Google IO 2016 is all wrapped up for another year.
This year, Google I/O was a story of healthy progression, rather than a sudden, spectacular announcement. We are all too well accustomed to the ‘big reveals’ but sometimes the quiet but significant improvements can pass us by.
In this article, we’ll ensure that won’t happen. We’ll give you a brief overview of the keynote news, hand out gold stars for our favourite announcements, and let you know what we have to look forward to in the coming months.
Your new assistant at home
First up, Google is looking to rebrand its ‘voice stuff’ under the new name Google Assistant.
Sounds fancy, but what changes will we see?
Probably not much initially, except seeing the Google Assistant branding popping up here and there. However, it is reassuring to see that Google is committed to providing a great personal assistant and accurate voice recognition.
If you are aware of Amazon Echo, this device will look familiar. It is a cylindrical device which will sit in your home and listen, always listening… Eagerly waiting for you to mutter ‘OK Google’.
It will be able to answer all your regular Google queries but will also be able to control any ‘internet of things’ devices you possess. Your home controlled by your voice.
Google Home looks set to blow Amazon Echo out of the water (when it launches later this year). Considering Google’s coveted voice recognition and knowledge graph, it should be impressive indeed.
No longer just a greeting, but a fantastic looking cross-platform messaging app (cue ‘Allo Allo’ jokes ad infinitum).
This video provides an excellent preview:
Allo features smart reply suggestions, contextual help with queries (e.g. picking a restaurant), a wide range of stickers and shout/whisper functionality (font size).
Gold Star - All in all, this app looks spectacular and earns Mike’s gold star from this year’s IO.
Duo is a video messaging app. Of course, we have loads of video messaging apps already. But this app is being built by Google, who have a wealth of experience in this field.
They’re promising to deliver great quality even on poor internet conditions (in your face Skype).
However, the real selling point is the ‘knock knock’ feature. It’s a palm to face, ‘why didn’t we think of that before’ feature.
Essentially it shows you the other person's video feed before you answer. So simple, yet wonderful.
Gold Star - This one earns Josh’s gold star. He comments;
“Video calling seems to have never taken off properly on Android. So, Google making a new foray into this area looks exciting. The knock-knock feature looks incredible and brings an innovative but intuitive feel to video calls".
It’s set to launch alongside Allo later this year.
The big surprise from IO this year was the announcement made about Android N’s name.
It was announced that Android N will be named… by the general public.
You can vote on your favourite name and have a say what the next Android release will be called. I’m sure NameyMcNameFace will be popular but get involved all the same.
Android N is set to be packed with improvements, albeit not very exciting ones. A new JIT compiler meaning faster installs, security improvements specifically around media and file-based encryption and seamless updates are just a few.
Perhaps the biggest change to the OS is the upgrades to multitasking. These include a clear all button (finally), auto app closing, quick switching, multi-window, including on phones, and picture in picture.
Notifications will also see a significant move forward. With the realisation that around 50% of our notifications come from messaging apps, Google plans to focus notifications to that end.
Last but not least, more emoji support (smiley face ad infinitum).
Android Instant Apps
Imagine clicking on a link in your browser and instead of having to open that bad mobile web page or having to install that native app just for that one time use; you could open the native app instantly with no downloading or installation necessary.
Well, it’s here, Android Instant Apps should make our web browsing experience better and stop our phones getting bogged down with tonnes of apps we only use once a year. Great solution Google.
Google is setting out a new standard for VR. Similar to cardboard they are releasing a specification for a headset and remote control that will work with your phone to provide a VR experience.
Not all that different to cardboard, except this time around, instead of having the cardboard app open, it will be baked into the OS itself.
This means you don’t just get that one video or game experience; you get the whole Android experience in VR including menus, play store and notifications. Looks exciting for VR fans.
Android Wear 2.0
Android Wear is going to see some significant design changes.
This will include design and gesture changes all round to make a more intuitive and better looking experience, along with handwriting support, quick reply improvements, a keyboard and standalone apps.
All culminating in a better all round and away from phone experience.
Android Studio 2.2
Significant improvements have been made to Android Studio. Including; improvements in build times, APK analysis, layout inspection and C++ support.
The new layout editor aims to make layout design much simpler and quicker, combining with the new constraint layout to bring a super UI building experience.
A new UI test recorder, something I’ve wanted from XCode for ages, will make UI test writing much quicker. Good news for developers and testers and hopefully means the quality of apps in the Play Store will improve too.
Another little feature worth a mention - you'll be able to right click on a section of code and search the Google sample code for. Simple but so helpful.
Gold Star - The Android Studio 2.2 announcement earns my gold star.
Firebase is Google’s backend database which many apps in the Play Store use. It is getting a bunch of new features, including analytics tailored for mobile, cloud messaging i.e. push notifications, crash reporting and more.
These are sure to make Firebase a good replacement for the Parse system when it closes early next year.
As we finished the final chips and knocked back the last of the fizzy pop, we mulled over our conclusions from Google I/O 2016.
We turned to Nick who best summarised our thoughts:
"Although I was excited by Google Home, the thing that excited me the most, wasn’t one particular announcement but an overall impression that Google hasn’t lost its own passion for developing and driving progress.
Sometimes we can lose sight of the positive impact that technology and information can have on society. So, I was excited to see there is still progress we can make, that we can drive change and empower people. The possibilities are endless, that is exciting."