Google's Biggest Product Announcements for 2016

Every year, Google makes their biggest product announcements at their annual Google I/O Developer' conference. This is the tenth annual developer's conference, but the first year with Sundar Pichai as the new CEO. (Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google's founders, are now running Google's parent company, Alphabet, Inc.

Over 7000 people attended the live conference (and battled standing in line for over an hour in 90-degree heat) and even more people tuned into live video streaming of the keynotes. Live attendees could also mingle with Google employees and enjoy hands-on exhibits throughout the event. 

The keynote presentations from Google give us insights into Google's vision, products, and feature enhancements for the next year. 

Many announcements were small - enhanced features on Android Wear to make it behave less like an accessory and more like a standalone device (cellular Android Wear watches could potentially make phone calls and run apps while your phone was shut off, for example.) 

Here are some of the bigger announcements:

01
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Google Assistant

Google I/O Developer's conference
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - MAY 18: Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during Google I/O 2016 at Shoreline Amphitheatre on May 19, 2016 in Mountain View, California. The annual Google I/O conference is runs through May 20. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images). Justin Sullivan / Staff Courtesy Getty Images

The first announcement from Google was Google Assistant, an intelligent agent, much like Google Now, only even better. Google Assistant is more conversational with better natural language and context. You can ask "Who designed this?" in front of Chicago's the Bean sculpture and get an answer without providing any more details. Other examples included a conversation around movies, "What's showing tonight?"

Movie results show. 

"We want to bring the kids this time"

Movie results filter to only display family-friendly suggestions. 

Another example includes a conversation around asking about dinner and being able to order food for delivery without leaving the app. 

02
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Google Home

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - MAY 18: Google Vice President of Product Management Mario Queiroz shows the new Google Home during Google I/O 2016 at Shoreline Amphitheatre on May 19, 2016 in Mountain View, California. The annual Google I/O conference is runs through May 20. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - MAY 18: Google Vice President of Product Management Mario Queiroz shows the new Google Home during Google I/O 2016 at Shoreline Amphitheatre on May 19, 2016 in Mountain View, California. The annual Google I/O conference is runs through May 20. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images). Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google Home is Google's answer to the Amazon Echo. It's a voice-sensing device that sits in your home. Like the Amazin Echo, you can use it to play music or make queries. Ask natural questions (using Google Assistant) and get answers using Google results. 

Google Home is scheduled to be available in 2016 (although no specifics were announced, that usually means by October so that it can be available for Christmas).

Google Home can also be used to cast shows to your TV, like a Chromecast (presumably by controlling a Chromecast). Google Home can also control Nest devices and other smart home devices. ("The most popular platforms," according to Google.) Google was openly seeking third-party developer integrations. 

Although not mentioning Amazon Echo by name, it was clear that the comparisons were mainly targeted at Amazon.  

03
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Allo

Allo is a messaging app. This is a chat app that will be released this summer (you can pre-register on Google Play). Allo emphasizes privacy and integration with Google Assistant.  Allo includes a quirk called "whisper/shout" that changes the size of text in messaging replies. "Ink" allows you to scribble on photos before sending them (like you can do with Snapchat.) Like Snapchat, you can also use "incognito mode' to send encrypted chat messages that expire. Allo also uses machine learning to suggest replies, like Gmail and Inbox, only with even more intelligence. In the demo, Google used Allo to show suggested responses that analyzed a photo to know it was a "cute dog," which the presenter assured us was something Google had learned to distinguish from dogs that did not deserve to be called cute. 

Beyond auto-suggestions, Allo can share integrations with Google searches and other apps (the demo showed a reservation through OpenTable.) It can even use the Google Assistant to play games. 

Allo, in many ways, looks like a much more mature version of Google Wave designed for mobile. 

04
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Duo

Duo is a simple video calling app, like Google Hangouts, Facetime, or Facebook video calls. Duo is separate from Allo and only does video calls. Like Allo, Duo uses your phone number, not your video account. Through a feature called "knock-knock," you can see a live video preview of the caller before you decide to answer the call. 

Duo will also be available sometime during the summer of 2016 on Google Play and iOS. Both Duo and Allo are mobile-only apps at this point and no announcements were made around making them desktop apps. They depend on your phone number, so that makes it less likely. 

05
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Android N

Google usually previews the latest version of Android during the I/O conference. Android N offers enhanced graphics (the demo was a well-rendered driving game.) Apps in Android N should install 75% faster, use less storage, and use less battery power to run. 

Android N also improves system updates, so the new update uploads in the background and just requires a reboot, just like Google Chrome. No more waiting for upgrades to install. 

Android N also offers the ability to use a split screen (two apps at the same time) or picture-in-picture for Android TV running Android N.  

06
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Google Virtual Reality Daydream

Android N supports enhanced VR, beyond just Google Cardboard, and this new system will be available in fall of 2016 (again - think October if Google wants to hit Christmas). Daydream is Google's new platform that enables VR optimization for Android smartphones and dedicated devices. 

"Daydream ready" phones meet a set of minimum specifications for VR. Beyond that, Google created a reference set for headsets (like Cardboard, but slicker.)  Google also announced a controller that can be used with Daydream.  Google had recently experimented with VR headset and controller combos with the Tilt Brush app

Daydream will also allow users to stream, buy, and install apps from within Google Play. Google has also negotiated with multiple video streaming services, such as Hulu and Netflix (and, of course, YouTube) to allow VR streaming movies and game developers. Daydream will also be integrated with Google Maps Street View and other Google apps. 

Google Assistant and VR

The two big takeaways from Google this year was tight integration with Google's intelligent agent, Google Assistant, and a bigger plunge into virtual reality. VR will be done Android style, with a set of specifications and a platform rather than a Google-specific product.