Google I/O Introduces List of New Consumer-Aimed Services

At its 10th annual developer conference, the search and Web services provider offered up some intriguing new apps and services for its billions of users.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.–On a clear blue-sky day in which one seemingly could see forever, Google offered its own clear view of the future May 18 on the first day of its 10th annual developer conference.

It was the first time Google I/O was held outside San Francisco; this time it's being staged (literally) at Shoreline Amphitheater, a 20,000-seat outdoor concert venue located right across the street from the expansive Google campus.

For consumers, the future basically is this: Google wants to move into your house and become an ex-officio member of your family. This is not meant to be anything creepy, just very helpful—although the devices and services run by Google certainly will get to know just about everything there is to know about you and your family to be able to do their jobs.

But that's just about the way everything in the world has gone, anyway. Phones, cars, subscription services, banks, social networks, vendors of all kinds, you name it: They've already loaded their databases with our personal information.

Before about 7,000 attendees on-site at Shoreline Amphitheater and millions more via Webcast, the search and Web services giant introduced several new products and enhancements to existing products and services, most of which will be released for general use later this year.

At Google I/O 2016, the company also announced a lot of news for software developers and for enterprise users (Android, Chrome, Google Cloud, etc.), which we will cover in separate stories here on eWEEK.

But first, the mainstream consumer market news. In a two-hour keynote, Google introduced:

Google Assistant, a Siri-like app that can move from device to device (including iOS devices), following its owner like a personal butler or lady-in-waiting to answer questions or perform research.

Google Home, a decorative new "member of the family" device that uses Assistant to perform home tasks such as controlling lights, heat and security (via Google Nest); playing music or TV; answering reference questions; fetching personal information (restaurant reservations, transportation, waiting calls, for example) and a score of other activities.

Allo, a new messaging service that will compete head-on with Facebook's Messenger and other messaging services to enable users to chat, share photos and videos, order products and services and perform a list of other functions from any device in real time.

Duo Video Calling, a caller ID of sorts that enables callers to see who's calling before deciding whether to answer the call, among other new features.

Google Assistant

Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off the keynote on Shoreline's Stage 1 with the headliner: Google Assistant, which understands and translates more than 100 languages and could become Google's most well-known service.

"We want to be there for our users, asking them, 'Hi, how can I help?'" Pichai said. "We think of Assistant in a very specific way: as a conversational assistant. We want users to have an ongoing, two-way dialogue with Google. We want you to get things done in your real world, and we want to do it for you in your context, and giving you control.

"We think of this as building each user their own individual Google."

Google is combining its longtime research and productizing of items such as natural language understanding and translation, search, voice recognition, text-to-speech processing, deep analytics and dozens of others to make Assistant possible. As each command is made, Assistant remembers it and stores it away for future reference; the app gets smarter with each interaction and becomes better at predicting commands.

A major difference between Assistant and Apple's Siri? Well, besides not having a name—users just say "OK” or “Hey Google" to activate it—Assistant is not relegated to a specific smartphone. It can be utilized on any Android (or iPhone, since it is a Web app) device, anywhere in the world.

Here are a few use cases:

Scenario 1: While in the car on the way home from work, a user can tell Assistant via phone or watch: "Let's have curry tonight." Assistant serves up some nearby Indian food options (eat in, take out, delivery). The user selects a vendor and a deployment option (in this case, delivery) by voice. When the user gets home and out of the car, he/she gets a notification on the watch or phone confirming the order. Payment for the order happens through Google Pay as OK'd by the user.

When the user steps through the front door, Google Assistant notifies him/her that the order is 15 minutes away.

Scenario 2: A user wants to take the family to the movies. "Is 'Jungle Book' any good?" someone might ask. Assistant then would bring up several reviews to read; the user then can ask which theater is closest, pay for the tickets and get directions to the theater in a few seconds by using voice only.

Scenario 3: If, say, you want to see photos of Pomeranian puppies, Assistant will find thousands of them and queue them up for you.

Google Assistant is expected to be available later this year, Pichai said.

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...