Each year Google hosts a huge gathering of developers and press, and traditionally they've converged on San Francisco in May. The only exceptions are the first two years back in 2006 and 2007, but for the 10th anniversary of Google I/O, Google is bringing the party back home. This isn't just in Mountainview either, it's just across the street from Google headquarters at the Shoreline Amphitheater, and it's the first time I/O has been at an outdoor only venue too. This also meant that Google's traditionally small list of attendees could grow larger, and this year we saw a whopping 7,000 people on the grounds for the 3 day affaire. Among the many firsts at this year's I/O was the fact that this was my personal first time going to Google's get together, although we as a site have been going for quite a long time now.
The first day's festivities opened with a bang; a hot 2 hour keynote was accompanied by an even warmer day, something out of the ordinary for this time of year in Mountain View. Thankfully this heat wave only lasted 2 days until it dropped to some pretty chilly nights, but none of this held back the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd. Google opened the keynote with a stellar performance by William Close and the Earth Harp Collective, a group you might remember seeing on America's Got Talent back in 2012. Close and his assistant played on two absolutely massive harps whose strings were nearly the entire length of the Shoreline Amphitheater, the audio of which is one of the few things that actually sounds more stunning live than pre-recorded.
As you've no doubt seen here on the site, there were quite a few huge announcements made at this year's conference. We saw Google's latest version of Android, Android N, although it wasn't actually named at the conference like we thought it was going to be. The next version of Android Wear made an appearance too, and we even saw a massive update to ChromeOS that's actually bridging the gap between Android and ChromeOS in a very unexpected way. This last update might be the biggest news of the whole show too, as it was expected that Google was going to be bringing the Play Store to ChromeOS, but it wasn't expected that they were actually going to be running Android inside of ChromeOS. This means completely full speed and native running Android apps on Chromebooks, effectively making them a million times more useful than they already are. Gosh and how can we forget about Google Now’s huge upgrade? Google has always shied away from the idea of Google Now being an actual personal assistant, but now they're going full force into the world of talking AI, and they're doing it with their world-renowned Deep Learning Engine. This is also being brought straight to your house via Google Home, a new Amazon Echo-like speaker that is designed to sit in every room of your house and create a truly connected home.
Some other really nice surprises included Google's new VR mode inside of Android N. This isn't just a special governor that keeps your professor and GPU running at full speed to deliver better and more consistent performance, it means using more efficient APIs like Vulkan for 3D rendering, as well as partnering with the Unity Engine and big studios like Epic Games for Unreal Engine 4. That's not all though, because Google blew us out of the water with their plans for an entire hardware ecosystem that's designed around maximum interaction with the virtual world. This doesn't just mean a headset to look around like the GearVR or the Oculus Rift, it means far more interactivity than either of those two offer at the present time without a doubt. While it's not quite HTC Vive interactivity via room scale VR, it's incredibly close and it's all possible because Google is taking VR interaction seriously by requiring all Daydream certified games to use the new motion and touch controller designs they've come up with. Google will in fact have an official hardware pair for the headset and the controller releasing this fall, but they're also partnering with a number of hardware OEMs to have alternative versions of this hardware too. Everything Google is designing here looks absolutely incredible to say the least, and it shows some serious forward thinking on their part.
One of the bigger hidden surprises though was something not even announced at any keynote or developer event though, and it comes in the form of Android in a car. Android Auto isn't anything new, and has been an initiative that Google has been working on for some time, but this new “Android In-Car Concept” as it was so bluntly called, actually sees Android powering the entire interior of your car. Using a tricked out Maserati to debut this new concept platform, the dual 4k displays inside of the car were placed not just on the entertainment and controls portion of the dashboard, but also behind the steering column. This seems to be designed to directly compete with offerings others on the market have talked about, like Nvidia’s in-car platform, but is doing it in a very Android-like way. By establishing a free, open-source concept, Google is designing a platform that establishes the base with ideas for OEMs to build upon. What's more interesting still is that this is using the full version of Android N to achieve all these things, meaning Android N by default can control HVAC, multi-channel audio and a plethora of other things required for proper vehicular control. Where Google will take this is anyone's guess, but it's insanely exciting to see them push it this far without a doubt.
During the sun-drenched days I moved from station to station around the parking lot of the Shoreline Amphitheater, which had been decorated in a very Google way to host the annual developers conference. They had everything from multicolored, multi-layered structures to Mardi Gras-esque giant pirate ship floats hanging around the parking lot. Many of the events were held inside giant spherical tents that transformed into discos at night, complete with fog machines and neon lights everywhere. The venue was surreal and it was only sullied by the overly bright, hot sun that burned so many folks during this time. By the end if the last day more people looked like lobsters than people thanks to the sunburns that covered their skin, and while plenty of people no doubt had a great time they might have wished they heeded Google's warning about such weather ahead of time.
Visiting the nearby Google HQ was nothing short of sublime, although I definitely didn't realize just how massive it was. It really feels like a small city, complete with parks, trails, big buildings and plenty of sights along the way. Google has gone through plenty of planning to get their headquarters to look this beautiful, and it's all connected via a serious of streets and paths that are all rideable via some very colorful bikes that any Googler can grab and go. Finding some familiar landmarks was a little more difficult than expected, though, as Google moved most of them to the Visitor's Center Beta (yes that's a real thing), but a few others like the Marshmallow statue in the above photosphere were off wandering around on their own. The campus was really something special and it was amazing being able to walk around the place that makes it all happen.
Even the evenings were filled with excitement, from the concert on the first evening filled with some big names like KYGO, to the incredibly fun I/O Arcade, Google Play Awards, Project Tango games and even an “underwater disco,” Google sure showed that it knows how to party. That doesn't mean everything was totally rosy, though, as there were some disappointments that arose from the occasion. This marks the first time in a long time that Google had no real new hardware to show off, something that's always been an exciting moment during all the hoopla without a doubt. The real big disappointment that I heard from every single person, which even resulted in a trending hashtag on Twitter, was the complete and utter lack of swag given to event goers. Historically Google has used I/O to give its attendees, which are mostly made up of developers that essentially give Google money by developing apps for their platforms, hardware for free that represents the best upcoming platforms to develop for. While there is currently no new hardware for Google to give, there's plenty coming out in the fall, even from Google itself.
This leads one to wonder why Google didn't just give everyone a rain cheque like they have in the past with devices that aren't quite ready. VR is undeniably the hottest thing to hit the market since the tablet, and possibly even the smartphone if things are played right. Why then didn't Google at least tell developers at the show they'd be getting free development kits for Daydream, their VR initiative, and platform for Android instead of a water bottle and T-shirt? Sure we also got a Google cardboard unit, but that's something developers and consumers alike have had for years now, and it doesn't quite fit in the same league as what was offered in the past. It's a missed opportunity that we hope isn't related in subsequent years, especially for the thousands of developers that paid serious money to go to the show. Overall though I think I/O 2016 was a huge success and represents one of the best shows Google has ever put on, even with the shortcomings listed. Whether or not they do it at an outdoor venue like this again next year is anyone's guess, but it's doubtless that it'll feel any less…Googly.