Google shifts mobile focus to apps and digital assistant

Fernando Stephens
May 18, 2017

Mobile phone apps took center stage at Google's annual developer conference on Wednesday as the search giant announced new features for its digital assistant and its popular photo app while devoting little time to the Android mobile operating system. The service will launch in 2018.

The Assistant debuted past year on Google's own hardware, and the company has gradually extended the tool to devices from other manufacturers running on its Android operating system. These phones do not get as frequent security and feature updates, a persistent problem for the company.

Google Assistant, introduced past year, is now on more than 100 million devices, according to the team's vice president of engineering, Scott Huffman. But in countries like this, the high cost of mobile data is a major barrier to consumers buying smartphones and using Google services. Existing Android TV devices have a home screen that features one row of content recommendations from a variety of apps and services, and otherwise a bunch of shortcuts to different apps. It also supports autofill, which Google is bringing to its entire array of services outside Google Chrome.

Google is also crafting a lighter version of Android, referred to as "Go", designed for maximum performance on low-priced, entry-level smartphones in developing countries where internet bandwidth is lean or expensive.

Developers cheered when talk turned to Google-backed mobile operating system Android.

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Notification Dots are also a new addition, which is a non-invasive way to let you know there is something new within a particular app. Users can look at the notification in more detail by long-pressing the app icon or just slide down from the top as usual.

Android Go ships with all new versions of Android phones and serves as the default setting for all Android devices with 1GB or less of RAM. The next version of Android, available to the mass market later this year, aims to gauge and control how much battery life your apps are using. So far, most manufacturers have avoided shipping the latest Android on cheap phones to save costs. Samat mentioned YouTube as one app, but declined to name others. It comes in the form of a separate application that can be downloaded from the App Store.

"Siri's got company, and all these other guys are pretty serious about it", said Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

Google said that while it is happy with the momentum of its Daydream virtual reality platform based on using smartphone as screens in headsets, it is working with partners on stand-alone virtual reality gear. That means that users not only allow Google to process their pictures, but also tell the company who their closest confidantes are.

Other reports by BadHub

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