During the Google I/O keynote last night, the company introduced a number of new products and talked some more about Android N. There’s Google Home, an Amazon Echo competitor, which will be available somewhere later this year. The company also announced two (!) more messaging applications, and at this point I’m not sure whatever the hell Google is thinking with their 3027 messaging applications. There was also a lot of talk about virtual reality, but I still just can’t get excited about it at all.
More interesting were the portions about Android N and Android Wear 2.0. Android N has gone beta, and you can enroll eligible Nexus devices into the developer preview program to get the beta now (Developer Preview devices should get the beta update over the air).
New things announced regarding Android N are seamless operating system updates (much like Chrome OS, but only useful for those devices actually getting updates), a Vulkan graphics API, Java 8 language features, and a lot more. Google is also working on running Android applications without installing them.
Android Wear 2.0 was also announced, introducing a slightly improved application launcher, better input methods (handwriting recognition and a tiny keyboard), and support for a feature that allows watchfaces to display information from applications – very similar to what many third-party Wear watchfaces already allow.
Tying all of Google announcements together was Google Assistant, an improved take on Google Now that integrates contextually-aware conversation speech into Google’s virtual assistant. Google Assistant is what ties Google Home, Android, Android TV, Wear, the web, and everything else together. We’ll have to see if it’s actually any good in real tests, of course, but it looks kind of interesting.
That being said, I’ve been firmly in the “these virtual assistants are useless” camp, and this new stuff does little to pull me out. It just doesn’t feel as efficient and quick as just using your device or PC with your hands, and on top of that, there’s the huge problem of Silicon Valley – all technology companies, including Google, Apple, and Microsoft – having absolutely no clue about the fact that endless amounts of people lead bilingual lives.
To this day, all these virtual assistants and voice input technologies are entirely useless to people such as myself, who lead about 50/50 bilingual lives, because only one language can be set. Things like Wear and the Apple Watch require a goddamn full-on reset and wipe to switch voice input language, meaning that no matter what language I set, it’ll be useless 50% of the time. If you’re American and used to only speaking in English, you might think this is a small problem… Until you realise there are dozens of millions of Spanish/English bilingual people in the US alone. It’s high time Silicon Valley goes on a trip out into the real world, beyond the 2.3 kids/golden retriever/cat/minivan perfect suburban model families they always show in their videos.