Google I/O: Home speaker, Assistant AI, VR plans and more


Yesterday was the first day of Google’s annual I/O developer conference: its equivalent of Apple’s WWDC in terms of revealing new products and services for the year ahead.

While there were no direct news about the music aspects of Google Play and YouTube, there was plenty for the music industry to think about in Google’s other announcements.

Starting with Google Home, a connected speaker controlled by its owner’s voice, which will compete directly with Amazon’s Echo. The speaker will use the Google Cast technology to stream music, which means that services like Spotify will be supported alongside Google Play Music.

Amazon’s speaker has been a big hit in the US, and Google is training its sights squarely on the device. “We’re competing feature for feature in most of the areas. And in the areas that really matter to the consumer, we’re going to do a better job,” VP of product management Mario Queiroz told The Verge.

Google’s work in artificial intelligence is also yielding new services. Announced yesterday was Google Assistant, a development of its existing Google Now technology that the company is describing as a “conversational assistant” that will have an “ongoing two-way dialogue” with users across their devices.

“Think of the assistant of an ambient experience that extends across devices. Computing evolving beyond phones,” said Google boss Sundar Pichai. Think of it alongside Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa: these will increasingly be the interfaces that people are using to access music in various ways.

Google’s I/O keynote also brought news of yet another Google social product: messaging app Allo, which uses Google Assistant and AI features. The obvious comparison here is Facebook’s recent introduction of chatbots into its Messenger app.

Finally, Google is doubling down again on virtual reality after the popularity of its Google Cardboard headsets – which have now sparked more than 50m VR app downloads. Google’s next thing is called ‘Daydream’ – VR features in its upcoming Android N software that will support headsets made by partners complete with handheld motion controllers.

HBO, Netflix, Hulu, the New York Times, CNN, the NBA and Lionsgate are all signed on as partners as well as games firms. No music yet, but Daydream certainly has potential there too, with Universal Music, Live Nation and other music companies already exploring the potential of VR ‘live’ experiences through existing technologies.

Written by: Stuart Dredge