Google I/O saw the tech giant unveiling products across the hot topics in tech right now.
New messaging apps, a new VR platform and a virtual assistant.
How are these products placed in the market? Which might be the likeliest to succeed?
Messaging – Allo
With Allo, Google is abandoning the necessity of logging in with a Google account (a la Hangouts) and allowing users to message each other using an encrypted service (though, controversially, this won’t be enabled as default). Allo will be tied to your phone number, much like WhatsApp.
In appearance, what we’ve seen looks a lot like Facebook Messenger. Indeed, messaging UX itself doesn’t vary a great deal across apps.
So far, so good, but what’s going to make Allo stand out?
Well, it seems to be taking all that’s good from a variety of social messaging apps, wrapping it together and adding a few new features.
Little extras include the ability to scale text up and down (Google calls this ‘Whisper Shout’ and it’s an intriguing way of adding another dimension to messaging, certainly to add humour).
Smart reply and a virtual assistant is how Google intends to give Allo the edge, making the most of Google’s machine learning and Knowledge Graph.
The virtual assistant is demoed in the GIF below, and it looks like an interesting way to find information mutually with a contact, something that will save time and confusion.
Smart reply is probably not a game changer, being much like templated messages in SMS, though with the obvious advantage that they are a lot more intelligent and learn from your app usage.
Still expect suggestions including lots of exclamation marks – perhaps not perfectly tailored to the British market.
Allo looks incredibly slick and fun to use. It’s difficult to say though how deep the inroads it makes into WhatsApp and Messenger usage will be.
One thing’s for sure, the usage of messaging apps is so high that if Google can gain traction here, it suddenly gets lots more data and lots more real estate to sell advertising (like Facebook) through its assistant’s recommendations.
Oh and one last point – I’m not convinced by the name Allo. I find it a bit anaemic, a bit too much like the ill-fated Ello. But what’s in a name?
Virtual Reality – Daydream
I get very excited about VR and consequently I’m excited about Daydream. It’s a platform, allowing developers to create VR content for a range of devices.
Google will work with hardware manufacturers to define and design new headsets and controllers.
What excites me about Daydream is the consolidation of content, notably 360 degree video from YouTube, but also Google StreetView, Photos and Play.
Though there have been many exciting demonstrations of VR from Oculus and its competitors, the consumer needs to be compelled by devices that offer more than simply early and expensive implementations.
Google Daydream could really accelerate this process and hit some of the marks that Glass failed to hit so spectacularly.
A lack of hardware makes me even more excited about Daydream, avoiding the hype that accompanies a prototype headset and focusing on content.
Okay, we’ve touched on this already, it’s going to be included in Allo, but more broadly Assistant will be part of Home (Google’s new Internet of Things hub) and increasingly a part of interacting with your mobile (if you want).
Google hasn’t named its assistant, unlike Amazon (Alexa), Microsoft (Cortana), Apple (Siri) etc.
I think that’s a great move, as part of the scepticism around assistants and intelligent bots is whether indeed they will save time for the user.
Apeing human interaction isn’t always advantageous (see this fantastic post from Dan Grover), and Google seems to understand this need for incredibly useful interventions without a frustrating bot personality added in.
Creating a home device that sits on your table and responds to commands is a way of showcasing Google Assistant.
Even those without Home should start to realise that Assistant is something that can be utilised on their devices.
If Assistant works with subtlety and nuance, much like the Allo example above, combined with the announcement of Instant Apps, it could greatly speed up mobile UX.
The most powerful part of Google’s new announcements, given its ability to bring together products and pioneer new UX.