(Recasts, adds Dawson quote and analysts' comments on Android)
By Julia Love
May 17 Mobile phone apps took center stage at
Google’s annual developer conference on Wednesday as the search
giant announced new features for its digital assistant and its
popular photo app while devoting little time to the Android
mobile operating system.
Addressing an audience of thousands of developers in
Mountain View, California, Google executives delivered a
broad-based update to their product portfolio which also
included a slate of new features for the Google Home speaker, a
job search tool and even a set of new virtual reality headsets.
In a sign of the ongoing strategic importance of Google
Assistant, the company's artificial intelligence-driven,
voice-controlled digital assistant, Google announced it would
make the product available on Apple Inc’s iPhone,
making a play for the higher end of the smartphone market and
challenging Apple's Siri feature on its own devices.
What’s more, the assistant will soon be able to complete
transactions and supply information about objects captured by
the smartphone’s camera, executives said.
But several analysts noted that the emphasis on the
assistant and other apps like photos and maps, which run on many
types of devices, resulted in the company’s Android operating
system -- long the cornerstone of Google's mobile strategy --
getting relatively little attention during the presentation.
That reflects a recognition by the search giant that the
assistant and other apps will be increasingly important to its
future, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research. The
strategy helps the company sidestep some of the complications of
developing new features for the vast Android ecosystem, where
only a fraction of devices are running on the latest version of
the operating system, he noted.
“This is partly a concession to the fact that whatever they
put into Android, most users don’t see it for a couple years ...
and a lot of their best, most attractive, most valuable users
are going to be on other platforms,” Dawson said. “They need to
put that functionality where users are.”
The Google Assistant debuted last year on the company's own
hardware, and Google has gradually extended the tool to devices
from other manufacturers running on its Android operating
Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.com Inc are
competing to establish the dominant voice-powered digital
assistant, which many in the industry believe will supplant
keyboards and touch screens as a primary way that users interact
"Humans are interacting with computing in more natural and
immersive ways," Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the audience.
"We’ve been using voice as an input across many of our products.
We’ve had significant breakthroughs."
The company is also gaining traction with its photo app,
which now reaches 500 million users regularly, Pichai said. To
drive greater usage of the app, Google will now make suggestions
to prod users to share images and allow them to order physical
Pichai also announced the company will expand its search
engine with a new jobs tab that will allow candidates to filter
postings by criteria such as wages and commute time.
Google, which gets most of its revenue from its dominant
search engine, also released a host of new features for Google
Home, a speaker released last year. Users will soon be able to
make phone calls using the device, and the HBO Now streaming
service, owned by Time Warner Inc, will be integrated as
While Amazon’s Echo speaker has emerged as the most popular
device in the category, Google repeatedly touted its ability to
use artificial intelligence to identify multiple users, an edge
it has over Amazon.
“Google was putting forward a message about artificial
intelligence and how they are including the technology in
virtually every aspect of their products and services,” said
analyst Brian Blau of Gartner. “They really pushed that message
(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Bill Rigby and Phil