Google's I/O keynote event is over for 2016, and this year’s showcase covered a lot of ground – everything from virtual reality, to smart home assistants, and the upcoming Android N. Here’s our round-up of the announcements that matter, and what you can expect from Google in the coming months.
Allo and Duo: new ways to communicate
If you’re looking for a messaging app that thinks outside of the box, Allo offers all the features you’d get from competing services such as WhatsApp, iMessage or Facebook Messenger – plus an integrated artificial intelligence service in Google Assistant.
Users can text, send media, emoji, and stickers, and even customise text size (in a feature Google is calling 'WhisperShout'). But you’ll also get Google Assistant popping up with 'suggestion chips’ based on the content of your conversation.
Google Assistant – or @Google – can suggest replies, offer up relevant information (such as places to eat), and intuitively recognise and respond to photographs sent to a user. The AI feature learns from how you type and connect with others, and unlike Google Now, can respond to complicated questions and relate one command to the next.
You can call on @Google specifically during a conversation, or just hit one of chatbot’s suggestions as they appear. Google Assistant is visible to all participants in an Allo chat, and if you’re security-conscious, you can set up ‘Incognito Mode’ to encrypt your conversation end-to-end and keep info off your device’s lock screen.
If you prefer voice or video to texting, Duo is Google’s new, streamlined video calling app that’s designed to work with your phone’s connection and capabilities. Simply open the app, select the contact you want to call, and Duo will connect you quickly and easily. There’s no bells and whistles, but (apparently) also much less wait time than with rival apps like FaceTime.
If you’re on the receiving end of a Duo call, you’ll be able to see live video of your contact waiting for you to pick up right on your lock screen – so you’re connected before you actually answer the call. Google says that Duo is designed to switch from WiFi to cellular and back again, is optimised for your device’s connection, and can adjust call and audio quality to suit connection strength and speed.
Instant Apps: clear your app drawer
One of the most useful features announced is what Google’s calling ‘Instant Apps’: a way for customers to access important information from providers, without needing to download entire apps or head to web sites.
If you click on a link with an associated Instant App, you’ll open up a downsized, ‘modulised’ version of that link’s full app that shows you the information you need, without directing you to a separate site (or to Google Play). It’s a quick way for Android users to access content without downloading an entire app that they may never use again – and an excellent way of keeping your device clutter-free.
With so many of us guilty of hoarding unnecessary applications on our phones, Instant Apps could eliminate the need for ‘just-in-case’ app storage. The feature is set to roll out later this year.
Android N: what's new
Google also gave us a quick preview of what to expect from Android N, which will be available late winter 2016. Users will enjoy better graphics thanks to the Vulkan graphics API, and a new virtual reality mode that will integrate with Google’s just-announced ‘Daydream’ VR platform.
The VR ecosystem will only be available from upcoming Android devices with specially built sensors and screens, but will work with Google features like YouTube, Street View, Photos, and Play Movies, as well as with upcoming partnering content from IMAX, HBO, Netflix and more.
Phone and tablet owners can also improve their multi-tasking with Android N’s split-screen capabilities, picture-in-picture modes, and upgraded notifications with new quick-reply features. You’ll also get brand-new emoji options, as well as around 250 new overall features and improvements to Android in general.
Google Home: connected living
Finally, Google is making homes smarter with its new, oddly cute Google Home speaker. Home is an always-on smart speaker that can answer questions and follow commands, and can be connected with multiple devices in a single household (although, at this stage, only one Google account per home).
The speaker can push media to Chromecast-compatible devices, control home features such as lighting or your thermostat via Nest home automation, and works with Google Cast services to play music. Google Home will be optimised to deliver short, concise responses to your questions, and will likely be available to customers later this year.