Google I/O: focus on AI, object recognition with products for AR, smart home and . . . telephony

Wednesday 24 May 2017 | 16:11 CET | Background

Google I/O, the company's annual conference for developers, has once again delivered for consumers, even if last year's edition was perhaps a bit more rich, with new products such as Google Assistant, Allo (chat app), Daydream (VR) and a smartwatch (Project Soli). There was of course also a big focus on developers, with releases such as Android O and Android Go, Seurat (video rendering) and the Google Payment API.


New consumer products announced this year include the following (available to start on the US market mainly):

  • Google Photos (500 mln active monthly users) is launching printed photo books for USD 10-20. It's also added more features to share photos. 
  • Google Assistant can now be used for voice control of electronics and home appliances, including products from GE, LG and Whirlpool. These Google Actions will compete directly with the Skills on the Amazon Alexa, which also targets the small home. A standalone app for iOS was also released.
  • The Google Home (a smart speaker with Google Assistant) can now be used to make phone calls, the same as the Amazon Echo/Alexa. In addition it can send notifications. 
  • The Daydream VR headset will come in a new standalone version, no longer requiring a connection with a smartphone. Manufacturers include HTC, LG, Samsung.
  • Google launched a visual positioning system (VPS), which complements GPS for navigating indoors. This is based on the Tango software for object recognition. The precision is within centimeters. 
  • Google Expeditions, the VR platform for the education sector, is adding AR. This is also partly based on VPS and is expected to help visualise 3D models of objects ranging from volcanoes to molecules. 
  • Object recognition is also at the core of Google Lens, which is being built into Google Photos and the Google Assistant. This software can recognise physical objects viewed through a camera lens and adds to existing image recognition tools to identify objects in photos.
  • Google for Jobs is a new search engine for jobs. 

It's clear that artificial intelligence and related techniques such as machine learning and deep learning are increasingly central to development at the internet majors - Google, as well as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. Each has its own area of focus, such as communication at Facebook and video at Amazon, but AI is the unifying thread. 

At the same time they continue to ramp up competition with and in telecom markets. In addition to video, it mainly centres on communications. Google is competing with the telecom sector through voice and text apps (Hangouts, Duo, Allo, Assistant) but also with Facebook (incl. Messenger, WhatsApp) and Amazon (Alexa, Alexa Calling). For the moment, telephony still is not totally free due to termination rates, but the steady fall in MTA/FTA fees is bringing the break point ever closer for the telecom cash cow. 

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