1. Android N
The next version of Google’s mobile OS is almost done, and there are gobs of new features. Software updates now happen seamlessly in the background (just like Chromebooks!). Vulcan 3D graphics to improve games. Better security. Better notifications. Better multi-tasking with multi-window support. It launches “later this summer,” but there’s a beta-quality release candidate available now for Nexus devices. Oh and what’s the N stand for? You decide.
Where there was once Cardboard, there is now Daydream. Ultimately, the name will encompass everything Google does in VR, but right now it means two things: a hardware standard for high-end smartphones, and a VR mode that’s built right into Android N. Google’s building headsets with multiple partners, too, so expect more—phone, headsets, and software—this fall.
3. Google Home
Google dips into the smart home ecosystem again with Home. This cute little piece of hardware is a wireless speaker with a built-in voice-powered assistant. If that sounds like Amazon Echo, well, it’s just like Amazon Echo—complete with third-party partners for music, podcasts, news, ordering dinner, hailing a car, and making restaurant reservations. It’s also very handsome, and you get to pick your own color. Arrives this fall.
At its core, Allo is a chat app with stickers and cool interface tricks, like the ability to make your message bigger or smaller to indicate excitement (or lack thereof). But behind the scenes, there’s some cool predictive tech thanks to Google’s work in artificial intelligence.
We’ve had the app-based “OK Google” voice interface for a while now. But today Google announced an improved AI-powered assistant that better understands voice commands. You can chat with it via text messages too. It’s task-based: chat with Google’s bot to buy concert or movie tickets, call an Uber, or make an OpenTable reservation. It powers Google Home, and it’ll be in your phone soon.
Video calling in Android gets supercharged with Duo. It works as you’d expect (like a Hangout, or like FaceTime) with one cool additional feature. When you see a call coming in, you get a preview of what’s happening on the other end of the line. You see the face of the person calling you, or whatever they’re pointing the camera at—a little window into the intent of the call.
There’s a new Android build for your wrist. Android Wear 2.0 looks a lot cleaner and nicer. It’s easier to look at. For messaging, there are smart replies, better handwriting recognition, and a new keyboard. Wear apps can now plug into Google Fit, so apps like Strava can start tracking you as soon as you start running, no phone needed. In fact, there’s no phone requirement at all—Android Wear watches work without tethering. We’ll see the new OS (and new devices) in the fall.
The developer announcements may seem like a snooze compared to the cool consumer apps and hardware. But I/O is a dev conference, and Firebase is a big deal—there are more than 30 Firebase-related sessions at I/O this week. Firebase 2.0 is packed with new features for building and testing Android apps, and it’s available today for developers.
9. Android Instant Apps
What if apps worked like websites? Somebody sends you a text link to a screen within an app, you tap it, and your phone loads only the pieces of the app required to get that single bit of content. That’s Instant Apps—it seamlessly loads select app components. To you, it just looks like a website is loading. Android Pay will work inside these Instant Apps, which will be a big deal for shopping apps. Unlike on the web, you’ll be able to buy something with a verified fingerprint. If you happen to think the Instant App is pretty cool, you can install the real version with two taps.