Despite spinning off an Alphabet-soup of divisions, the Google mothership remains a sprawling company, so it's unsurprising that its annual developer's conference covers a continent of territory. In a two-hour-long keynote, the company took the audience on a tour of its upcoming tools and technologies. Here's a quick trip through what you missed. And don't forget to check out our in-depth analysis: A glimpse inside Google's VR Daydream, One Android to rule them all? and Google's CEO sums up his AI vision.
A global on-line paper-airplane game and, to quote one our live-bloggers, "video of lots of happy people doing weird things" leading up to the event set the tone, and as usual began with a recap of how Google's evolved and how well it's doing.
Google released the preview of its upcoming Android N update last March. Today it unveiled some new capabilities beyond the preview version, including support for VR via its Daydream platform (see below), automatically removing less frequently used apps from the home screen, and better task switching, among other capabilities. Today the company's releasing a beta-quality release candidate.
It incorporates the Vulkan graphics processing engine and generally processing enhancements for better performance and improved framework security, and it will auto-update your operating system (though that still doesn't mean the latest updates will be available for your phone).
And what does the "N" stand for? Nothing at the moment. Google announced a contest to name the operating system after your favorite sugary treat that starts with "N" because there aren't that many obvious options.
Efficiency seems to be the goal of the long-awaited update to Android for smart watches, Android Wear 2.0, which is rolling out to developers this week and to the rest of us later in the year. It's slated to offer better battery life, phone-free operation, better fitness support and smarter, more predictive operation. Smart Reply, handwriting recognition and a new keyboard are some highlights. The developer preview launches today, and we get it in the fall.
Instant Apps are another attempt at improving efficiency, in this case streamlined integration between the mobile Web and standalone mobile apps. The technology downloads individual modules of an app on demand rather than requiring you to download the full app. It should improve convenience for payments and so on, but this is less of a consumer win than one for businesses and developers; it increases the likelihood that you'll stick with them on their path to monetizing you. It will work on versions of the OS as far back as Jellybean.
Google's post-Cardboard VR products are in the dream phase for consumers, but it did show its reference-design headset, controller and tools platform for its next-gen Android-based VR solution, Daydream. Developers can get it now.
It requires a heavy-duty phone; Google released specs that make a phone Daydream-ready. Compatible phones should be available this fall from major manufacturers. There's also a VR mode that includes performance optimizations and a VR interface for navigating apps. Lots of VR-optimized content and games are in the works, including Google's own Play Movies, Street View and Google Photos.
Applying artificial intellligence to improve the capabilities that reside in Google Now, its Siri-wannabe Google Assistant hopes to entice more interaction by improving its conversational skills and ability to predict queries and refine results, among other capabilities. Plus, in addition to appearing on mobile devices, it's now the centerpiece of the rather generically named Google Home (formerly known as Project Chirp), a device that the company debuted as a challenger to the Amazon Echo (which even received a shout-out and a jab).
It looks like a speaker -- it is one, actually, and works with Google Cast -- and the design looks pretty nice. Now you can wander around the house muttering "OK, Google." It will be available later this year. It will also be able to access, with your permission, all of your Google-stored personal information, such as your calendar.
Maybe the third time's the charm for Google and instant messaging. It never seemed to hit the jackpot with Talk and Hangouts, but now Google says Allo to Facebook Messenger and to some extent, SnapChat. Its twist: Google Assistant integration. It'll jump right into your conversations to suggest responses, even based on photo content. The Assistant will also butt in when it sees comment it can help with, like finding the closest restaurant that has the type of cuisine you're texting about, and then make reservations for you. The Whisper Shout features can visually scale your replies by intensity. You can also go incognito in Allo with end-to-end encryption and the ability to delete conversations.
But wait -- there's more. When text doesn't cut it, now there's Google Duo video chat, a basic app that's the company's response to Apple Facetime and Microsoft Skype. Unlike Hangouts, it's designed for one-to-one communication. The novelty here is the ability to see video preview of the caller before answering, a feature called Knock Knock, and what the company claims is very good reliability. It will be available this summer on both Android and iOS.
Google's development environment, Android Studio 2.2 preview, offers accelerated development turnaround, test recording, faster builds and layouts. The Layout Designer has been rewritten with more automation. There's a new APK analyzer, a layout inspector, new quality checks in the code analysis, and the latest version of intelliJ IDE. And there's extended platform support, including improved C++ and Jack compiler/Java8.
There's also a new version of Firebase, its app-developer management tool, with Firebase Analytics for better business intelligence and custom CRM notifications. Firebase Remote Config allows for more experimentation, and Dynamic Links can adapt based on the current screen. Everything's integrated into Big Queries, Google's data warehouse.
Google's working on bringing more AI, machine learning and computer vision APIs into the Google Cloud platform. It's adding faster hardware, Tensor Processing Units, for improved response on artificial-intelligence-based and deep-learning computing.
This article also appears in Spanish. Read: Android N, Daydream VR, Google Home y más: todo lo que se anunció en Google I/O 2016
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