Google Outdoes Itself With Product, Dev News at I/O 2016

NEWS ANALYSIS: The integration of Play store, Android and Chrome may turn out to be an important milestone in the company's 17-year history.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Google has staged its Google I/O conference for 10 years, yet it's doubtful that more legitimate new-product and services announcements were made at any previous I/O gathering than at the 2016 event, which ended May 20 at Shoreline Amphitheatre here.

On Day 1, the huge search and Web services company introduced a series of consumer products: Google Assistant, Google Home, the Allo messaging service and Duo video calling. On the same day, Google unveiled a revamp of its Android mobile operating system; a powerful, freely available analytics engine; and a new server ASIC for machine learning.

That wouldn't be bad for a weeklong conference. But that firehose hit 7,000 I/O attendees in one 2-hour keynote address. Google was merely getting warmed up.

On Day 2, the company introduced Android Virtual Reality. Few details were given, and only a drawing was shown on the keynote screen, but it's in the works, and we should be seeing it by the end of the year.

Integration of Play Store, Android and Chrome Is Major News

Then Google announced that it is in the process of integrating its Play store and Android smartphone applications into Chrome OS and the popular Chromebook notebook PCs, so the same applications can be used from device to device. That seems like a no-brainer, but it's not as easy a thing to do as it may seem.

"While Chromebooks are doing quite well in education, and for users that don't mind a limited library of applications, they were always hampered by a significantly smaller application library," Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead wrote in his blog. "In fact, Chrome OS shipments, according to IDC data, surpassed Mac OS shipments in the U.S. in Q1 this year, making Chrome OS the second-most popular computer operating system after Windows."

Thus, by enabling Google Play apps to run on Chrome OS and Chromebooks, many more applications can run cross-platform on Chromebooks and improve their usage for both entertainment and productivity.

For one major example, Microsoft Office can now be used on Chromebooks, so users no longer need to worry about losing that functionality with Chrome OS, Moorhead said. This goes for gaming, too; Android apps such as Minecraft, Hearthstone and many others can now be easily played on Chrome OS, making it a much more versatile platform.

Challenges in Integrating Android, Chrome OSes

"One of the biggest challenges Google will have with this, even though I do think it is a great idea, is the fact that many Android applications simply do not scale well at higher resolutions," Moorhead said.

"Hopefully Google will find a way to address this soon, because the problem is not only hurting Chromebooks running Android apps, but it's also hurting Android tablet sales. Right now, Android phone apps will show up as phone size and Android tablet apps will show up as tablet size apps."

On the developer side—remember, Google I/O is a developer-oriented conference designed to get coders excited about platforms so they will create cool new apps for them—the company released Android N. This version includes a powerful new messaging service called Allo, which undoubtedly will end up competing hard against Facebook's continually developing Messenger.

Chatbots will become a big marketplace area for both companies, who will compete hard for users to use their messaging and chatbots for buying and selling commercial products and services online.

Driverless Cars Hardly Mentioned

Google didn't even talk about its driverless car initiative, which is seven years into development. Google is by far the furthest along in such a program. In fact, driverless cars were in evidence each day at Google I/O. International visitors gawked at them, while local Silicon Valley folks just shrugged. They're part of the landscape now.

In summary, Google just seems to keep moving out to the edges of technology wherever one looks. This year's I/O proved that point many times over.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...