App Development

Google I/O Conference: Takeaways - Part One

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Google wasted no time setting the stage for what the future looks like for everyone playing in the mobile landscape on day one of the I/O conference yesterday. From advanced AI to Virtual reality, Google demonstrated it has some compelling offers for its users and compelling opportunities for its partners to take advantage of.

Here are the announcements, opportunities, and takeaways from Google I/O day one.

Google Assistant

Google put forth a surprising statistic on day one: 20% of Google searches on mobile consisted of voice searches.

In order to take advantage of this growing trend, Google announced they’re improving upon their search by creating Google Assistant. On the surface, Google Assistant is a lot like Google search. However, it was clear from the demonstrations that Google intends to make this more of a conversation. The demos showed off discussions with users and how the assistant used contextual data to get relevant data. This culminated in a conversation about what movies were showing, and purchasing a ticket…all through messages to the assistant. This quickly led into the next announcement, Google Home.

Google Home

Partially a response to Amazon’s Echo and partially a manifestation of Google’s efforts with Nest and their 2011 “android@home” effort, Google announced its Google “Home” hardware. Google Home is a wireless speaker which features a sleek, customizable design, and is powered by the all knowing Google Assistant. While it does resemble the Amazon Echo, there were some impressive features Google demonstrated in their promotional video. First, the device could distinguish between voices and look up the package schedule and calendar schedule for the person speaking.

Google is very well positioned for its entry into the home-automation space, as they already have access information you care about through your personal Google account. Providing that information to you in your home at the sound of your voice isn’t just convenient, it’s something Google can probably do better than anyone else (and with minimal user setup). Google has applied lessons learned from one of their most successful products and decided to make Google Home “cast aware.” That means that from any app, iOS or Android, you can Chromecast audio to Google Home and play it throughout your house.

Takeaways

  1. For Google Home to be successful, it’s going to have to work seamlessly with other connected devices and products in homes (for example, smart refrigerators, smart lights, etc.). Any companies that create connected products for homes have a tremendous opportunity to get in on the ground floor with Google.
  2. Google is committed to Chromecast. There simply isn’t an easier way for the average user to play their content on so many devices. If your app doesn’t integrate with Chromecast, you’re already behind.

Instant Apps

One of the most exciting things announced in the Google I/O keynote was Instant Apps. They are a natural expansion of the app links feature introduced in marshmallow. Like app links, clicking an Instant App link will immediately open up a native app to a user. The real magic of Instant Apps is that they will open regardless of whether they’re installed on a user’s phone or not. You could click a link for a New York Times article and be reading it in the New York Times app right away, all without ever having installed the New York Times app on your device. Aside from the convenience this affords, it also presents a huge marketing opportunity for companies to drive users into their apps (simply by sharing a URL with them). Of even greater benefit? Those who had a chance to play with the tech found instant apps often loaded faster than their associated websites did.

Takeaway While Google did not offer developers details on how Instant Apps work, we can speculate. Google must need a way to reduce an app to a tiny fraction of its size so it can be downloaded and installed extremely quickly on a user’s device. This may involve tagging certain activities in your android code, or perhaps uploading a “minified” version of an app to Google Play that doesn’t exceed a certain size. Instant Apps are not yet available in the existing Google Play infrastructure. Only time will tell how developers can integrate with this exciting new feature. We’ll keep an eye out for an SDK and update here accordingly. Regardless of how it works, you’ll want to make sure you take advantage of Instant Apps as soon as possible.

Android N

While Google didn’t announce the official name of the new Android OS, they did enumerate through the features. Arguably, the biggest feature they talked about is multi-window support. With multi-window support your users can interact with your app while simultaneously using another for a different function. This may not seem like a huge deal, but it’s pretty easy to think of scenarios where it could be very convenient. Have you ever had to look at a calendar invite for a pin number while dialing into a meeting? Maybe you’ve tried to participate in a fantasy draft while trying to look up player stats? Perhaps you’re the type of person that just wants to watch some Youtube videos while responding to work e-mails. Multi-window is going to be a clear winner if you identify with any of these use cases, and a feature users will expect in apps going forward.

Takeaway How do you support multi-window? Luckily, if you’ve been architecting your Android app well, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Supporting small screens and landscape should get you 95% of the way there. If you haven’t, then let us know and we can get you there.

Firebase 2.0

Google has put a lot of effort into Firebase and the technology has matured from what, at least initially, seemed like a simple Parse replacement tool to much more. The features you should care about? Free analytics, crash reporting, push notifications, and user segmentation. If you’ve ever experienced a back-end problem or a bug in the code you shipped that caused users to stop using your app, Firebase integration can help. It allows you to target the subset of users experiencing problems with your app and send them a push notification with a promotional incentive. Alternatively, you could simply let them know the problem is fixed. You get your users back and they get a great experience instead of having to check back continuously until the problem is resolved. Couple all of these features with the existing Firebase backend and you have a pretty impressive platform to explore.

DayDream

Building upon their work in VR, Google announced Android will have built-in support for virtual reality. This has a number of implications you should know about.

Takeaways

  1. Google is going to certify devices to be good enough for a good VR experience. This means extremely good devices with low latency will be on the market and available to the average consumer, which could easily lead to an impressive boom in consumer VR usage (since users will buy the majority of a VR experience when they purchase a phone).
  2. Google is launching a subsection of Google Play targetted at VR. If you want your company to stand out, then offering a virtual reality experience for your product could be a great way to engage new users.
  3. VR may sound daunting, but if you have 3D materials already then it could be a simple but powerful integration to add to your app.
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