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Google Doubles Down on Machine Learning, AI

Kicking off Google I/O, its annual developers' conference, Google announced an array of new products, including virtual assistant and messaging apps powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The company launched Google Home, a competitor to Amazon Alexa, due later this year. Like the Amazon product, users will be able to interact with Google Home using "conversational speech," asking Google Home to "play a song, set a timer for the oven, check your flight, or turn on your lights," Google said in a blog post. It's due out later this year.

Allo is a new messaging app that also includes the Google assistant built into Home, which you can interact with directly in chats, either one-on-one or with others. "Because the assistant understands your world, you can ask for things like your agenda for the day or photos from your last trip. If you're planning a dinner with friends, you can ask the assistant to suggest restaurants nearby, all in one thread," Google says. It includes smart reply, to suggest replies to messages based on context, and emojis, stickers, and "the ability to get creative with photos," Google says.

In other words, Allo looks a lot like Facebook Messenger, with Messenger's new chatbot capabilities. (See Zuckerberg Launches Messenger Platform, Live Video APIs.)

Next from Google: Duo is an app for video-calling, which will compete with Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Skype and other video options.

Allo and Duo wil be available in the summer on Android and iOS, Google said in a blog post that provides further details about the two messaging platforms.

Additionally, Google unveiled the next version of Android, Android N, with better performance for graphics and effects, reduced battery consumption and storage, and streamlined notifications.

And Google announced Daydream, a platform for mobile VR, which will be incorporated into future Android phones, along with a VR viewer and controller. Daydream will compete with Facebook's Oculus and a variety of other VR platforms.

Also:

  • Google previewed Android Wear 2.0, its updated wearables application, with a redesigned user experience and standalone apps that run on the watch, even if your phone is disconnected or off.
  • Google introduced Android Instant apps, to run Android apps immediately, without having to install them first.
  • And Google expanded its Firebase mobile developer tools for iOS, Android, and the mobile web.

It's hard to predict winners and losers from the broad array of announcements. At first glance, they look like me-too products. In particular, Home looks like an Echo copycat, and Allo and Duo might not offer sufficient differentiation from myriad competitors.

Allo competes against Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Apple's iMessages, and whatever will be hot among teens and 20-something's next week. Messaging apps come and go with as much churn as pop musicians. Even Google has its own Google Hangouts, which superseded Google's previous messaging app, Google Talk, as well as Google Voice, which includes phone and messaging.


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The built-in virtual assistant will be a plus for Google, but it also raises privacy concerns, as the virtual assistant listens to conversations unless the user explicitly goes into privacy mode, and also because Allo lacks end-to-end encryption.

But the copycat first impression for these products doesn't mean they'll fail. Don't forget that the Chrome browser and Google search entered already-crowded markets that appeared to be downright mature and stagnant until Google came in and blew them up. Android looked, at first, like an iPhone knockoff, and now leads iOS in market share. Google hasn't always succeeded in its attempts to take over crowded markets (Google+, anyone?), but a few successes go a long way.

For service providers, this is more of the old OTT story. Some of Google's new products will compete with service providers' own offerings, particularly in messaging. On the other hand, the products will drive demand for connectivity.

— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Enterprise Cloud, Light Reading.

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