It’s totally straightforward to dismiss Google I/O as simply a chance to point out off new toys and to throw an enormous social gathering. Given the looks of LCD Soundsystem at this yr’s closing live performance, the impression is comprehensible. However I/O 2017 was when Google’s efforts in massive knowledge, search, and gadget ubiquity bore fruit because it transitions towards a brand new concentrate on AI and machine studying.
All the things Previous Is Lastly Right here
Google I/O 2016 is etched in my thoughts for 2 causes. First, it was lethal sizzling, dampening the enjoyable of an outside convention with sweat. Second, nothing introduced was truly launched.
On reflection, 2016 was a constructing yr for Google. Merchandise introduced final yr, together with Google Assistant and Google Home, have now been within the wild—some, like Android Put on 2, for just some months. This yr, we heard about enhancements and Google opened them to builders.
Builders can now work on Android, Chrome, the Google Assistant, and Google Home by way of the Actions API. On the spot 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 should filter into many new platforms, together with the iPhone.
In reality, 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 can be moving into Siri territory made this abundantly clear.
That is notably 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 massive. This yr, the presence of Android wasn’t essentially diminished, nevertheless it 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 common, however there was some stress within the discussions this yr.
On the developer keynote, Android luminaries defined how new restrictions on knowledge, processing energy, and battery energy for apps are usually not meant to be punitive however to make Android higher for everybody, together with customers. That is a wise viewpoint — it would even be right — nevertheless it felt decidedly extra prescriptive than previous Google classes.
That is just some 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 gadget producers and carriers.
There are additionally new guidelines about person identifiers. Builders and advertisers use these to trace customers on and off their units and serve up focused adverts. Proscribing them is a privateness win for customers, and possibly 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 middle. Google designers and builders have paid explicit consideration to notifications and icons over the previous few iterations of the OS. They rightly perceive it is a main space of curiosity for customers, and a major space of interplay.
“Channels” is the inner time period Google applies to new classes of notifications. In O, builders will group their notifications collectively into differing kinds, letting customers change how these notifications seem, or if they seem in any respect. Google’s management says it is a characteristic requested by customers and builders, and the advantages for each are clear. Customers get extra management over how their cellphone works — a key Android idea. Builders have extra methods to speak with customers, and customers can be much less more likely to merely uninstall apps that generate undesirable notifications. As a substitute, these notifications can merely be silenced.
That every one comes with a catch: As soon as builders goal Android model 26 (or Android O, to its pals), they need to use notification channels. If they do not, their app’s notifications can be dropped and easily not seem. This, in fact, could have restricted affect within the Android person group, given the low adoption charges for brand new Android OSes. However O can be a turning level for the platform and all builders.
Additionally through the session on notifications, the Googlers on stage took the bizarre step of asking builders to not abuse the power to vary colours on notifications — a brand new characteristic in Android O. This warning was included within the developer documentation (and I famous it in my overview of the pre-release of O), nevertheless it was unusual to listen to it on stage. It was additionally unusual to listen to Googlers say they had been “giving plenty of belief” to builders, and promising to remove these privileges in the event that they felt colourful notifications had 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 absolutely useful AR experiences: Microsoft by way of HoloLens and Google with Mission Tango. Tango has been my perennial favourite at Google I/O partly 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 at the least.
Tango had an enormous popping out this previous yr with the announcement of the primary industrial cellphone to help it, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro.
This yr, we obtained phrase of a completely new gadget with a thinner physique and brighter display screen. Lowe’s has additionally agreed to let Google map 400 of its shops to supply in-store navigation through Tango units that may take you on to objects in your purchasing record.
From my conversations with the Mission Tango staff, the primary focus proper now’s enhancing the general expertise and supporting the rollout of shopper functions 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 inside the room, software program that may map a room after which clear all of the furnishings from it, and an app to routinely generate 2D floorplans. Some of the thrilling functions was an autonomous aerial drone utilizing Tango expertise to navigate obstacles at high pace.
The most important VR announcement of Google I/O was, indisputably, standalone VR devices. Google was brief on particulars, nevertheless it’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 some other VR expertise.
A standalone VR gadget successfully removes the hurdle of Google itself. It is an enormous boon to Google and for the builders who need to do that new platform. With a standalone gadget, Google can supply VR to anybody prepared to buy such a tool. You will not want a specialised Android cellphone; it should all be one package deal.
Daydream may be very spectacular in its personal proper, and I am excited for a standalone gadget that may permit iPhone customers and others to get pleasure from Daydream apps. Hopefully it should price far, far lower than the Vive and the Oculus Rift. However I fear about transferring too removed from the standard Cardboard. A part of what impressed me about it was its DIY effectivity and remarkably low barrier for entry. As the worth of Google’s VR expertise goes up, the quantity of people that can get pleasure from it should go down.
In 2016, it wasn’t clear what the AI revolution truly meant for Google. Whereas machine studying was actually 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 yr, we lastly noticed what being “AI first” actually means. It means Google in additional locations, it means builders with the ability to work together in new methods (and on new units). And most significantly, it reveals Google with way more focus than ever earlier than. It appears very more likely to me that this yr particularly will mark a significant turning level not only for Google, however for the complete trade.