Google brings Assistant to iPhone; boosts Home, Android features

By Bloomberg News, May 18 2017
Google brings Assistant to iPhone; boosts Home, Android features

During a two hour keynote presentation at its I/O developer conference, Google showed off its prowess in the technology world's hottest field: artificial intelligence.

From its voice-based digital Assistant to photo sharing and automatic image recognition, AI is everywhere it can possibly be in Google's product portfolio. Here's what you should care about from the event's main stage on day one.

Google Assistant is going everywhere

Google talked more about its previously announced Software Development Kit for Google Assistant. It will let third-party device makers inject the conversational technology into devices like dish washers, door locks and vacuum cleaners.

It's also going to be better-integrated into TVs and get new skills like order-taking, payments and receipts. You'll also be able to type requests and questions, versus speaking – which is great for situations where you want to ask Google something private.

The Assistant is also coming to your iPhone

It's true. Google Assistant, which has been a key selling point of Google's own in-house Pixel hardware, is now available on Apple’s smartphone. This immediately makes Assistant available to hundreds of millions more people, and it will give Apple loyalists a taste of Google's AI skills.

It'll have to work hard to rival Siri for iPhone users, though, as it can't be activated with the phone's home button. Instead it must be opened by tapping the app icon, so a voice command like "OK Google" won't wake it up either.

Google Home speaker can now take phone calls, stream music

While Google didn't announce new Google Home speaker hardware, hot on the heels of the Amazon Echo Show, it did debut a few key new software features.

One that got a "finally" reaction from some in the crowd: support for Bluetooth music streaming. Now, users of music apps not natively supported by Google Home, such as Apple Music, can stream audio over Bluetooth through the speaker.

Another key addition: making hands-free phone calls with your regular cell number from Google Home.

Google wants to take VR mainstream

Google wants to take VR mainstream with standalone headsets: Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive are cool products.

They let you fully immerse yourself in gaming, video and other forms of entertainment. But there's one key drawback of most modern virtual reality headsets: they require a tethered connection to either a PC or a smartphone.

Google wants to change that with a standard set of components and accompanying design for standalone headsets in partnership with Qualcomm.

Google says the first breed of standalone headsets with its underlying VR technology will hit the market later this year from Lenovo and HTC.

In the meantime, Google's Daydream will be getting a big boost: Google says that it will be getting a pair of key new partners for its existing Daydream VR headset for smartphones: Samsung and LG.

Samsung will open up its Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus phones to the headset (it already has a partnership with Oculus). LG will enable support in its next flagship smartphone, which is on track to launch later in the year.

Google really wants to own digital photo management

Google's already injected AI across its Photos app, and now it's doing more. You'll be able to share libraries with people you choose and the system will use the company's new Lens technology to identify objects and places (similar to Samsung's Bixby).

You'll also be able to order physical books of your favorite albums, starting at US$9.99.

Beta test “Android O”

You can now beta test the next major version of Android: It's still unnamed beyond "Android O," but now anyone can download an early beta version of the next major version of the Android operating system to test on compatible smartphones.

Android O isn't a groundbreaking release, but it does have some key additions. Picture-in-picture mode will allow smartphone users to be more productive on the go (imagine watching a video while texting about it with a colleague), and battery life will get a boost with some underlying improvements to the software.

For those on budgets, Google has some love for you, too: Google is trying again with a version of Android for cheaper devices. This time it's called Android Go, and the apps running on this version of Android are optimized for devices with under 1GB of RAM.

It's also prime for those in environments with slow data connections. There'll be a section on the Google Play store for these devices that highlights apps optimized for Android Go.

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