Google IO 2016 started today, and, despite the fact that it isn’t quite over, some pertinent announcements were made today pertaining to the future of Android and Google’s desire to stay at the cutting edge of technology. There were a number of announcements made: Google introduced its Daydream VR platform with a potential standalone, untethered VR headset design for Android OEMs that is likely to be introduced this Fall; two standalone apps, Allo (messaging and text) and Duo (a video calling app); Android N was discussed in greater detail at Google IO 2016 than has been discussed prior, along with the new Google Assistant and Google Home, the search engine giant’s response to Amazon’s Alexa speaker that provides hands-free access to information when in your home.
Google IO 2016 didn’t have much in the way of innovative effort by Google; instead, Google unveiled a large number of items that were designed to help Google catch up with other manufacturers such as Samsung, rather than seeing Google push ahead of the other OEMs in the same circle. For example, Android N brings split-screen functionality to Android for all handsets — but Samsung has had multi-window mode (a.k.a split-screen) in its devices for a few years now, so Google is quite late to the party. As for its Daydream VR platform, Google is two years late, considering that Samsung emerged with its Innovator’s Edition VR headset with the arrival of the Galaxy Note 4 back in 2014. Gear VR has now made its way to the masses, with the consumer headset announced last Fall in the Galaxy Note 5, and Samsung is all set to introduce a new headset with the arrival of the Galaxy Note 6 later this Fall with USB Type-C charging capability.
Google has unveiled its Allo messaging and texting app that seems to compete with iMessage, with the company claiming that it is secure — but Google’s decision to unveil this is to 1) compete with Apple’s iMessage platform and 2) to compete with the growing preference for Telegram, an app that even Facebook doesn’t like (Facebook deleted Telegram’s Facebook page in response to the company’s rise in fame with former Facebook users). WhatsApp, now owned by Facebook, has been so threatened by Telegram that it has now added end-to-end encryption for its users to prevent many from defecting to Telegram. Google IO 2016 was also about Google competing head-to-head with Amazon’s Alexa. While Google CEO Sundar Pichai did give credit to Amazon’s team for coming up with Alexa and its capabilities, I don’t really understand why Google feels the need to compete with Alexa at this point in time; after all, few individuals have connected homes or smart homes, and this, like Google’s Nest thermostat, seems to be something that will be competitive far ahead in the future.
Vulkan graphics were also discussed at Google IO 2016, but, then and again, Samsung has also beaten Google to this with its own Vulkan announcement at MWC 2016 back on February 21st, so it seems as if Google is also playing catch-up in the gaming scene instead of dominating it or leading the way. When it comes to something like Android N notifications, too, Google is being led by Samsung: Samsung’s current Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, as well as the Note 5, allow for direct messaging that doesn’t require you to visit the texting app in order to respond.
There are numerous other changes that Google didn’t detail, but the major changes made pertain to announcements that are rather boring in nature. While many could be exciting, Google hasn’t exactly shown us that they’re exciting. Even with the new Android Wear 2.0, for example, Google is allowing apps to perform without cellular connectivity…but this is nothing new when you consider that Samsung’s own apps on its Gear S2 have been doing this very thing. This is nothing new, unless you’re a diehard Google fan that only has eyes for Google.
All in all, I finished Google IO 2016 with an uncertain feeling. I’ve not seen anything that makes me believe Google will dictate the future direction of tech with these products; rather, these announcements just seem like they’re a version of “me too,” as though this conference gave them the chance to add features that other platforms and manufacturers have already done. I didn’t leave the first day of Google IO 2016 feeling as though Google made me want to invest any more in Android Wear than I already have.
You can check out the photo gallery of Google IO 2016 below. There may be more exciting news to come, but this year’s conference seems somber, at best. That could change in the next two days, but then and again, I remain a skeptic.