Google I/O is done for the year. The company showed off Android N, along with new apps for messaging and video calls. Plus, it unveiled an Amazon Echo competitor called Google Home, and outlined its plans for the future of VR. Catch up with all the news here.
May 20, 2016
I just sat down with Rafa Camargo and several members of his Project Ara team to learn more about the modular smartphone — because there's a lot going on with this thing. The project, which many had assumed was on its way to being Spring Cleaned by Google is instead coming out in almost the biggest way possible: it's the first phone ever that Google is manufacturing itself, and it's going to be available to consumers next year.Read Article >
We talked about a lot in our discussion, but for now I'll just share some quick thoughts and quick photos. One note on these photos: this device is very much still a prototype. Not only will the eventual consumer version look and feel way better, even the developer version that's coming out later this year is going to be a step up from the photos of what you're seeing here.
On Wednesday Google kicked off its I/O developer conference by unveiling a series of new artificial intelligence-powered products, including a messaging app with a virtual assistant and a home speaker with a voice interface. Given what we’ve seen in the explosion of AI assistants and software bots from other companies, you’d expect Google to brand these products’ connective tissue with a personality and a name — Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa, and Microsoft has Cortana.Read Article >
Instead, Google’s new AI assistant is just called… Google Assistant. What used to be known as Google Now, the predictive assistant inside Android, has been broadened into a bigger initiative to bring those capabilities further into the real world, bolstered by years spent building out its extensive Knowledge Graph and honing its ability to parse human language. It’s an indication of Google’s ambitions for the product that it wants us to simply call it Google.
On the last day of I/O, Google's ATAP division has finally given us some firm details on when it will release a very real Project Ara modular phone. A developer edition running Android with a 5.3-inch screen is shipping this fall, while a consumer version of the phone will be available some time in 2017. To get your hands on a device this year, you have to head over to ATAP's dedicated Ara website and fill out the form indicating what type of module you'd like to develop for the phone.Read Article >
Ara has come a long way since it was first demoed at I/O 2014. In fact, more than 30 people are now using Ara phones at Google as their primary device, according to Wired. Google has also decided to spin out Ara as another division inside Google, effectively "graduating" the project to indicate its a real business and a serious initiative for the company.
May 20, 2016
A month after debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival, Google's latest Spotlight Story, Pearl, just launched at Google I/O and is now available to watch on Android and iOS. The new short film, which follows a father and daughter's lives through the "eyes" of their beloved hatchback, can be viewed in the Spotlight Stories Channel on YouTube and in the Spotlight Stories app on iOS. (You'll want to watch this on a Cardboard if you have one, though.)Read Article >
Director Patrick Osborne, who won an Oscar for his work on Disney's short film Feast, told The Verge at Tribeca that the film is a folk musical, with the car playing the part of the Giving Tree. Pearl is only the latest short developed by Google's ATAP group since director Jan Pinkava debuted Windy Day on the first Moto X back in 2013. Since then, the company has collaborated with the likes of former Disney animator Glen Keane and Fast & Furious director Justin Lin to make the shorts Duet and Help, among several others. Pearl was the first Google debuted at a major film festival, however, so it's clear the program's ambitions are only getting bigger.
May 20, 2016
With the dust settling on an unusually ambitious I/O conference, it's worth taking stock of exactly what we just saw. Google announced huge moves in virtual reality, messaging, and personal assistants — three of the industry's most hotly contested categories. But while we know there are big things coming, we still can't say when they'll get here.Read Article >
To recap, here's what we know about when everything's coming out, as specifically as possible:
May 20, 2016
For the past two years, smartwatches have been all over the place. As the relatively new category has developed, we have seen countless ideas on what smartwatches should be and how they should work. Despite some success from the Apple Watch and to a smaller extent, Pebble and Samsung, smartwatches have yet to really catch on in the mainstream, with many critics and users complaining that they are too complicated and too duplicative of the smartphones they already own.Read Article >
Google has been getting these complaints a much as anyone, and its Android Wear platform has yet to gain the traction of even other smartwatch platforms. Despite being on a lot of different devices from a variety of manufacturers and benefiting from large marketing campaigns from Google, Android Wear has struggled with a difficult-to-use interface, little support from third-party developers, and a general disinterest from the public.
May 19, 2016
Google hopes to quickly make its virtual reality platform Daydream a mass-market product. "Our intention is to operate at Android scale, meaning hundreds of millions of users," senior product manager Brahim Elbouchikhi said at a session on monetizing Daydream apps at the Google I/O developers conference. "In a couple of years, we will have hundreds of millions of users on Daydream devices." And in order to keep those users entertained, Google wants app developers to build experiences that are long, highly interactive, and devoid of "freemium" mechanics that could break users' concentration.Read Article >
Daydream was first announced yesterday, and Google launched a site for virtual reality developers this morning, so they can get started before the first Daydream-ready phones start rolling out this fall. The site covers creators of games and apps for both Daydream and Cardboard, the low-end VR platform that Google currently operates. But based on messaging at I/O, the overlap between those categories could be minimal. "Cardboard apps were about fun, snackable, short experiences, largely non-interactive," said Elbouchikhi. "Daydream apps are quite the opposite. They're about immersive content, longform, highly interactive." He cited research that suggested mobile VR users favor once-a-day sessions of 30 minutes or longer, in the comfort of their home — "nobody is wearing these headsets in the street, FYI."
May 19, 2016
Google just announced that Chrome OS finally has what many people have been clamoring for almost since its introduction five years ago: true native apps. And it has a massive number of them, too. When support for them launches later this year, there will be more and better apps than you can find in the Windows Store. They just happen to all be Android apps.Read Article >
The Google Play Store, that massive repository of Android apps, is coming to Chrome OS. It will be available to developers in early June, then a month or two later it'll hit the more stable "beta" channel, and finally it will be ready for all users this fall.
May 19, 2016
During its second day keynote on virtual reality, Google announced some new hardware partners for its Jump VR platform. Yi Technologies, a Chinese digital camera maker, will be creating an action camera for Jump, and IMAX will be working with Google to create a cinema-quality VR camera. IMAX says it will dedicate a team of engineers and camera specialists to work with Google on designing a new high-resolution camera from the ground up, leveraging technology that has been used by the likes of Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, and Zack Snyder.Read Article >
Google also gave out some additional information on the media partners who have been creating with Jump cameras so far. The New York Times, Paramount Pictures, and Discovery Networks are among the lucky few who have been given early access to this hardware. Jump encompasses the camera rig, but also includes the software which syncs all the cameras and stitches together the footage from each lens into a single image, then compiles it into a smooth, 360-degree file.
May 19, 2016
Compared with its more laissez-faire attitude towards Android apps, Google is being demonstrably more precious with everything around its Daydream VR platform. On the hardware side, there's Daydream-ready device certification, reference designs for headsets and controllers, and a specific set of hardware partners. But Google is also doing something it's shied away from: carefully curating its VR-centric Play Store.Read Article >
Speaking with The Verge, Google's head of VR Clay Bavor says the company will "take a very, very strong stance" on things like performance, framerate, image latency, and quality:
May 19, 2016
Maybe the reason why Google isn't giving a formal name to its personal assistant software is that it's more than just one thing. Introduced at I/O this week is a new Android Awareness API that bundles all the sensor data from your smartphone or other Android device and presents it to apps, which can then act on that input to automatically assist you.Read Article >
"You can use this information to build more assistive and aware applications," says Google's Bhavik Singh, product manager of the Awareness API. He offers a number of scenarios where smart assistive apps could help: projecting the day's weather forecast on the nearest Chromecast TV, beaming out traffic alerts to your Google Home speaker to avoid being late for a meeting, or tagging photos with weather and activity data as well as location. In order to be so savvy, however, apps will need access to seven different parameters: the time and place (both type of place and precise location), your physical activity, any nearby wireless beacons, whether or not you have headphones connected, and the weather.
May 18, 2016
Earlier today at the I/O conference, Google announced a new chat app called Allo, complete with an "incognito" mode that boasts full end-to-end encryption. But the technology powering that encryption is more familiar than many Google fans may realize.Read Article >
May 18, 2016
The Android spec race is back on. With the announcement of a far-reaching Daydream VR initiative, Google effectively rebooted the quest for the biggest and baddest spec sheet among Android manufacturers. While some blinkered companies never let go of that competition, for the past couple of years we just haven't had a use for all the power in mobile devices. They've grown kind of, gulp, boring. Daydream changes that in a hurry by demanding better graphical performance, higher resolution, and a sophisticated array of sensors.Read Article >
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium with a 4K display that launched last year? It seemed overkill then, but now it looks like the blueprint for a new class of Android phone, which Google will officially certify as Daydream Ready. The minimum spec isn't known yet, but we do know it will be distinctly high-end.
May 18, 2016
Google is taking public submissions to help name Android N, after realizing that there just weren't that many "N" desserts to choose from. While it seems like Nutella would be the obvious answer, it's possible that the good people of Ferrero just weren't interested in a brand partnership with a smartphone operating system. Insane!Read Article >
Google announced its naming crisis during the annual I/O developer conference this afternoon, and promptly tweeted a video of imaginary branding agency "Professional Naming Incorporated" struggling to settle on a good option.
At I/O this year, Google displayed its vision for a more ubiquitous and conversational way of interacting with technology. Its Assistant is chattier, answering natural language queries with a more human voice, and it’s found its way into several new Google products: the messenger Allo and the Echo-like speaker Home. Both are areas where other companies have a lead, but Google’s strength in AI gave these services some nice twists, doing things like automatically generating surprisingly specific reactions to photos.Read Article >
Google also announced improvements to Android — though N, out of beta this summer, still needs to be named — as well as a mobile VR platform that will come with the new OS. There’s a FaceTime rival Duo as well, and a way to run Android apps without downloading anything. Below are the 10 biggest announcements.
May 18, 2016
Google Home is a response to Amazon's Echo, a home speaker and digital personal assistant operated by voice commands. The Echo looks like a generic Bluetooth speaker, which is to say it resembles a stack of hockey pucks or a very large tube of Pillsbury croissant dough. Google Home looks like none of those things.Read Article >
In fact, Google Home looks unlike anything in the tech world. It does, however, resemble a number of things you probably have lying around the house. This will make it easy, I suspect, to conceal Google Home: simply place it alongside any of these items, allowing it to blend in. Behold how inconspicuous the future is!
Android Auto will be getting a couple new features this year that are relatively minor, but promise to make the platform quite a bit more usable.Read Article >
First up is support for wireless connections. Currently, phones need to be plugged in via USB in order to use Android Auto; with this new capability, you'll be able to do everything over Wi-Fi, which is especially great for the growing number of vehicles that have standard or optional wireless charging plates built into their consoles. (You don't need to be charging the phone in order to use the feature, but having Android Auto running while servicing an always-on Wi-Fi connection will likely punish the battery otherwise.)
Google's ambitions for Android in the car go far beyond Android Auto, and it just laid those plans out at its I/O conference this afternoon.Read Article >
The company is demonstrating a Maserati Ghibli that has been completely retrofitted in partnership with Qualcomm to have a 15-inch, 4K center touchscreen (mounted vertically, a lot like a Tesla) and a 720p digital instrument cluster. The car isn't a production vehicle — it doesn't even really involve Maserati or its parent company, Fiat Chrysler — but it's intended to show what's possible when Android is running everything in the car from navigation to heating and cooling to the speedometer.
May 18, 2016
At its I/O developer conference today, Google showed off a new feature for Android called Instant Apps. With deep links, Android users will be able to use apps from a link without having to download anything from the Play Store. The company showed off a video experience from BuzzFeed and a shopping experience from B&H. And Google suggested it would be a good way for single purpose apps, like paying for parking at a museum, where you don't want to deal with the mobile web, but also don't want to download a full app that sticks around after you leave. After clicking a link, Google Play will download a few small parts needed for a brief experience. After completing that action, users can take the plunge and download the whole app.Read Article >
For now, this experience seems limited to what are basically web apps. It blurs the distinction between full apps you download and web apps you can launch from anywhere. Other companies, including Microsoft, have attempted to stream apps in the past with mixed results. It's not clear if Google's Instant Apps will support complex apps or instant game play — Instant Apps will be limited to 4mb for now — but the demonstrations showed web apps launching instantly. Google showed off Instant Apps on a phone running Android KitKat, and says it will be compatible with Android phones all the way back to Jellybean. Instant Apps will be rolling out to users later this year.
Google today announced Android Wear 2.0, the biggest update to its wearable operating system since its release back in September 2014. The biggest change with the software, which releases this fall, is apps can be run standalone without the need for a phone nearby. In fact, Google's David Singleton, the company's head of wearables, says the onstage demo shown today at its I/O developer conference was done with the accompanying Android smartphone turned off the entire time. Android Wear watches will now connect to Wi-Fi networks on their own, or rely completely on cellular when you're on the go.Read Article >
Google says the overhaul will help Android Wear focus on health and fitness, messaging, and customization. For instance, watch faces can show data from any app now, similar to the Apple Watch's complications feature. Conversing via text with the watch is now easier, with better auto replies, handwriting recognition, and even a tiny swipeable keyboard. The software will also do automatic exercise recognition and sync with third-party apps and exchange data via Google Fit.
May 18, 2016
Daydream, Google's new VR platform set to succeed Cardboard, will run with the next generation of Android smartphones running Android N. Google announced at I/O today that the new VR headset and software will work out of the box on new smartphones from a select group of manufacturers: namely, Samsung, HTC, Huawei, LG, ZTE, Asus, Alcatel, and Xiaomi.Read Article >
According to Google, Daydream encompasses both hardware and software, and will depend on next-gen specs to work. The company provided a reference design for the headset and remote onstage, which will allow developers to design their own VR products complete with motion sensing. New smartphones with the right complement of sensors and processors will take advantage of the new VR versions of YouTube, Google Play Movies, and other apps Google is promising. Of course, we don't know anything yet on price, but Daydream will officially launch this fall.
Google wanted its very own version of FaceTime, so the company built a video chat app called Duo. Announced today onstage at the I/O developer conference, Duo is a dead-simple and blazing fast way to start video chats. The app opens into a selfie-cam video preview of yourself with a big red button to start a call. Unlike FaceTime, which only works on Apple devices, Duo is compatible with both iOS and Android devices, so long as they have its app installed.Read Article >
Duo also varies from FaceTime with its "knock knock" feature, which gives users a preview of the video call they're about to enter before they actually accept it. (Make sure you tune in through the end to watch Erik Kay, director of engineering, communications products, accidentally hang up on his daughters. lol.)
Here's something that could make Google's newly announced Daydream VR pretty epic in scope: IMAX experiences are going to start coming to the platform.Read Article >
While unveiling Daydream, Android's new virtual reality initiative, Google announced that it would include content from IMAX. It's supposed to let you watch IMAX movies in a "virtual IMAX theater." That's likely to mean IMAX's more traditional documentaries, rather than the major films that happen to have IMAX ratios, but it still means having some awe-inspiring imagery to look at.
Want to start trying Android N early? Google is making it way easier today. It's launching a public beta of N that's supposed to be polished and stable enough to run on your primary phone.Read Article >
N has been out in a developer beta for a few months now, available as an over-the-air update if you wanted to check it out. But Google wasn't exactly promising that it would be stable enough to use day to day — this was just for testing.
May 18, 2016
Accompanying the announcement of its Daydream mobile virtual reality initiative, Google is revealing a few of the experiences that people might have with its new VR headset. This fall, the company hopes to have Android phone makers launch the first Daydream-ready phones, along with a standardized headset and controller design and a number of Google apps that have been converted to VR. It's also given the names of media and gaming partners who will be building apps and other content for Daydream. Most of the list isn't surprising, but it paints a better picture of where Google's mobile VR is headed.Read Article >
Some of these partners are coming straight from the world of Cardboard, Google's older and more basic VR platform. That includes The New York Times, which is launching a version of its NYT VR Cardboard app. The Wall Street Journal, which currently offers virtual reality video through its mobile app, will also make the leap.