you with too many notifications, you choose whether to display them silently in the future or block them altogether.
Performance has also been streamlined to improve your battery, makes apps 50% smaller and install 75% faster. Updates will also be automatic and seamless, working in the background so you’re not confronted by annoying update screen whenever you turn on your phone. A new 3D rendering API called Vulkan will also help game developers deliver high performance graphics on mobile.
The settings have also been tided up, a bunch of keyboard themes have been added and you’ll gain 75 new emojis, , including a shark, juggling, avacado and a French stick.
You can download the almost-finished Android N beta to a Pixel C tablet or Nexus 6 or newer phone now, if not the finished version will be available at the end of the summer.
Android Wear 2.0
Google’s smartwatches are also getting a major update. Android Wear 2.0 will now support standalone apps, which means the software can online via Wi-Fi or a watch’s own 4G connection, rather than having to link up via a smartphone. This is great news for Android users, but even better news for iOS users who haven’t been able to get as much out of their watches because features aren’t supported on their iPhones.
Android Wear also has a new look user interface with new controls and a slick carousel that allows you to swipe between apps. They’ve also added a full QWERTY keyboard and handwriting recognition feature for easier messaging.
If you use Android Wear as a fitness band, compatible watches will now automatically detect what you’re doing, so if your doing pull-ups Android Wear will recognise it as strength training and record it as such.
Android Wear 2.0 is coming in the autumn, but developers can download it today and test it out.
Google haven’t given up there ambitions to take over your car either. In fact, you could say they’re already making in-roads: Android Auto is now compatible with over 100 cars and installable car stereos in 30 countries.
If you’re cars not one of them, it soon could be. The exact same Android Auto experience is coming to your phone for voice-enabled calling, media, messaging and navigation in a driver-friendly interface.
At Google I/O, the tech giant also showed off crowdsourced navigation app Waze working on a car’s dashboard, which will alert users to speed cameras and more. Android Auto is also going start controlling your FM radio and air conditioning in compatible cars.