When it invited 7,000 developers and journalists to the Google I/O 2016 developer conference last week at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif., Google did things a bit differently than in years past. Instead of leading with yet another version of its Android operating system or unveiling a new phone, the company introduced some bold new consumer-facing products that reflect technology’s biggest trends.
Google Home: A Loudspeaker Finds Its Voice
It’s true that Google Home, an internet-connected loudspeaker that responds to voice commands and offers access to a smart assistant in the cloud, resembles Amazon’s Echo loudspeaker. In fact, at the presentation, Google CEO Sundar Pichai graciously credited the e-commerce retailer with creating “a lot of excitement” for these kinds of products.
However, Google’s vision goes further than Amazon’s. The device integrates with Google Cast, the home entertainment technology that powers the company’s Chromecast streaming adapter and is increasingly finding its way into stereo systems and TV sets as well. Thanks to that integration, Home brings voice control to any Chromecast-equipped television. The new product also will enable voice access to Google-powered calendars and messaging, and will be able to control internet-connected light bulbs and other appliances.
The company plans to release Home later this year. No price was announced.
Mi Box: Android TV Gets a Boost
The new Mi Box streaming device comes courtesy of Chinese phone maker Xiaomi. It aims to compete with Roku and Apple TV by combining Android-based gaming with video services like Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, and HBO Now.
Mi Box is based on Google’s Android TV platform, which also runs on TVs from Sony and Sharp, among others. It’s not the first set-top to use Android TV, but it is the first to support 4K video playback and HDR. As with other products at Google I/O, we don’t know yet how much the Mi Box is going to cost, but Xiaomi has done a good job in the past at undercutting its competition with cheap but powerful hardware.
Daydream: A Vision for Better VR
Google’s next big bet is virtual reality. Unlike other companies, Google isn’t focusing on a single VR headset; instead, it’s working with mobile-phone makers, including Samsung and HTC, to manufacture VR–optimized phones, available later this year, that will work with Daydream headsets. These will be more comfortable than Google’s previous Cardboard viewers, and will come with a remote control for playing games and navigating menus. Google plans to sell its own Daydream headset as well.
The company has partnered with HBO, Hulu, Netflix, and sports leagues like the NBA to build VR apps that will populate a Daydream version of the Google Play store. YouTube, which is owned by Google, is getting ready to launch on Daydream as well.