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Recapping day one at Google I/O 2016

Google’s annual developer conference is here, and as usual, there’s already plenty to talk about. From Android N, Android Wear, and Google Home, to a dedicated VR headset and two new apps — we’ve rounded up everything you need to know from Google I/O, which will continue on until Friday, May 20.

Check out the full schedule online at the official Google I/O website for upcoming events — there are quite a few that are being live-streamed, and you can watch them on the website directly. You can schedule your own events to your calendar to get reminders before they begin.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off I/O with the usual roundup of numbers — more than 600 new Android phones have launched in the past year, and the company has seen more than 65 billion app downloads within the same one year mark.

As the keynote continued, Pichai introduced several Google employees to unveil new products and services. We’ve got all the information you need below on what Google announced at I/O, and what to expect from the remaining two days.

Join us on Twitter at our Hashtag #dtio16!

Where to keep watching Google I/O

google 2015
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re not lucky enough to attend, Google has made it easy to watch key live-streamed events at the convention through the official Google I/O app, which you can download for iOS or Android. This is the first time Google brought the I/O app to iOS. You can also watch these events through the interactive Google I/O website. The app and website are useful to schedule events and get reminders, and also offer access to an interactive map to help you find where you need to go. We also have the live-streamed video at the top of this post.

More to watch: 

You can watch the live-streamed events here.

More on the oh-so-sweet Android N

Android N
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For the first time, Google is opening up the process to name the next version of Android to the masses. Head on over to this website to add your own flavor for Android N. Pichai says the company will still hold the right to choose the name in the end.

We didn’t learn much else that was new from Android N — that’s because Google announced the developer preview two months before I/O. The company hopes doing so would speed the process for manufacturers and carriers to push the new update to consumer’s devices when it officially launches later this year.

Developer Preview 2 has now been replaced with the first beta quality release candidate, which is now available.

The most notable changes introduced in Android N are visible in the notification drawer — which has received a visual refresh as well as quicker access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other tools. Notifications themselves now come in bundles, if you get more than one notification for a specific app. This makes it easier to open and interact with individual notifications, like through Quick Reply for messaging apps.

Another major addition to Android is multi-window support, of which there are three modes. The first is called split-screen mode, and as the name implies, it involves two apps simply placed side by side. The second mode is called picture-in-picture, and is better suited to Android TV. Picture-in-picture, or PiP, shrinks one app window down as a floating interface, which is overlaid on top of whatever else you’re doing. Last but not least is freeform mode, which basically gives apps their own floating window, as is common on desktop computers. This mode is best suited to tablets with larger screens.

Head on over to our Android N post for a recap on other new features.

Other major Android features announced are Android Instant Apps, a method to stream apps when you click on a web URL. In doing so, you don’t have to install an app, but can still enjoy a speedy, superior mobile experience. It’s useful for when you’re on an older device, or even if you just don’t want to download an app just for a one-time use.

You can find out more about Android Instant Apps here.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Android will be virtual reality-ready, thanks to a new platform called Daydream. Daydream revolves around VR-compatible smartphones, a VR headset and a controller, as well as high-quality apps built from the ground up for VR. Google has created a reference design for the headset and the Wii-like remote, and will work with manufacturers like Samsung and HTC to create these Daydream-certified devices. The Nexus 6P qualifies as a Daydream-ready device.

2016 already has seen an explosion in popularity for virtual reality, thanks to the launch of two virtual reality headsets: the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Google’s vision builds off Cardboard and takes it to the next level. The Daydream platform will launch in the fall, and you can read more about it here.

More to watch: 

VR at Google” on May 19 at 9 a.m.

Enhancing Applications and Websites with Embeddable VR Views” on May 20 at 1 p.m.

‘OK Google’ for the Home

Google Home
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The popularity of Amazon’s Echo wasn’t expected. Now, we’re seeing Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, cropping up in various devices and services. Google is stepping into the fray with its own voice assistant for the home, named Google Home.

The device looks sleek and essentially lets you command it to run tasks like Google searches, set reminders, ask for the weather, and more. It’s akin to what you’ll find in Google Now, except that it’s powered by Google’s new platform called Assistant. It will let you play songs, playlists, albums, and podcasts from your favorite services, and you can have it cast content to your Chromecasts via Google Cast.

Google Home will launch in the fall, and you can read more about it here.

Allo and Duo

Image used with permission by copyright holder

In what was probably the most surprising announcement, Google announced two new communications apps — Allo and Duo. Allo is an AI-powered encrypted messaging app that utilizes Google’s Assistant platform to help you with anything and everything. The AI is contextually aware, and offers smart replies based on the topic of the conversation: a whisper/shout feature to emphasize your messages; and it can recommend restaurants, movies, and more, all based on your conversation. There’s also an incognito mode, if you want some extra security during conversations. You can read more about Allo here.

Duo, on the other hand, is a Facetime-competitor that offers a more personalized one-to-one video calling experience. It’s biggest highlight, apart from being speedier than Hangouts, is that you can see a preview of the people calling you before you answer. You can learn about Duo here, and watch its accompanying video.

Android Wear 2.0

android wear watch faces
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Google’s software for smartwatches, Android Wear, was unveiled at I/O in 2014, and we’re finally getting a much needed 2.0 update.

In Android Wear 2.0, watch faces will be able to show data from any app, meaning that whatever watch face you choose, you’ll retain visible access to data from fitness apps, messaging apps, and so on. Google has also introduced smart replies in messaging for Android Wear — porting the feature from Inbox by Gmail. You can send these smart replies if you’re in a hurry, or you can handwrite your reply via finger input. There’s also a new keyboard, though it looks a bit squished.

Wear 2.0 is also able to recognize your fitness activity automatically, so it will detect when you’re running. Head on over to this post if you want to know more about Wear 2.0.

More to watch: 

Android Wear live-streamed event” on May 19 at 11 a.m.

Building rich fitness experiences with Google Fit platform and Android Wear” on May 19 at 1 p.m.

The Google Play Store could come to China

new google play
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you didn’t know, Google’s Play Store, the one you download all your apps from on Android devices, doesn’t exist in China. That’s mostly because Google didn’t want to filter and censor content, after it famously left the country in 2010. But now, reports say Google is more open to complying with Chinese law to store Play Store app data in the country and filter content. Android is the dominant operating system in China, but Google’s own services are either nonexistent or severely limited. Bringing its own Play Store to the table could boost Android’s presence in the country incredibly. We didn’t hear anything about this in the keynote, but I/O isn’t over yet and there’s a Play Store event coming up on May 19.

Where to watch: 

We Are Family,” on May 19 at 10 a.m. P.T.

Project Tango expands

Lenovo Project Tango
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Google is hoping to push its indoor mapping tech to developers, game programmers, museums, and even grocery stores, thanks to Project Tango. Tango is a hardware device that uses cameras, infrared sensors, and specialized software to create detailed, 3D re-creations of the objects and spaces around it.

With Tango, Google wants to create a 3D, indoor version of Google Maps. Reports say Google will unveil more tools for developers, companies, and organizations to capture indoor locations. This would offer unique capabilities like identifying where you can get a specific brand of cereal in a grocery store via an app, or a guided visual tour through an art gallery.

Through these new tools, Tango will make a push into virtual reality. For example, video game developers will be able to have characters walk through real-life furniture. As Tango doesn’t need external hardware to re-create these indoor spaces, the technology already has a leg up on current virtual reality units such as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.

We’re also expecting to see a phablet-sized smartphone from Lenovo and Google with 3D imaging capabilities that utilizes Project Tango at the Lenovo Tech World conference on June 9. Take a gander at Tango’s possibilities and announcements at these live-streamed events (times in PT) listed below.

Where to watch: 

Introducing Project Tango Area Learning” on May 18 at 4 p.m.

What’s New with Project Tango” on May 19 at 3 p.m.

6 Degrees of Freedom Gaming in Android with Project Tango” on May 20 at 10 a.m.

Project Ara and other ATAP projects


Born out of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group like Project Tango, Project Ara is ambitious. The aim is to build a fully modular phone — where you’ll be able to replace parts easily at a moment’s notice. For example, if an improved camera module is released, rather than upgrading your phone, you’ll only have to remove your old camera and add in the new block. This reduces the cost of buying a new phone for only slightly improved hardware.

It’s unclear what exactly the Project Ara team will bring this year, but a product launch was delayed till 2016, and Google I/O would be the perfect stage to unveil something new.

Project Soli and Project Jacquard were announced at last year’s Google I/O, and not much has been in the spotlight since. The Soli team wants to make it possible to interact with technology through gestures based on radar technology. So for example, you’ll be able turn on a device with a specific figure gesture, rather than having to use a physical button.

Jacquard is a platform that moves tech into our clothes, so you can receive alerts through what you wear, as well as interact with your clothes. For example, play the next song with a simple swipe on your shirt. It’s likely we’ll get to see the progress on Soli and Jacquard at I/O.

Where to watch: 

Bridging the physical and digital. Imagine the possibilities. ATAP” on May 20 at 10 a.m. PT

There’s a whole lot more

We’ve covered most of the big announcements we plan to see at Google I/O 2016, but there’s always more — like Google’s improved projects with Android TV. Expect to see more on topics like Project Aura, aka Google Glass 2.0; Material Design guideline updates; and perhaps some improvements to Chrome OS. Follow our coverage here.

Look for a live-stream button for events on the Google I/O schedule if you want to take part in other events the conference, and let us know what you’re most excited about from the keynote.

Join us on Twitter at our Hashtag #DTio16!

Updated on 05-18-2016 by Christian de Looper: Added information about multi-window modes in Android N.

Julian Chokkattu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Julian is the mobile and wearables editor at Digital Trends, covering smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and more…
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