It is very simple to dismiss Google I/O as simply a possibility to point out off new toys and to throw a giant celebration. Given the looks of LCD Soundsystem at this 12 months’s closing live performance, the impression is comprehensible. However I/O 2017 was when Google’s efforts in massive knowledge, search, and gadget ubiquity bore fruit because it transitions towards a brand new deal with AI and machine studying.
The whole lot Previous Is Lastly Right here
Google I/O 2016 is etched in my thoughts for 2 causes. First, it was lethal sizzling, dampening the enjoyable of an outside convention with sweat. Second, nothing introduced was really launched.
Looking back, 2016 was a constructing 12 months for Google. Merchandise introduced final 12 months, together with Google Assistant and Google Home, have now been within the wild—some, like Android Put on 2, for only a few months. This 12 months, we heard about enhancements and Google opened them to builders.
Builders can now work on Android, Chrome, the Google Assistant, and Google Home via the Actions API. Immediate Apps are additionally now accessible, taking away the first friction level of downloading and utilizing apps. The omnipresence of the Google Assistant additionally means Actions developed for it’s going to filter into many new platforms, together with the iPhone.
The truth is, the iPhone was talked about with such frequency, it started to really feel much less like a competitor and extra like one other platform ripe for growth. The truth that the Google Assistant will likely be moving into Siri territory made this abundantly clear.
That is notably notable as a result of Android has all the time been the centerpiece of the Google developer expertise. True, not each attendee is an app developer, however Android has all the time loomed massive. This 12 months, the presence of Android wasn’t essentially diminished, but it surely was just one of many platforms underneath the Google umbrella.
Taking the Reins
As a developer convention, I/O is a chance to not solely encourage builders to undertake new instruments and new platforms, however to supply some helpful suggestions as properly. That is common, however there was some pressure within the discussions this 12 months.
On the developer keynote, Android luminaries defined how new restrictions on knowledge, processing energy, and battery energy for apps will not be meant to be punitive however to make Android higher for everybody, together with customers. That is a smart viewpoint — it would even be right — but it surely felt decidedly extra prescriptive than previous Google periods.
That is only a few of the brand new methods Google is reclaiming Android. Project Treble, described within the Android safety panel, divides Android into three segments. Google will keep management of the core OS section, hopefully permitting for bigger, broader updates with much less meddling from gadget producers and carriers.
There are additionally new guidelines about person identifiers. Builders and advertisers use these to trace customers on and off their units and serve up focused advertisements. Limiting them is a privateness win for shoppers, and possibly a knowledge win for Google, which controls a lot of the technique of figuring out customers.
The Turning Level in Android O
One other innovation in Android O comes within the notification middle. Google designers and builders have paid specific consideration to notifications and icons over the previous few iterations of the OS. They rightly perceive this can be a main space of curiosity for shoppers, and a main space of interplay.
“Channels” is the inner time period Google applies to new classes of notifications. In O, builders will group their notifications collectively into differing kinds, letting customers change how these notifications seem, or if they seem in any respect. Google’s management says this can be a function requested by customers and builders, and the advantages for each are clear. Customers get extra management over how their cellphone works — a key Android idea. Builders have extra methods to speak with customers, and customers will likely be much less more likely to merely uninstall apps that generate undesirable notifications. As a substitute, these notifications can merely be silenced.
That every one comes with a catch: As soon as builders goal Android model 26 (or Android O, to its buddies), they need to use notification channels. If they do not, their app’s notifications will likely be dropped and easily not seem. This, in fact, may have restricted influence within the Android person neighborhood, given the low adoption charges for brand spanking new Android OSes. However O will likely be a turning level for the platform and all builders.
Additionally through the session on notifications, the Googlers on stage took the weird step of asking builders to not abuse the power to vary colours on notifications — a brand new function in Android O. This warning was included within the developer documentation (and I famous it in my overview of the pre-release of O), but it surely was unusual to listen to it on stage. It was additionally unusual to listen to Googlers say they had been “giving a variety of belief” to builders, and promising to remove these privileges in the event that they felt colourful notifications had been being abused. It was odd, partly due to the paternalistic tone, but in addition as a result of the overwhelming majority of Android builders weren’t within the room or at I/O.
VR and AR, Unleashed
There are solely two main tech corporations with totally purposeful AR experiences: Microsoft via HoloLens and Google with Undertaking Tango. Tango has been my perennial favourite at Google I/O partly as a result of it’s so radically completely different from different Google efforts, and in addition as a result of it has felt prepared for primetime since 2014 at the very least.
Tango had a giant popping out this previous 12 months with the announcement of the primary industrial cellphone to assist it, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro.
This 12 months, we acquired phrase of a wholly new gadget with a thinner physique and brighter display. Lowe’s has additionally agreed to let Google map 400 of its shops to offer in-store navigation through Tango units that may take you on to objects in your procuring listing.
From my conversations with the Undertaking Tango workforce, the primary focus proper now could be bettering the general expertise and supporting the rollout of shopper functions for what was as soon as a lab experiment. However we did get some hints. A session particularly on Tango confirmed off future efforts to determine discrete objects inside the room, software program that may map a room after which clear all of the furnishings from it, and an app to routinely generate 2D floorplans. Probably the most thrilling functions was an autonomous aerial drone utilizing Tango expertise to navigate obstacles at high velocity.
The most important VR announcement of Google I/O was, indisputably, standalone VR devices. Google was brief on particulars, but it surely’s a marked departure from earlier VR efforts. Google dipped its toe into the world of VR with the Cardboard, a $20 body for a smartphone that supplied a surprisingly immersive and low-cost VR expertise. The corporate doubled down with Daydream, which used solely high-end telephones and a specialised headset, however nonetheless value dramatically lower than some other VR expertise.
A standalone VR gadget successfully removes the hurdle of Google itself. It is an enormous boon to Google and for the builders who need to do that new platform. With a standalone gadget, Google can supply VR to anybody prepared to buy such a tool. You will not want a specialised Android cellphone; it’s going to all be one package deal.
Daydream may be very spectacular in its personal proper, and I am excited for a standalone gadget that may permit iPhone customers and others to take pleasure in Daydream apps. Hopefully it’s going to value far, far lower than the Vive and the Oculus Rift. However I fear about transferring too removed from the standard Cardboard. A part of what impressed me about it was its DIY effectivity and remarkably low barrier for entry. As the worth of Google’s VR expertise goes up, the quantity of people that can take pleasure in it’s going to go down.
In 2016, it wasn’t clear what the AI revolution really meant for Google. Whereas machine studying was actually on the forefront, there wasn’t any tangible proof of how this could work for Google. It may all have simply been dismissed as a fad, or only a good option to encapsulate a sector of Google’s progress that had flown underneath the radar.
This 12 months, we lastly noticed what being “AI first” actually means. It means Google in additional locations, it means builders with the ability to work together in new methods (and on new units). And most significantly, it exhibits Google with way more focus than ever earlier than. It appears very more likely to me that this 12 months particularly will mark a serious turning level not only for Google, however for the complete trade.