It is very straightforward to dismiss Google I/O as simply a chance to point out off new toys and to throw an enormous occasion. 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 huge knowledge, search, and system ubiquity bore fruit because it transitions towards a brand new deal with AI and machine studying.
Every part Previous Is Lastly Right here
Google I/O 2016 is etched in my thoughts for 2 causes. First, it was lethal scorching, dampening the enjoyable of an out of doors 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 out there, taking away the first friction level of downloading and utilizing apps. The omnipresence of the Google Assistant additionally means Actions developed for it’ll filter into many new platforms, together with the iPhone.
In truth, 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 improvement. The truth that the Google Assistant will probably be moving into Siri territory made this abundantly clear.
That is significantly 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 giant. This 12 months, the presence of Android wasn’t essentially diminished, but it surely was just one of many platforms beneath 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 nicely. That is commonplace, 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 usually are not meant to be punitive however to make Android higher for everybody, together with customers. That is a smart viewpoint — it would even be appropriate — 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 preserve management of the core OS section, hopefully permitting for bigger, broader updates with much less meddling from system producers and carriers.
There are additionally new guidelines about person identifiers. Builders and advertisers use these to trace customers on and off their gadgets and serve up focused adverts. Limiting them is a privateness win for customers, and doubtless an information win for Google, which controls many of the technique of figuring out customers.
The Turning Level in Android O
One other innovation in Android O comes within the notification heart. Google designers and builders have paid specific consideration to notifications and icons over the previous couple of iterations of the OS. They rightly perceive this can be a main space of curiosity for customers, and a major space of interplay.
“Channels” is the interior time period Google applies to new classes of notifications. In O, builders will group their notifications collectively into differing types, letting customers change how these notifications seem, or if they seem in any respect. Google’s management says this can be a characteristic requested by customers and builders, and the advantages for each are clear. Customers get extra management over how their telephone works — a key Android idea. Builders have extra methods to speak with customers, and customers will probably be much less prone to merely uninstall apps that generate undesirable notifications. As a substitute, these notifications can merely be silenced.
That each 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 probably be dropped and easily not seem. This, after all, could have restricted influence within the Android person neighborhood, given the low adoption charges for brand spanking new Android OSes. However O will probably be a turning level for the platform and all builders.
Additionally throughout the session on notifications, the Googlers on stage took the weird step of asking builders to not abuse the flexibility to alter colours on notifications — a brand new characteristic in Android O. This warning was included within the developer documentation (and I famous it in my assessment 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 have been “giving a variety of belief” to builders, and promising to remove these privileges in the event that they felt colourful notifications have 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 firms with totally purposeful AR experiences: Microsoft via HoloLens and Google with Undertaking Tango. Tango has been my perennial favourite at Google I/O partially as a result of it’s so radically totally different from different Google efforts, and in addition as a result of it has felt prepared for primetime since 2014 a minimum of.
Tango had an enormous popping out this previous 12 months with the announcement of the primary industrial telephone to assist it, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro.
This 12 months, we bought phrase of a completely new system 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 gadgets that may take you on to objects in your purchasing listing.
From my conversations with the Undertaking Tango group, the primary focus proper now could be bettering the general expertise and supporting the rollout of shopper purposes 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 throughout the room, software program that may map a room after which clear all of the furnishings from it, and an app to mechanically generate 2D floorplans. Some of the thrilling purposes was an autonomous aerial drone utilizing Tango expertise to navigate obstacles at prime pace.
The most important VR announcement of Google I/O was, undoubtedly, standalone VR devices. Google was quick 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 offered 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 price dramatically lower than another VR expertise.
A standalone VR system successfully removes the hurdle of Google itself. It is an enormous boon to Google and for the builders who wish to do this new platform. With a standalone system, Google can supply VR to anybody keen to buy such a tool. You will not want a specialised Android telephone; it’ll all be one bundle.
Daydream could be very spectacular in its personal proper, and I am excited for a standalone system that may permit iPhone customers and others to take pleasure in Daydream apps. Hopefully it’ll price far, far lower than the Vive and the Oculus Rift. However I fear about shifting too removed from the common-or-garden Cardboard. A part of what impressed me about it was its DIY effectivity and remarkably low barrier for entry. As the value of Google’s VR expertise goes up, the quantity of people that can take pleasure in it’ll go down.
In 2016, it wasn’t clear what the AI revolution really meant for Google. Whereas machine studying was definitely on the forefront, there wasn’t any tangible proof of how this is able to work for Google. It may all have simply been dismissed as a fad, or only a good technique to encapsulate a sector of Google’s progress that had flown beneath the radar.
This 12 months, we lastly noticed what being “AI first” actually means. It means Google in additional locations, it means builders having the ability to work together in new methods (and on new gadgets). And most significantly, it reveals Google with much more focus than ever earlier than. It appears very prone to me that this 12 months particularly will mark a serious turning level not only for Google, however for the whole trade.