The week in wearable tech: Google’s march to a voice-controlled future

This is how it all went down
The week in wearable tech

In the same week that features editor Sophie wrote about making the quantified self cool, my perception of what "cool" is was irreversibly shattered, as I witnessed LCD Soundsystem perform at Google I/O.

Now don't get me wrong, my love for LCD runs deep and true, but they are not a band I would expect to play at a conference that earned its biggest cheer when Google announced it will support the programming language Kotlin on Android. Perhaps after years of singing about the kids "coming up from behind", James Murphy decided to stop trying to beat them and just join them instead.

All of which is my way of easing us into a look at the week's biggest talking points. Starting with, yes…

The big G

Week in Wareable Tech: Google's march to a voice-controlled future

So a little under-the-radar company called Google held a gathering in Mountain View this week. We really didn't know what to expect from this year's I/O. With Android Wear 2.0 still in the early days of its rollout, we didn't expect much news on this front, though as expected Google announced its new standalone VR headsets, which it will be partnering with HTC and Lenovo on later this year. That's not just interesting from a Google VR perspective - it also means HTC and others could beat Oculus to the first fully standalone virtual reality headset. Don't think that Google has forgotten about Daydream though. That platform is getting a big software update that adds new social features and a VR Chrome browser.

While our US reporter Husain Sumra was covering that, I went along to the Wear developer session to learn about a few little changes Google has in the pipeline, which I rounded up here. Not only did the team talk about some changes to the development process that will make our Wear watches better, but they also came loaded with advice for devs, like how to reduce battery suck. And we can all get behind that.

But like the wider Android platform - and of course Home - the Wear team are looking to a future of voice, and Actions on Google will be coming to Wear in the coming months, said Wear chief David Singleton. Google announced some pretty significant updates to Assistant and Google Home at I/O, continuing its march towards a voice-controlled future. We also sat down with Suveer Kothari, one of the chiefs in the Home department, to talk about the new updates and how Google is trying to be helpful in the home without being a pest - not an easy job.

Something to Bragi about

Week in Wareable Tech: Google's march to a voice-controlled future

Elsewhere, Bragi was making waves in hearables with its new Dash Pro. Its update improves on the original Bragi Dash in a number of ways, but it's that real-time translation we're most excited to try out. There's also improved battery life, better audio quality, and some neat new tricks in the interface. Existing Dash owners will also be glad to hear they can download an update that gives them all of the new software features, translation included. Make sure you check out our interview with Bragi CEO Nikolaj Hviid where we talk about building the smart human (and why the writing is on the wall for the smartphone).

Read next: The current state of real-time translation hearables

And to continue the theme of sound and voice, Amazon has been beefing up the Echo with some new features to keep pace with Google (or is it the other way around?). Echo can now give you notifications and make/take calls with other Alexa devices, including smartphones. Just after these new features rolled out, Google announced it was doing a similar thing with Home, although notifications will be limited to basic Google Now services, and you'll only be able to make calls to other phones.

The smartwatch state of play

While voice and audio is definitely this week's agenda, we should probably talk about smartwatches for a moment, mainly because this week came a report that Asus could be dropping its ZenWatch line after poor sales. While unconfirmed, one analyst from gap intelligence we spoke to said they thought the signs aren't good.

But smartwatches march on, it's just that fashion companies are making a better go at it. Just take a look at Sophie's roundup of all the Michael Kors wearables right now to see what I'm talking about.

And apropos of nothing mentioned above, you should also check out reporter Conor Allison's account of skydiving in VR, where he describes the terrifying experience of wearing a headset in a wind tunnel, and describes "gnarly" maneuvers. Is gnarly still a cool word? Don't ask me.



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