Google Assistant, Home, new messaging app and new VR ecosystem announced at Google I/O 2016

Google CEO Sundar Pichai unveils Google Assistant and Google Home, new voice-interactive features and products that he says will have a 'conversational understanding' of what their individual users want.
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, speaking at the keynote address at the Google I/O 2016 developer conference.
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, speaking at the keynote address at the Google I/O 2016 developer conference.ST PHOTO: LESTER HIO
Google chief Sundar Pichai speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference.
Google chief Sundar Pichai speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Google Home (centre), a voice-activated home product,  will allow users to get answers from Google, stream music, and manage everyday tasks.
Google Home (centre), a voice-activated home product, will allow users to get answers from Google, stream music, and manage everyday tasks.PHOTO: EPA

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California - Google wants to play a more prominent role in your daily lives, with a new Assistant function announced for mobile phones and a home assistant device that users can control with voice commands.

These were some of the new products announced at the keynote address at the Google I/O 2016 developer conference on Wednesday (May 18), held at the Shoreline Amphitheatre next to the Google campus in Silicon Valley. 

Google Assistant allows users to converse naturally with their mobile phones as though it were another person.

For example, users can book movie tickets by first saying “What’s on tonight?”, after which Google will bring up several recommended movies playing in nearby theatres, before asking if the user would like purchase tickets. 

The same sort of technology powers the newly-announced Google Home device as well, a small vase-like device which functions like a home assistant. 

Available later this year, Google Home lets users use voice controls to control their smart home devices, make searches through Google, make reservations, play music, and more, without using their hands. All they have to do is say “OK Google”, followed by the command. 

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, speaking at the keynote address at the start of the three-day conference, said: “Leveraging on our state-of-the-art capabilities in machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence), we want to take the next step in bringing assistance to our users. We want to be there for our users, asking them: ’Hi, how can I help?’.

"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, and to help get things done in the real world.”

The tech giant is also releasing a messaging app called Allo in a space dominated by the likes of WhatsApp, Line and Telegram.

Allo features a smart reply feature which gives users reply suggestions based on the context of messages received, and a whisper or shout function that allows users to tailor the size of the messages to convey how emotional they are.

Also announced was a video-calling app called Duo, which allows users to  see a live-stream video preview of the caller even before they pick up the call.

When they pick up, it enters seamlessly from the video preview into a video call. Both Allo and Duo will be released for Android and iOS later this year. 

Attendees were also updated on Google’s latest mobile operating system, Android N. It will feature better graphic capabilities for mobile games, split-screen multi-window and quick replies in the notification shade.

Android N will also come with in-built virtual reality (VR) support.

Google is working on its mobile VR ecosystem which it is calling Daydream, comprising phones with the necessary specifications to run VR smoothly, a Google-developed headset and remote control and apps designed to take advantage of VR.

On the wearables front, Android wearables are getting their biggest platform update yet.

Watch faces can now show data from any app, there is a new smart messaging feature with smart replies and handwriting recognition, and users can now stream music directly from their smartwatches without needing to be near their phones.

More announcements are expected over the remaining two days of Google I/O.