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“Reactionary”: thoughts on the Google I/O 2016 keynote
During today’s Google I/O 2016 keynote, the announcements came thick and fast, but one thing was clear: Google’s annual announcement fest was pretty light on new stuff. We got yet another new messaging app, minor updates on Android N, an Amazon Echo competitor, a new version of Google Now and plans for a long-overdue Android Wear update. But revolutionary new announcements were pretty thin on the ground (not including Android Instant Apps – which promise to be awesome) but everything else was pretty standard stuff.
Below you’ll find the thoughts of our team on the ground:
Lanh: All the new Allo features – being able to shout or whisper, talking to Google Assistant directly – should have just been updates to Hangouts. It’s just more confusing because now there’s multiple Google messaging apps and you don’t know if they’re going to be discontinued or not.
Then there’s the question of how many people are going to use Allo and Duo because they’re not going to be a default app – unless they’re on a Nexus – and iOS folks won’t go near them. So none of my friends with iPhones will get my shouts or whispers and not that many Android users will bother to switch either.
Josh: I do think the functionality is sound and I’ll enjoy using them, but I’m more excited about Google Assistant than the apps themselves. Because they don’t really bring anything new to the table. Duo is Snapchat, and the best parts of the Allo app are Google Assistant based.
Kris: Any ideas how Google Assistant isn’t just a rebranded in-app Google Now? And possibly only in Google apps. It needs to be released as an API to succeed.
Josh: That would be my question: releasing it for third-party developers would be the biggest move that Google could make for Assistant, but that would then make Allo redundant.
Lanh: Plus, Allo is tied to your phone number, not your email. So you won’t get notifications on another phone even if you have the app installed. Unless you switch SIMs too.
Kris: Thoughts on Android N? It feels like the early release kind of took the wind out of Android’s I/O sails because the Android N beta release isn’t anywhere near as exciting as the first dev preview. At last year’s I/O everyone was sitting in the hallways flashing the first preview and it was exciting.
Lanh: Yeah, they kind of already showed everything before, so there weren’t any real surprises. Adopting Vulkan wasn’t even surprising because Samsung already did that.
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Josh: Welcome technical changes but not exciting, no. I’m just not jazzed. I’ll probably use picture in picture on Android TV for YouTube though.
Lanh: I’ve never used multi-window on anything, so I probably won’t use split-screen or freeform window mode on mobile either.
Kris: Very happy to hear the “Android is upgrading screen” is going, but if that’s the most exciting Android news from I/O it’s pretty sad. While it makes perfect sense to get plenty of early developer input on a future Android version, the excitement evaporates. How about Google Home? Just an Amazon Echo clone or something more?
Lanh: It’s a good competitor to Echo because Echo is really the only other option. It’s a good move by Google to introduce their own version, especially with their cutting edge voice recognition.
Kris: Do you think Home will sink Echo? Or just appeal to a different audience?
Lanh: I don’t think it’s two different audiences and I don’t think it will sink Echo, but it will definitely be good competition. For both sides.
Kris: And Google absolutely needed to get it’s “hub” device out: to connect what’s going on with Android, Nest, Android Auto and so on, it was long overdue.
Josh: People that use Echo swear by it, people really love it. I don’t know if Home will get the same response or better. I’m optimistic, so I’m going to say that I think Echo fans love the system, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s Amazon or Google. So Google Home should be just as popular as Echo.
Kris: For sure. I think Google has a good basis for IoT and connected home stuff already. It feels like the Android faithful that are already committed to Google apps and services will naturally gravitate towards Home, but I’m not familiar enough with Echo to say if it will be better or not. It will be interesting to see if any Echo users switch. A head-to-head comparison of the two would be good to see who has the edge on functionality, voice recognition accuracy etc.
Josh: On the other side, the best thing about Android Wear 2.0 is the keyboard. It’s nice to not have to rely on your voice all alone. I still think the interface is the main problem with Android Wear. It desperately needs an overhaul. But I’m not the kind of person that wants a touchscreen on my wrist. So while I like my Pebble for not being a touchscreen, I do like the addition of a keyboard to Android Wear 2.0.
Kris: Standalone apps are pretty major too. LTE, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth with no need for a connected smartphone. This is pretty big news for wearables.
Josh: Allowing it to be standalone is cool, but it also means you need an LTE edition smartwatch and then you have to pay for connectivity too.
Lanh: Automatic activity recognition is a pretty big deal too. I assume all Android Wear watches from now on will now be LTE enabled. But backwards compatibility is shot.
Kris: Standalone functionality isn’t such a big deal for me at least, because when are you ever without your phone? But I recognize the importance for the platform. Android Wear needed something big like this. But I can’t imagine specifically choosing to go out without my phone because my watch can arguably do all the same things. Battery life would need to improve dramatically before that day ever comes.
Josh: In the same way, Android Instant Apps are a great idea but what if you need to log in to see the content? And if you need to log in, you probably already have the app. Maybe Google has sidestepped the need to log in with AIA compatible apps?
Lanh: I like AIA. I think it’s a very welcome change. It’s gonna make clicking links a little bit more fluid, because it takes you to an app experience rather than a mobile web page. Mobile versions of websites are usually more clunky compared to apps.
Kris: It’s a big move for devices with limited internal storage too. If you can get the AIA experience from a bunch of apps your device doesn’t have room for, it enriches the Android experience big time. It’s going to totally change the way we think about installing apps (if it works as well as it should). Developers are going to have to come up with new ways to make their apps install-worthy.
Lanh: I like that it’s backwards compatible to KitKat. They didn’t make it clear how far back it’s backwards compatible, but I guess KitKat is the limit.
Kris: What about Daydream VR? Is it what you were expecting? What do you think about Daydream VR as a platform?
Josh: It is exactly what I was expecting because it’s the same as other mobile VR platforms. It’s the evolution of Cardboard without changing it too much. The only real difference is that Google has added a controller.
Lanh: I like the controller too because you can control motion and gestures with it and make the VR experience more interactive for your whole body rather than just your head. For a mobile VR system that’s a big deal. It feels more like a Google-branded VR headset than a platform for VR though. The Google app integration in Daydream is pretty cool though.
Kris: I like the idea of a Nexus VR, but I’ll be interested to see how the smartphone spec, headset and controller and app platform coalesce compared to the other offerings from Gear VR, Oculus, Steam and so on. Is Google going to try to drown out competing VR platforms in the same way it did with Tizen and other forks of Android?
Josh: There was a lack of comments on how it will affect other platforms, but if Daydream is supposed be a Google mobile VR API then everyone is basically going to have to adhere to it.
Lanh: And they did say multiple OEMs will have Daydream-ready phones in the Fall, so it seems like everyone is already on board. I don’t know if that’s going to kill or replace Gear VR or if Samsung can just roll Daydream into Gear VR as it is. It’s probably just going to be like Vulkan where everyone starts using just because it’s a native part of Android.
Kris: Final thoughts on the I/O keynote? It felt more like an update roundup where the dots are getting more connected and services are being more deeply integrated. Even considering announcements like Daydream and Google Home.
Lanh: There weren’t any real surprises, no. A lot more polishing and updates to existing services and products, but no major overhauls or anything. I mean, we kind of expected that from Android N at least and we already knew about Home and Android VR to a degree.
Josh: Yeah, the keynote seemed like a place for Google to remind us that cool things are in the pipe rather than for unveiling anything huge. But, if I was a developer, I’d be really happy. It felt more like Google reacting to a lot of things: the existence of Echo, the existence of other VR platforms, etc. Even the updates to Android N feel like responses to things that are already around, like multi-window, Direct Reply, encryption, notification management and so on.
Kris: They couldn’t even come up with a name for Android N on their own.
Hit the comments and let us know your thoughts on the announcements made during the I/O keynote and what you wanted to hear but didn’t.