Android N, Daydream VR, Google Home and more: Everything announced at Google I/O 2016
The big reveals from the technology giant's annual developer conference.
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
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.
Watch this: Android N packs new features, and you get to name it
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.
Watch this: Here's how Google will tempt smartwatch fans with Android Wear 2.0
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.
Watch this: With Android Instant Apps, you can use a program without downloading it
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.
Watch this: Meet Daydream, Google's vision for virtual reality
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.
Google I/O 2016: Daydream, Home and other big takeaways (pictures)
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.
Watch this: Say hello to Allo, Google's answer to Facebook Messenger
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.
Watch this: Duo shows you live video of callers before you pick up
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.