Every year, Google software developers from around the world gather for an event called Google I/O. This year, I got an invitation to Mountain View to see what it's all about, and it did not disappoint.
This year's event was set up like a music festival - it was held outdoors at the Shoreline Amphitheater, which is just steps from Google's headquarters. Google expected about 7,000 people and that estimate seemed right on - the place was packed with techies.
Google I/O kicks off with a keynote to explain what is next for the company's products - including search, gadgets, software and development kits. Then it's off to breakout sessions where developers can go hands on with the new technologies, learn how to do new things and overall mingle with other like minded folks who do a lot of the same stuff everyday.
Personally, it was an amazing experience to see it all come together. I got to see Google's Self Driving car in person, get a glimpse of some upcoming technologies involving Android Wear, Android Auto,
Google Glass (just kidding) and more. There was even a party where Google CEO Sundar Pichai hung out with the press. It's how I got this picture.
Here's what you need to know about the big announcements:
This is Google's answer to the Amazon Echo. It's a smart speaker you put in your home that has a new conversational virtual assistant built in called The Google Assistant. The device does several things - first, it responds to your voice commands to do everything from Google Searches to telling you what's on your calendar. It will also control your TV, music, smart home appliances and more. If this thing is half as amazing as it seems, it could be a game changer. Let's put it this way - Amazon has done really well with its Echo, but Amazon knows just a tiny bit about us. Google knows our search history, Gmail, calendar, where we live, work and go. It brings a huge depth of knowledge. Available sometime later this year; no price announced just yet.
This is a new messaging app to take on Facebook messenger and all of the other fun messaging apps out there. But this one has a secret weapon - the same smart Google Assistant (GA) is built in. That means you can easily go from chatting with friends to asking GA what time your flight is or if a restaurant is open on Sundays. The app also offers up "smart replies" when you're texting with friends. For example, if your friend sends you a picture of the hamburger they're eating it might suggest "yum!" or "that looks delicious" or "I love hamburgers too" as one touch responses. Available later this summer for iOS and Android.
This could be Google's killer app. It's a super simple video chat app and the company's answer to FaceTime. But the neat thing is that it will work on both Android and iPhones so you can keep in touch with ALL of your friends face to face. Also, you'll be able to call people using just their phone number and I'm told there is no sign up for a Google Account necessary - so the barrier to entry should be pretty slim. This could be a winner if people find it easy enough to sign up and use in place of FaceTime. There is a neat feature called "Knock, Knock" which gives you a video preview of your caller before you answer. Additionally, Google says Duo is optimized to work across various connections, whether you have a super fast internet connection or not.
What I love about Google is the open nature of their initiatives. They build apps and platforms meant to connect the world - no matter which operating system you're or language you speak. I/O is a great reminder that it's a big world out there with lots of different people and not everyone has the fastest internet connection or latest feature-packed smartphone. The future of technology will be highly personalized.