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Google

At a glance: Google’s newest tools, gadgets and services

A virtual reality system, a way to use apps without downloading them, new messaging apps, a smart-home device - the company had plenty to show off to developers this week

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 3:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 3:31pm

A new virtual reality system from Google and a way to use Android apps without downloading Android apps are among the highlights at the company’s annual developer showcase in Mountain View, California.

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Google also unveiled new messaging apps, a smart-home device and a contest: it wants users to suggest names for its next Android system, currently known as N.

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Here’s a summary of some of Google’s announcements this week:

Daydream

It’s a virtual reality system designed for what Google calls “high quality” VR experiences on Android smartphones.

Manufacturers including Samsung, HTC and Huawei will have smartphones capable of handling it this autumn, according to Google. The platform, included in its upcoming Android N operating system, is meant to improve upon the Cardboard headset it launched two years ago by making VR experiences that are more comfortable and immersive.

Google is also circulating guidelines for manufacturers to make Daydream VR headsets and a motion-sensing remote that can be used like a steering wheel or a fishing rod.

Android Instant Apps

Designed to fix the pain from downloading an app you will use only once, Instant Google Apps run on Google’s servers instead of your phone. Only the parts you need get sent to your phone. If it works as Google envisions, without lags and other annoyances, users won’t have to spend a few minutes downloading and installing that app and having it take up valuable space on the phone.

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Google Home

Following in Amazon’s footsteps, Google is unveiling a smart-home assistant that lets people listen to music and podcasts, as well as manage tasks such as setting alarms and compiling shopping lists, throughout their home. The internet-connected device lets users control it with their voice.

Messaging and Google Assistant

Allo is a new, “smart” messaging app that lets you text without typing and message without actually having any friends. It features the Google Assistant, which lets you find information and get things done by chatting with Google’s computers. You can search, book reservations or play a game. For example, text “is my flight delayed?” to get information about your flight status.

Allo also features what Google calls “smart reply”, which learns how you text and shows suggestions “in your style”. So you can tap “haha” or “go away” without typing anything. It also gives users an array of emojis and stickers and the option to increase or decrease the size of text to add emphasis.

A video-calling companion called Duo features “Knock Knock”. You see who is knocking at your digital door, in the form of a live video stream of a caller who wants to start a video call with you. You can decide whether to pick up based on their expression and environment.

A versatile, ambient experience that extends across various devices in your life is how Google thinks of the assistant. On Allo, you can chat with it to book restaurant reservations. On Google Home, the assistant will help you find the music you want to listen to or the temperature you want your home to be. It’s the equivalent of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Software updates

Google is inviting users to name its next version of Android. The name needs to start with N and be a dessert. Google picked the past names – Marshmallow last year and Lollipop before that – and says it has the final say over the N name.

Besides VR support, the Android N update for phones and tablets will get under-the-hood performance boosts for things like graphics. It will also let you run two apps side by side, something you can do with Apple’s iPads but not iPhones.

Google’s smartwatches will get the smart replies featured in Allo. The new software will also let apps exchange data. For instance, an app that tracks meals consumed could sync with an exercise app to see if you’re burning enough calories. You can also customise watch faces with live updates on stocks and other information.