The mobile developer side of the world knew what to expect from this year’s Google I/O as far as the OS is concerned because Google had already released preview builds of Android N for developers to test it out. Speculations were also high around what Google might announce on the VR front. However, Google I/O packed in a lot of surprises and this year the event was more about helping users interact with their devices in a more personalized and conversational manner.
1. Android Instant Apps
The most interesting announcement from Google at I/O 2016 came in the form of Android Instant Apps. Instant Apps relies of extreme deep linking in apps to enable app developers to modularize apps in a way that the user can end up accessing parts of the app without actually installing it. This means if a user clicks on a link and there’s an app for that content then the user is directly taken to that part of an app without actually having to install it. Google is currently testing the idea with a few app developers and there’s not much clarity on a full-fledged release yet.
2. Google Allo and Duo
Google had another surprise with two new apps, Allo – for smart messaging and Duo – for video calling. Allo relies on powerful machine learning capabilities and works in tandem with Google Assistant to make conversations easier and more enriching. It includes a new set of Emojis called Expressions and Snapchat style doodling. The Smart reply feature learns the user’s replies over time and suggests automatic replies during conversations.
Duo is a simple video calling service that lets users have a video call with anyone on their contact list. The app has been optimized to work with low quality bandwidth and offers end-to-end encryption for calls.
3. Google Home
Google dropped a bomb with Google Home at I/O, a speaker with always-listening far-field microphones to hear from anywhere in the room. It can play music and interface with some of the home automation systems, but also answer questions asked by the user. The speaker has a nice design and is aimed at blending in with the rest of the room design.
4. Android N
Google reiterated on some of the features of Android N that are available in the preview builds such as multi-window support, a JIT compiler for improved performance and Vulkan a new graphics API to help game developers deliver graphic rich games on mobile. What was new was the inclusion of an all new VR Mode in Android called Daydream that includes OS level VR performance enhancements, a built-in VR interface and app launcher. Google has already signed on OEMs such as Samsung, HTC and Huawei to offer Daydream-ready smartphones this year.
5. Android Wear 2.0
Google announced Android Wear around two years ago and since then we have seen a lot of smartwatches adopt the OS. Two years later I/O 2016 has seen Google announcing a significant update to the wearable OS with Android Wear 2.0. The update brings along an array of new features that include support for standalone apps (no tethering required with the smartphone), UI overhauls, greater support for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GSM connectivity and native keyboard support.