Google I/O: Android N Awash in New Powers and New APIs

Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off I/O, the company's annual developer conference, by talking about artificial inteligence and conversing with computers. The idea of asking computers for help directly, using our voice instead of keyboards, led directly into the company's biggest annoucement of the show: the Google Assistant. This in-home product will go head-to-head with the Amazon Echo when it launches later this year -- but Google Assistant was just the beginning. Here's a quick rundown of some of the announcements made on stage. We'll dive deeper into the new APIs as the week goes on. 

Android N played a central role in the I/O keynote, held near Google's headquarters in Mountain View. Android N focuses on making three core improvements to the platform: performance, productivity, and security. Google is achieving huge gaming gains with the Vulkan engine and new just-in-time compiler. Productivity is being enhanced through split-screen multitasking and picture-in-picture video. Google is boosting security with file-level encryption and more. 

Android Instant Apps were a big hit and could help boost app installs. Android Instant Apps will let people consume app-based content (think Buzzfeed's embedded videos) even when the Buzzfeed video app is not installed on their phone. Instant Apps uses Chrome to temporarily install only the pieces of the app needed to run or access the shared content. People will be given the opportunity to install the full app if they enjoy the experience of using it. 

Google's smartwatch platform, Android Wear, is primed for a huge improvement. Google believes expanding the functionality of watch faces, fitness tools, and messaging will really appeal to end users and developers alike. Android Wear 2.0 will allow people to create their own watch faces, complete with complications. A new automatic activity tracker can instantly begin recording runs, walks, bike rides, and other exercise. The improved messaging tools include a wider array of canned responses, handwriting, and keyboards. There are new design guidelines and APIs for developers to dig into to make this all happen. 

Android Pay and Android Auto will both see some new APIs and features. Android Pay, in particular, will expand further across the mobile web and within apps. Google plans to push Android Auto to carmakers and end users. Carmakers will be able to access more of the Android Auto core without a phone, while Android users will be able to use Android Auto -- including voice-based actions -- even if their car doesn't support Android Auto. 

Then there's Daydream, the new virtual reality playform. With Daydream, Google hopes to help standardize the experience of virtual reality when it comes to smartphones and headsets. It is providing new guidelines for phone makers, headset makers, and developers to ensure that finding VR-compatible hardware, software, and apps is as painless as possible. 

The best part? You can test these new features right away. Google released the Android N Developer Preview Beta today, a stable release that Google says is good enough for everyday devices. Google also made Android Wear 2.0 available to developers in preview form. The Android N preview is compatible with the Nexus 6, 9, 5X, 6P, Nexus Player, and Pixel C. 

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

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