Earlier this week, Google unveiled a variety of new technology and software on its way to you soon at its I/O conference. Among them: a Siri-like virtual personal assistant called Google Assistant, a home automation device called Google Home, a messaging app called Allo, a companion video chat app called Duo, and a VR system called Daydream. Here's what you need to know about them.
Like Siri, Google Assistant is at your beck and call whether you want to speak to it or type to it. It will be integrated into some Android phones and will be available on others as an app. Google demonstrated hypothetical Assistant interactions that would see users search for movie tickets, check calendar items, and do other lightweight management work.
There is an important detail to Google Assistant that would be easy to gloss over: The company will open Assistant up to third-party developers. This means independent developers could conceive of and build software to drastically build on top of Google Assistant’s capabilities. Weigh this against Apple’s Siri, which remains completely locked down. Siri does nothing without explicit permission from Apple first, but Google is willing to turn over its creation to the world at large. And, of course, you’ll start it up by saying, “Okay, Google.”
It’s perhaps the Amazon Echo that most people would associate with spoken commands for home automation. If your house is configured with the right gear, you might only need to speak your desired environment changes — “Set the thermostat to 70 degrees and lower all the lights” — to see software and hardware combine to do your bidding. Now Google wants in on this niche.
As a microphone-and-speaker gadget that talks to the Internet, Google Home most readily competes with Amazon Echo. You’ll talk to it to not only turn off your lights, but to also play music, check your calendar, or even get directions somewhere. It will interface directly with Google Assistant; as Assistant’s capabilities grow, so will those of Google Home.
Allo and Duo
These are chat apps; Allo for your text and emojis, Duo for video conversations.
Allo’s secret sauce is its deep integration with existing Google services. You guessed it: Assistant figures strongly into this messaging app’s DNA. You’ll chat with humans and Google’s software alike. Using phone numbers to deliver messages to their intended recipients, Allo even allows for a more-secure “incognito” messaging mode. You’ll also have message-based access to your calendar, reminders, and other data. Try sending Assistant a message within Allo that says, “Is my flight delayed?” and see what happens.
Duo is for video messaging, just like FaceTime. Google has playfully set things up so that a video-call recipient gets a live preview of what he or she is about to see before actually accepting the call.
A virtual reality platform called Daydream will bring high-quality, low-latency virtual reality to the Android N smartphone and other Android mobile devices. According to Google, Samsung, Alcatel, HTC, and other manufacturers will be releasing Daydream-compatible devices this fall. By strapping your smartphone to your face with a device like Google Cardboard, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in a virtual universe on the cheap. But of course, Google is releasing a reference design for any Daydream-specific headsets that manufacturers might want to develop in the future.