At I/O this year, Google displayed its vision for a more ubiquitous and conversational way of interacting with technology. Its Assistant is chattier, answering natural language queries with a more human voice, and it’s found its way into several new Google products: the messenger Allo and the Echo-like speaker Home. Both are areas where other companies have a lead, but Google’s strength in AI gave these services some nice twists, doing things like automatically generating surprisingly specific reactions to photos.
Google also announced improvements to Android — though N, out of beta this summer, still needs to be named — as well as a mobile VR platform that will come with the new OS. There’s a FaceTime rival Duo as well, and a way to run Android apps without downloading anything. Below are the 10 biggest announcements.
Google has a new VR platform
Daydream is Google’s VR platform of the future
Google now has a mobile virtual reality platform. It’s called Daydream, and it’s built on top of Android N. That means it’s not going to compete with the likes of the PC-powered HTC Vive or Oculus Rift (at least not yet, anyway), but looks much more powerful than Cardboard and represents a huge step in the push to advance VR out of its early stages.
From the sound of it, Daydream is a lot like Android for VR. It’s a backbone of software inside Android N (simply known as “VR Mode”) that provides users with an entire ecosystem to play around in. There will be a home screen with apps (which looks a lot like the Gear VR’s home screen, to be honest), and Google has apparently already created special VR versions of its own apps like YouTube, Street View, the Google Play Store, Play Movies, and Google Photos. Other companies, like The New York Times, HBO, Netflix, Ubisoft, and Electronic Arts are already developing for Daydream as well.
The biggest limitation for Daydream seems to be that it will only work on new phones that have special sensors and screens. Google says that those Daydream-ready phones will be available this fall, and that we can expect to see them from Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei, and more. The company is also releasing reference designs for headsets as a way of encouraging phonemakers to get on board with the platform.
Google made a VR headset… sort of
One of the rumors leading up to this year’s I/O conference was that Google would announce its very own mid-tier VR headset — something more capable and polished than Cardboard, but more affordable and accessible than the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
This wound up being only sort of true. Google showed off a reference design for a smartphone-powered VR headset that looks a lot like a smaller, cordless Oculus Rift. (The company also showed a motion controller with a touchpad.) What’s interesting here is that Google is approaching VR much like it originally approached Android, because the company also announced the Daydream initiative, a mobile VR platform that will be baked into Android N. Like with Android, Google is providing companies with a backbone of software while pointing them in a particular direction on the hardware side.
Of course, Google actually makes its phone reference designs in the form of Nexus devices, so it’s anyone’s guess whether we’ll see a real Google VR headset as Daydream evolves, or if we’ll just keep getting more blueprints.