If you're in tech or just playing along on Twitter, you can't escape it: Google's I/O conference, a summit filled with unveilings and presentations of post-Steve Jobs proportion. The big highlights so far are here and are threefold. One: A VR platform called Daydream, which will be available for Android only. Two: A pair of new messaging apps, Allo and Duo, to be made available on Apple devices and on Android. And, three: A competitor to the home squawk-box kind of device pioneered by Amazon's Echo. That one is to be called Google Home.
First: While by inventing itself a new parent company in Alphabet, Alphabet/Google might have made itself more difficult to casually discuss. But Google is still the force behind the company, generating most of its revenue, and in fact all of these innovations. While Alphabet makes mysterious bets on future industries and holds Google within it, these products come from Google, "an Alphabet company," innovating and iterating in spaces that mostly already exist (if you include virtual reality in that category).
So, Daydream. It's a platform, not a specific device, though it will rely on new hardware like a wireless controller and a headset in which to slip Android phones, just like more durable versions of its cardboard headset in a comparison made by the AP in the Chronicle. Those headsets will work with lots of different phones and phone brands that run Android, and its competitors are the likes of dedicated VR headset companies — mostly Oculus, acquired by Facebook in 2014.
As do the AP, the Verge lays out some hurdles for the system. Daydream is only going to work on new phones running new Android software, and you won't be able to move around your virtual world just by walking or moving your body — instead you'll be watching 3D, 360-degree video of worlds that you interacting with through your controller.
Next, and available on iPhone and all existing Android devices, are two chatting apps, Allo and Duo. They'll both be available this summer. Duo is just like Apple's Facetime, it seems, but more interesting is Allo. CNet is calling it the company's "answer to Facebook messenger," and clearly Google isn't concerned about any confusion with onetime would-be Facebook killer Ello.
On Allo, you won't have to bounce around to other apps to get all the goodies of Google within it. Reserve restaurants, get search info, do whatever, really, all without leaving your chat. "We believe users are switching from app to app to get that information [...] and the core of communicating with the people you care about gets lost in that deluge of information," Amit Fulay, a Google product manager, said to CNET. An Aside: Hangouts — which I still call G-chat, for the record — will remain in the company's quiver of chat options — but this is the one Google wants you to use on mobile.
Allo's other big new feature is predictive chat. In case you didn't know what to say or didn't want to type it out, Allo offers AI suggestions based on what someone has said to you — or even, what someone has sent to you, as in the form of a picture. Thanks to image search, Google has lots of classification chops. Allo knows what you're looking at and can suggest that you say "a butterfly. wow."
Additionally, Wired is making something of the fact that you can finally encrypt your chats on Allo (and Duo) with an icognito mode. "Google couldn’t, in theory, help law enforcement decipher an incognito Allo conversation or Duo call even if it wanted to," they write, making implicit reference to Apple's encryption woes.
Finally, you can take a little bit of Google home with you in the form of Google Home, which is like Amazon's Echo but perhaps more capable. Sit it in a room, ask it questions, or, if you have a TV nearby, ask it to play something on there, as with Chromecast. Some other advantages: Google Home will communicate with other Google Homes in your home, something Echo can't do — each of those devices is a silo. Google Home can also follow strings of question: realizing that you are asking, for example, a follow up question to a previous one. It also looks nicer than Echo, which is just a black cylinder. But, As CNET and others observe, Echo has a big head start, and people already like it, and it releases software updates all the time.
Google's I/O conference has taken a beat of heat from the likes of the Next Web — "the conference version of hell," they called it. In addition to excitement and news there were lines on top of lines and 93 degree weakened the will of the crowd.