Google has unveiled a virtual assistant that converses with its users, a new VR platform called Daydream, and a messaging service dubbed Allo at its annual I/O developer conference.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, introduced Google Assistant, a virtual personal assistant, designed to bring together many of the company’s existing intelligent search tools such as Google Now and its forthcoming chatbots.
"You can be in front of this structure in Chicago and ask Google who designed this and it will understand in this context that the name of that designer is Anish Kapoor," said Pichai, pointing toward a photo of Chicago's Cloud Gate sculpture.
Google Home is also being introduced to complement Google Assistant, which is an always-listening table-top speaker device that is voice-activated and allows users to bark questions and commands at it and receive a vocal response.
The device can be used to check appointments, create lists and send messages, simply by speaking to it in a similar fashion to Amazon Echo, which has been around for more than a year.
It is also capable of interfacing with Chromecast and smart home devices to control televisions, thermostats and other products. Google did not offer a specific release date or pricing for Google Home, saying only that it will be available later this year.
A new messaging service called Allo was also revealed. This features chatbots powered by Google Assistant that allow users to conduct searches and ask for information.
Allo, like WhatsApp, will also have end-to-end encryption when it is rolled out this summer and will be accompanied by Duo, a video calling app based on a user's phone number that is open to all smartphones.
Allo features a smart reply mode that offers template replies based on the content of messages you receive, even doing so for photos as the app can ‘read’ images as well as text.
Google's other major announcement at yesterday’s event was a virtual reality platform called Daydream designed to work with Android.
Daydream addresses latency and other issues affecting playback on smartphones, according to Clay Bavor, Google's vice president of virtual reality.
He also announced a virtual reality headset powered by a smooth, two-button controller with orientation sensors that help determine positioning in virtual environments.
In addition, the division has ‘rebuilt YouTube from the ground up’ to feature improved audio to support virtual reality screening.
Google offered no timetable on the VR headset, but said Daydream-ready phones were likely to hit the market by autumn. Smartphone makers including Samsung, HTC and Huawei have already signed up to the platform.
Google also unveiled a basic blueprint for recommended VR headset design.
The next version of Android, currently known as ‘Android N’ was also discussed. It includes new multi-tasking features including a split-screen setting that can show two apps at once for the first time on both phones and tablets.
Finally, Google demonstrated the second generation of its smartwatch software, Android Wear 2.0, which will allow smartwatch apps to fully function without being linked to a phone for the first time. A keyboard to enable users to reply to messages on their watch face was also introduced.
Closing the presentation, Mr Pichai again referenced Google's desire to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help consumers.
"We live in an extraordinary time for computing," he said, adding that computers have the potential to help solve issues such as climate change and education.
"The real test is whether humans can achieve a lot more with the support of AI assisting them. Things previously thought to be impossible may in fact be possible."