Google kicked off its annual Google I/O conference today at an outdoor amphitheater in sunny California, showcasing for the first time major hardware and software debuts happening throughout the rest of the year.
Among the buzziest announcements were Google's virtual reality headset and home assistant devices, along with software upgrades to messaging and video apps running on both Android and Apple devices. And while today was the first chance most developers have had to even get a glimpse of the latest babies from one of Silicon Valley's biggest darlings, marketers should start taking notice if they want to stay abreast of what will likely be at the forefront this fall for Android.
Here are the five Google announcements that have the most implications for brands interested in virtual reality, chatbots, artificial intelligence or the latest apps.
1. Google Assistant, a Siri rival
Virtual assistants have become increasingly known—and increasingly used—over the past two years thanks in large part to the popularity of Siri and rivals like Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa and Facebook's M. Now, Google has created its own virtual assistant, skipping the gender-specific name in favor of the more generic-sounding Google Assistant.
It's going to provide the groundwork for all the different ways voice recognition could impact search and email marketing down the road.
But while Google had its own "OK Google" feature for a while, Assistant uses machine learning, Google Search and natural language processing to be more like a chatbot, helping users buy movie tickets, make reservations or provide directions.
"Every single conversation is different," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said during the keynote address. "Every single context is different, and we're working hard to do this for billions of different conversations and billions of different users around the world."
Assistant will be available later this summer for both iOS and Android devices.
2. Home, Google's competitor to Amazon Echo
A key way Assistant will be used is in Google Home, a voice-activated product that in addition to working like Assistant for mobile will also be equipped for playing music and other entertainment.
Google is also designing it to control home systems like Nest and will make it possible to do things beyond the home like book a car, order dinner or send flowers.
Google is the second company to enter the space, arriving two years after Amazon debuted its Echo device of which it has already sold more than 3 million. (Pichai even gave Amazon a shout-out for introducing Echo's capabilities to consumers.) According to Pichai, Google Home will be like a control center.
"It's like having a voice-activated remote control to the real world whenever you need it," he said.
Some brands have already begun taking advantage of Echo, and it's likely they'll be able to do the same later this year with Home. For example, this spring, Quaker partnered with agency Organic to develop a "skill" (Echo's term for app) to provide users with recipes for overnight oats. And Capital One is helping users with online banking tasks like checking balances and making payments.
3. Daydream, Google's mobile virtual reality platform
More than 5 million Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets have now been distributed or sold. Google has already partnered with dozens of brands and publishers and racked up 50 million Google Cardboard app installs in the Google Play store.
But now, Google is getting more serious about its hardware, announcing Daydream, its new all-encompassing brand for everything VR. Along with a new platform, a headset is also in the works that will be more akin to other devices like Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. However, unlike Vive and Rift, Google wants to keep it mobile without the need for a powerful desktop computer.
Daydream, which is scheduled to debut this fall, is working with a number of partners on the content side including The New York Times, Netflix, IMAX and Hulu.
4. Allo, a messaging app with a built-in chatbot
Allo is Google's answer to the chatbot frenzy hitting the tech world this spring. And while rivals like Facebook and Kik already have announced chatbot stores for their messaging apps, Google takes it a step further with Smart Reply, which suggests responses based on the context of conversations.
"Brands are exploring bots that offer customer service or support and help them sell products and services, and Google will launch Allo this summer with a host of well-known brands such as OpenTable, Uber and GrubHub," Forrester analyst Julie Ask said. "Like Facebook and despite a dependence on advertising revenue, Google did not announce any opportunities specific to marketers for advertising or broad consumer engagement."
Allo also comes equipped with Duo, Google's answer to Apple's Facetime with one feature Facetime doesn't have: With Knock Knock, a person receiving a video call will be able to see the caller's video feed even before answering it.
Here's a Duo demo:
5. Android N, the yet-to-be-named next version of Android
Google also unveiled a number of features for the next version of Android, but for the edition that will start with the letter N, Google is departing from treat names like Kitkat, Jelly Bean and Marshmallow and letting developers decide what it's called.
Google even shot a two-minute humorous teaser to kick things off: