What to Expect from Google IO 2019 This Week and How to Watch
Google I/O 2018 gave us Google Duplex. That reset many people’s expectations about what voice assistants could become. Will 2019 bring us the same level of shock and awe? Likely not. But, you can expect dozens of storylines related to Google Assistant. In fact, some have already started trickling out.
Google Duplex 2.0
It will be hard for Google to not give an update about Google Duplex. The Duplex demonstration in 2018 so dominated Google I/O coverage (see video below) that media watchers at the very least will be primed for some data on its use thus far and likely looking for another feature addition. While the service only recently became available to most U.S. consumers, Google is not afraid to preview features that won’t arrive for a few months. This is also a key feature differentiation between Google Assistant and its voice assistant rivals Alexa and Siri. Google will no doubt want to press this advantage.
The Other Side of the Duplex Equation
One demonstration I expect to see if CallJoy. In many ways, CallJoy is the other side of the Duplex coin for small businesses. While Duplex relieves consumers from having to make calls to make restaurant reservations, CallJoy relieves small businesses from having to answer the phone. It uses a Google Assistant-like solution to field incoming requests and answer the questions or steer them to another channel such as text messaging to place orders. Google seems to think everyone would like to avoid phone calls these days, and they are probably right. This product has already been announced, but no one has seen anything other than a packaged video.
Google Assistant Gets a Friend?
This we should know before Google I/O even kicks off. Last year at Microsoft’s annual developer conference, BUILD, the company demonstrated Cortana integration with Alexa. BUILD begins today and I suspect we will see a Cortana and Google Assistant integration demonstrated. Why? Well, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella according to The Verge said in January about Cortana: “You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go.”
Two weeks ago, a new voice industry report published by Microsoft included this comment about Cortana: “She is also integrated as a voice skill for Amazon Alexa and a voice action for the Google Assistant.” That’s declarative about Google Assistant integration. Microsoft also didn’t respond to inquiries on this statement which generally means they don’t want to talk about it just before their planned surprise unveiling at an event. So, we are likely to see something on this topic this week at one or both developer conferences. Google is incentivized to catch up to Alexa’s integration with Cortana that enables access to Office productivity applications.
Hardware in Addition to Software
Google I/O is traditionally a software event, but several rumors suggest it will have some hardware to showcase as well. Digital Trends and other outlets are expecting to see a Pixel 3A and 3A XL which are low-cost smartphones expected to be about half the price of the flagship Pixel. The Pixel smartphone line is not a big seller, but it is where Google likes to showcase new capabilities. A new $450 Pixel smartphone might drive much higher consumer adoption of the platform and funnel those consumers right to more Google Assistant use. Think of this Google’s answer to iPhone XR, but much more aggressively priced.
Another likely hardware update will be the rebranding of at least some Google Home products to Nest. 9to5Google reported recently that it was tipped off about Google Home Hub changing names to adopt the Nest brand. That followed an unintentional reveal by Google on its store days earlier that a new 10″ Google Home Hub-style product called Next Hub Max will soon be arriving. At least that device is expected to be available and it may be Google is contemplating a broader strategy of rebranding all of its home-based products under the Nest umbrella.
Google is also discounting hardware in advance of the I/O announcements. Google Home Mini is currently listed at $29 and Home Hub $99 in the Google Store as well as at Walmart, Best Buy, and Target.
Stadia and Gaming
Google’s new online gaming platform Stadia is also likely to get copious airtime at I/O 2019. What to look for is more information about how Google Assistant will be integrated. In the announcement, Google Assistant was mentioned briefly as playing a role and we are hoping for more details this week.
Personalized Preset Buttons
Android Police recently discovered a new passage in the Google Assistant help center that refers to Personalized Preset Buttons. There are no known Made by Google devices with this feature today. Here is the passage in question:
“On some speakers with Google Assistant built in, you can set buttons to say your favorite queries. If you save a personalized query to a button and have your personal results turned on, anyone with access to your device can see or hear your personal results when they press the button.”
This passage now seems to be missing. It was likely published prematurely and we will learn more about it at I/O. It’s not entirely clear why you need a preset button for Assistant which is designed for voice interaction, but it may be that there are certain features Google or its device partners want to enable through touch or a physical button. This would logically come with a software upgrade and a configuration flow in the Google Assistant app. Maybe we are going to see a stepped-up answer to Siri Shortcuts that goes beyond routines.
Marvel Emojis and More from the Avengers
Google rolled out a video in advance other Avengers Endgame movie last month and said something special was coming on May 7th. That may just be some Avengers emojis, but could be more related to AR on Android. Google is working hard to tie its products and Google Assistant to popular culture right now. AR is another avenue to do this.
A New Celebrity Cameo Voice
It took Google 11 months post-I/O 2018, but it finally brought a John Legend cameo voice in early April. It w0uld make sense for I/O 2019 to introduce a new, upcoming cameo voice or voices — maybe from an Avenger. Again, Google is working that popular culture angle right now and this is a good way to show off its technical prowess and differentiate from Amazon and Apple.
There is a big focus around voice and the car right now. Android Auto and its projection technology would seem to be a good candidate for an announcement. However, a bigger news will be the Volvo Polestar 2 demo of Android Automotive integrated into the infotainment system and offering direct Google Assistant access. Engadget’s review has this to say:
“Google Assistant is another important part of the package, and it may be the best voice command system we’ve tried — but it’s not perfect.”
How to Watch Google I/O
Google I/O kicks off at 10:00 am PDT / 1:00 pm EDT on Tuesday, May 7th. You can learn more about the schedule of events here. The main keynote will stream live on the Google Developers YouTube channel. Of course, check out @bretkinsella on Twitter for some real-time updates from Mountain View and news from the event on Voicebot.