Technology advances not so much when it exhibits innovation, but when it becomes truly practical for everyday people. In 2016, we'll see an acceleration of that shift of technologies from the drawing board and geek-only curiosities to consumer devices that change our lives in ways small and big. Here are a handful of technologies that are on the cusp of major action in the coming year. For decades, artificial intelligence was a thing best understood by sci-fi fanatics and screenwriters. That started to change n 2011 with Apple's Siri voice assistant, but 2015 turned out to be a watershed year for computer algorithms that could ape human thought and interaction.
Alphabet's ( GOOGL) Google kicked off its I/O developers conference yesterday. While analysts and consumers alike want to hear about developments such as a virtual reality device to rival Facebook's ( FB) Oculus Rift headset and new and improved artificial intelligence software, the unveiling of another new gadget took over the headlines and has the potential to bring in some exciting profits for investors. Google Home is a "smart speaker" designed to compete with the Amazon (AMZN) Echo. The Echo, a voice-intelligent personal assistant, has been one of Amazon's biggest sleeper hits. Building on the sort of technology that powers the Apple (AAPL) iPhone Siri system, the Echo is a touch-free device that can answer questions and perform commands from switching on Spotify to turning on the house lights.
The iPhone maker has finally jumped into two of the hottest tech trends of the last two years -- augmented reality and voice-activated speakers, with a promise to dominate these markets pioneered by its rivals. Two years after Amazon introduced its sleeper hit Echo device, and a year after Google Home, Apple now has the voice-activated HomePod, a high-end music speaker priced at $349 that will be powered by Siri. That often maligned but widely used artificial intelligence assistant is also getting an upgrade, though for HomePod, Siri's main task is clear: play music. Apple also unveiled a new augmented reality developer kit that would help Apple app developers integrate this technology that overlays digital images on the physical world, made popular by Pokemon Go. Facebook and Google have been showcasing such distorted reality tech at their own demos, with plans to revolutionize commerce and communication.
But when I/O kicks off this Wednesday, expect Google's latest artificial intelligence efforts to be what everyone ends up talking about. If you've been paying attention over the last year or so, you've noticed that Google seems especially passionate about AI, injecting it into everything from search results to chat apps to the new Google Assistant for Android phones and the Google Home speaker. CEO Sundar Pichai has sounded especially bullish on the prospects for AI on recent company earnings calls and public interviews. That was just the beginning. Internally, Google sees AI as its next major platform after search and Android -- and it wants to give developers a way to get in early.
Google had plenty to announce during its event on Tuesday, including the debut of two new smartphones, the introduction of its first virtual reality headset, and more details about its Home smart speaker. Google's new smartphones, the Pixel and Pixel XL, are the first handsets to be designed and engineered in-house by the company. This is evident in the phone's design, which has a slicker, more premium glass and aluminum build than Google's previous Nexus phones. The Pixel devices are available in three colors and are available for preorder immediately. Google is flaunting the phones' improved camera and embedded intelligent assistant as their main draw.