Google’s I/O keynote event on Wednesday, May 18 was uncharacteristically light on exciting info for consumers, but developers found plenty to sink their teeth into. The next version of Android didn’t even get a name, just a page for suggestions beginning with the letter N. Personally, I think “Neapolitan” should get the nod, fitting as well as it does with the Android slogan “Be Together, not the Same.”
The Google Assistant
The only hardware announced was Google Home, a vase-shaped tabletop device that serves as the hub for a connected house, joining the ever-expanding Internet of Things. More than a voice control for light bulbs and thermostats, Google Home also incorporates the search engine’s machine intelligence to respond to information queries, read users’ emails and schedules, and cast audio and video to any room.
Home will be out “later this year” and takes advantage of what CEO Sundar Pichai called the “Google assistant”. The company has been refining its search engine to deal better with natural language, context-sensitive queries, and follow-up questions using pronouns referring to previous answers. Erik Kay, Google’s Director of Engineering, announced text and video chat apps Allo and Duo also integrating the assistant concept. Context-aware Smart Replies are offered to chatters based on their message content, even identifying subjects of shared photographs. The apps come to both iOS and Android “this summer”.
Frameworks for Developers
Access to Google’s vast machine learning apparatus is the real story of I/O 2016 for developers. Android Studio and Firebase, a development and marketing platform acquired by Google in 2014, include hooks into the company’s giant cloud architecture.
Instant Apps are taking the deep linking concept – hyperlinks that lead inside an installed app – a step further. By breaking up their Android apps into smaller modules, hyperlinks can open apps without those apps being previously installed. Only the relevant portions of the apps are downloaded, and the user can choose to install the full app or not. Instant Apps will be backward compatible to Jelly Bean, released in 2012.
Perhaps the largest framework floated at I/O is Daydream, a virtual reality SDK for low-latency VR. Apps can be adapted from Unity or built from scratch, and upcoming Android phones will be certified to work with Daydream.
There was something left out, though.
Missing Headsets & Handsets
Though widely anticipated, a Google-branded virtual reality headset was not announced. There was, however, a reference design released to manufacturers. The design includes a more refined headset than Cardboard, along with a one-hand remote for navigating within VR worlds.
No Nexus phones or tablets were previewed either. Since developers had gotten Android N previews earlier in the year than previous Android releases, many expected the device schedule to be accelerated in 2016 as well. With nary a mention of new Nexus devices in the keynote address, a typical fall release is looking more likely again.
What excites you about this year’s I/O? Let us know in the comments, and call or email us to work with app development specialists