Google I/O: Android Wear 2.0 and Google Home explained

Alex Kidman 19 May 2016

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Google used its I/O developer conference to announce a new smart home assistant and update to its Android Wear platform.

Rumours suggested that Google I/O would see the search giant announce a new Nexus device -- most prominently suggested was a new Nexus tablet. Instead, Google’s opted to announce a competitor to Amazon’s Echo home assistant device, called "Google Home"

What is Google Home?

Google Home is a small voice-activated speaker device that works with Google’s new virtual assistant software, simply called Google Assistant. Home uses microphones that are always on, always listening and connected to Google’s services so that you can verbally search for information, control music and other home automation devices without tapping any buttons or reaching for any smartphone apps. It will also act like an audio-only Chromecast if you want to stream music to it from services such as Google Play Music as well as interfacing with any Google Chromecast devices you may have on the same network.

The closest competitor to Google Home is Amazon’s already-launched Echo, a device that performs the same style of functions but is (as you’d expect) tied more closely into Amazon’s own services such as Amazon Prime, as well. (Echo hasn't been released in Australia, but our guide shows you how to get around that.)

The brains behind Google Home, Google Assistant, is itself a standalone AI app that Google plans to integrate into other devices and systems as well, such as a new messaging app called Allo also announced today.

When can I buy Google Home?

Google doesn’t have an announced timeframe for Google Home availability in Australia, or for that matter anywhere else at this point in time. Google has set up a Home homepage where you can register for more information. It’s quite likely that it will opt to launch in the US before Australia, as it did with the Chromecast.

How much will Google Home cost?

As for pricing, that’s also up in the air, even in the US. Although we can have something of an educated guess based on the pricing for the most obvious competitor to the Google Home, Amazon’s Echo. Amazon doesn’t officially sell the Echo in Australia, although you can direct import one if you’re particularly keen. Its US list price is $179.99, which would equate to around $250 before taxes, or about $275 including GST. Amazon undoubtedly uses the Echo as a gateway device to sell other products and services and may be subsidising that price somewhat, and Google might well do the same.

Android Wear 2.0 is coming

Google also used its I/O conference keynote to announce the second generation of its Android Wear software for wearable devices. Android Wear 2.0 will significantly unshackle Android Wear devices from their Android device parents, allowing watch faces to display notifications from any Android Wear app, rather than just the selected few that given watch providers have built into them. It will come with new keyboard input options and the ability to more easily track fitness activity as well. On the connectivity front, applications will be able to run natively on Android Wear 2.0 devices and communicate directly with the Internet via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, potentially extending the reach of what Android Wear devices can actually do.

Android Wear 2.0 will be a major overhaul of the Android Wear ecosystem, but it’s not automatically going to be compatible with every Android Wear device. Google is making a developer preview available, but only for the Huawei Watch and LG Watch Urbane Second Edition LTE devices; it’s not clear quite how far back in Android Wear history the update will go. There’s no particular reason why the hardware in older watches shouldn’t work with at least some features of Android Wear 2.0, but we’ll have to wait and see whether every watch will be supported.

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