Google I/O 2016: Hits and Misses From the Big Event
A big theme for Google I/O 2016 is catching up to the competition. From an Amazon Echo competitor in Google Home to a Facebook bot challenger in the Allo messaging app, there just wasn't a lot of innovation on display at Google's keynote. But that doesn't mean the improvements aren't welcome. Google also showed off a more open VR platform in Daydream (take that, Oculus) a FaceTime foe in the Duo app and a way to instantly enjoy apps on your phone without downloading them. Here's what really struck a chord — and what landed with a thud.
HIT: Instant Apps
No longer do you have to wait to download an app to enjoy the best bits and be on your way. At Google I/O the company demonstrated Instant Apps, which is coming to Android N this fall. You could tap on a url in a message or email and then instantly start running the associated app, whether it's watching a video in Buzzfeed, shopping for a camera on B&H photo or paying for parking with Park and Pay. If you like the experience, you can always download the app from the Instant App view. Smart stuff.
I suppose there's something convenient about being able to screen video calls before you pick up, which Google's Duo enables. Does your significant other seem happy or annoyed? Or would you be more likely to take that call from your kid if they're smiling and excited to see you? (Guilt FTW!) But really, there's no need for yet another video chat app, especially one that could be used to show you things you simply don't want to see from admirers that got your number.
MISS: Google Home
As a group of editors and writers watched Google unveil its Home speaker, most of us said "just like the Echo" as Google rattled of the features. Play music? Just like the Echo. Control smart home gadgets? Just like the Echo. Check your flight and get answers to questions? You get the idea. The main differentiators seem to be Google Home's more compact and customizable design and the fact that you can search all of Google. But at least until Google signs up a lot more partners — which it's hoping to do at I/O — I'll give the edge to Echo and Alexa.
HIT: Android Wear 2.0
Okay, hit is kind of strong word when we're talking about Google's still-fledgling smartwatch platform, but Android Wear 2.0 represents serious progress. I especially like that you can respond to messages just by scribbling letters on the screen. You can also do trace typing. Other highlights include standalone apps that work even without your phone, improved notifications and customizable watch faces. It's going to take new hardware to get me really excited, but this is a step in the right direction.
What the world needs now is another messaging app. Yeah, not so much. The Allo app does have some nifty features, such as the ability to recognize that you're looking for restaurants and even book reservations via OpenTable without leaving the app. The app is also intelligent enough to get the context of your conversation to suggest Smart Replies, which could cut down on typing. But I could do without chatting with Google directly — that's what Ok, Google is for — and I don't need to play games with a bot.
HIT: Android VR Daydream
One of the best aspects of Android N is Daydream, which is a new virtual reality ecosystem that comprises a new headset reference design, new interface and motion controller. In addition to bringing its YouTube, Street View, Play Movies, Google Photos and the Play Store, Google is working with a wide range of content partners, including HBO Go, EA, Hulu, CNN and IMAX. It's safe to assume that many of the same phone manufacturers that are bringing Android N phones to market will also run with the headset reference design to deliver their own Gear VR competitor — and more choice is great for consumers. Google says that most of the major phone vendors, including Samsung, HTC, LG, ZTE, Asus and Huawei, will release Daydream-ready phones, with several coming this fall.