Google’s I/O developer conference has a bit more of a festival quality compared to the polished ones now delivered in almost formulaic fashion over at Apple.
Whether Google or Apple is your flavour, or indeed, Facebook or Amazon, the big four are increasingly becoming companies that no one – in business or leisure – can do without.
At I/O, the company just showed off the new Google Assistant, an artificially intelligent extension of Search that it claims has a “conversational understanding far ahead of what other assistants can do”.
It will be soon be able to understand the contextual questions of anybody on the planet, the team said.
“Every single conversation is different. Every single context is different,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai outlined on stage. “And we’re working hard to do this for billions of conversations, for billions of users around the world – for everyone.”
Just a decade ago, Google could ‘only’ do machine translation in two languages, now it has more than 100 – and does this for 140bn words each day.
On top of that, it also does real-time visual translations of things like menus and can even scour through your photos for what it determines a ‘hug’.
Google Assistant will first go live in the company’s new messaging app Allo, which is likely aimed at taking out Facebook-owned WhatsApp in emerging markets.
Who needs another messaging app? Not me. But no one needs Snapchat.
With Allo, you’ll simply be able to invoke @google to get your new assistant to help out with specific queries like ‘funny cat pics’.
It’ll learn as you go so that in the future it can make suggestions uniquely for you, be able to anticipate what you want and come up with smart replies so you don’t even have to get back to your begging friends.
The company is even encouraging developers at its conference and beyond to build the kinds of games that will keep people ‘engaging’ all day long. Remember Facebook’s secret basketball game? Sure you do.
Allo launches this summer integrated directly with the likes of Uber, Spotify, WhatsApp, Grubhub, Ticketmaster and Strava.
So, as far as Google’s concerned, you’ll increasingly never need anything else ever again. If it takes off, you’d better hope that your app makes the partner list.
Allo arrives in tandem with a low-power video messaging app called Duo, which has such quirks as letting you see the person who’s calling, on video, before you even pick up. Again, Google’s eye is on developing markets here.
What’s more, Google is working on the IoT device that should complete its reach into all of our lives – Google Home, a voice-controlled hub powered by your new AI assistant, which is also coming later this year.
It’s not the first one of these on the market of course, Amazon notably has Echo, which is powered by smart helper Alexa.
But this is made by Google, with the partners and Search capabilities that might make buying it easier than googling “what’s the best smart home hub?”.
Google Home will also work with all those smart home devices that are already on the market, including its own Nest smart thermostat.
Indeed, much of the point of I/O is getting developers on board with helping build apps, add-ons and new functions for Google’s growing arsenal of easy-to-use products.
In demonstrating Google’s power over our IT, which increasingly means our lives, the figures speak for themselves:
– Android is the world’s most popular operating system – with 600 new phones built for it in 2015
– Google Play saw 65bn downloads last year
– 1bn people now use the Chrome browser every month
– 92% of the top 125 apps and games use the company’s purpose-built app development platform Android Studio
Thanks to the acquisition of a company called Firebase, Google has also been able to take further control of the app development space.
The latest version, which just went in a preview to devs at the conference, includes a whole suite of tools for making better apps on Android and iOS, including analytics, crash reporting, user engagement tools and more.
You are no doubt a Google user, whether that’s a more dedicated Android handset owner or an only slightly more distant Search dependent. Me too.
But if you’re also working at a technology company, or even just a company that uses technology, Google either looks like the most exciting partner, or the scariest rival.
But, let’s not forget Google is reportedly facing a record €3bn fine for anti-competitive search practices in the European Union. And it’s still under investigation for similar behaviour uncovered around its Android OS.
Will enough become enough for Google? Could anyone stop it even if this was the case?