8 of the biggest reveals from day 1 of Google I/O 2016

19 May 2016

Here are 8 things revealed on day one of Google's I/O shindig, including Google's voice automated home, new video calling services and the next Android OS

The internet of things home, machine learning, instant apps and virtual assistants were among the big reveals on the first day of the Google I/O shindig. Here are the eight things you need to know from day one.

In the past week, Google’s parent company Alphabet surpassed Apple in terms of market cap, but it is clear Google has no intention of stopping there and wants to eclipse all rivals in the never-ending march of technology.

To get a picture of the scale of Google’s reach into the digital world, here are a few facts that emerged from Google I/O last night:

  • In the last year, some 600 new phones based on the Android system were launched
  • Some 65bn apps were installed via Google Play in the last year
  • Google Photos passed 200m monthly active users, up from 100m in October
  • There are more than 100 car models and stereos using Android Auto
  • Google Cardboard app downloads have reached 50m, up from 25m in January

Adding to the momentum, Google last night revealed a plethora of new innovations, tools and capabilities. Here are eight of the best:

1. Google Home


Google has revealed Google Home, an always-on listening speaker that will compete with the Amazon Echo and will launch later this year. Driven by Mario Queiroz, the creator of the Chromecast, Google Home is a small speaker that plugs into the wall for always-listening to questions and instructions, such as to play your songs, answer questions on the internet and control home automation gadgets. It’s a two-fold assault by Google on rivals like Amazon that is also seeking the grand prize of managing the internet of things (IoT) home.

2. Android N – name this OS

Google revealed details about what is coming in Android N, including better performance for graphics and effects, reduced battery consumption and streamlined notifications, as well as 72 new emojis. To sweeten the deal, Google has asked users to help come up with a name for N that can be a successor to Marshmallow. My suggestion would be N for Nutella! Another would be Nougat. Or just Nuts. I’ll stop now.

3. Tensor – a chip specifically for machine learning


Google is building its own custom application integrated circuit (ASIC) called the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) inspired by Google’s TensorFlow open-source deep-learning framework. The same TPUs were used in AlphaGo, the AI Go player that beat top-ranked human Go player Lee Sedol. Google intends to put these TPUs into its public cloud to make machine-learning APIs more accessible to the developer community and ultimately take on rival Amazon Web Services.

“Our goal is to lead the industry on machine learning and make that innovation available to our customers,” said Norm Jouppi, distinguished hardware engineer at Google.

“Building TPUs into our infrastructure stack will allow us to bring the power of Google to developers across software like TensorFlow and cloud machine learning, with advanced acceleration capabilities. Machine learning is transforming how developers build intelligent applications that benefit customers and consumers, and we’re excited to see the possibilities come to life.

4. Say hello to Allo, the future of messaging apps


At I/O Google revealed a new messaging app called Allo, which has a Google assistant built in. The mobile-only app is pretty much Google’s rival to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and, integrated with Google Assistant, provides users with suggestions and schedule plans. It even has an option for users to send messages with end-to-end encryption.

5. Instant Apps that launch immediately

Google also unveiled Android Instant Apps, a new project whereby users can get a subset of an existing app instantly. Instant Apps evolves Android apps to be able to run instantly, without requiring installation. With Instant Apps, a tap on a URL can open it right in an Android app, even if the user doesn’t have that app installed. “As a developer, you won’t need to build a new, separate app,” explained Suresh Ganapathy, product manager at Google. “It’s the same Android APIs, the same project, the same source code. You’ll simply update your existing Android app to take advantage of Instant Apps functionality.”

6. Android apps and Google Play coming to Chrome

The good news around apps didn’t stop there. While not officially announced yet, it emerged that Google will also be bringing Android apps and Google Play directly to Chrome. According to Android Authority, this titbit of information was disclosed in a session description: “Today, we announced that we’re adding the best mobile app experiences in the world, Android apps and the Google Play store, to the best browser in the world, Chrome! Come to this session and test your Android apps for Chrome OS. You will get hands-on help from our friendly engineers on how to optimise your Android app for Chromebooks. Oh, and we will also be giving the first 50 developers to show up a free Chromebook so they can get a head start bringing their apps to Chrome!”

7. Duo, a new one-on-one HD video calling app, is coming to iOS and Android

This could be really exciting – Google revealed Duo, a new high-definition one-on-one video-calling app that will no doubt compete with Apple’s FaceTime. The move makes sense because, despite all the Android devices out there, where the rival iPhone wins is in terms of a baked-in video communications tool. Duo calls are in crisp HD video (up to 720p) and audio and the app has been optimised to work well even on spotty networks where bandwidth is limited.

8. Firebase gets upgraded with analytics and notifications

Google’s SDK for building mobile apps, Firebase, has been expanded, with a number of new features. Google is turning Firebase into a unified app platform for the 470,000-strong community of developers that use the service. It now features deeply-integrated analytics to analyse users’ behaviour in more detail and see how ad campaigns are performing, for example.

Well, that was day one. Stay tuned for more reveals from Google I/O this week.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years