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Google’s I/O Is a Little Like Disneyland, and a Little Like a Garage Sale

Mario Queiroz introduces Google Home during the Google I/O 2016 I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, CaliforniaMario Queiroz introduces Google Home during the Google I/O 2016 I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California
Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google, introduces Google Home during the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, Calif., on May 18.Stephen Lam — Reuters

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There are a number of places where geeks like to congregate and spend time with their own people. Star Trek conventions, for example. But if you’re a certain kind of nerd, one of the invitations you most want to get is to Google’s I/O, the annual developer conference where the web giant talks about all of the cool new things it is working on.

Arguably the pinnacle of I/O experiences happened in 2012, when four skydivers in wingsuits jumped out of a blimp wearing Google Glass headsets, and live-streamed their descent to the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The latest version of the conference wasn’t quite that exciting, but it was a great example of how Google (GOOG) continues to simultaneously be one of the most interesting and also one of the most frustrating companies out there.

On the interesting side, Google announced a competitor to Amazon’s popular Echo home-automation hub called Google Home, which lets you search the web and play music by simply saying “OK, Google.” Yes, something with a human name like Alexa or Siri might have been a bit more interesting, but hey, this is Google we’re talking about.

Google also announced a couple of innovations designed to improve the lives of smartphone users (and boost Google’s market position). One is a smarter version of Google Now called Assistant, and the other is Android Instant Apps, which allows users to access certain features of mobile apps without having to install them.

And on the frustrating side? Well, to take just one example, the company announced a new messaging app called Allo, and a new video-calling app called Duo. But doesn’t Google already have a couple of messaging apps? Yup. There’s Messenger and Hangouts. And doesn’t one of them do video calling? It sure does. So why do we need new ones? A good question, and one that wasn’t really answered at I/O as far as we could tell.

Google’s virtual reality ambitions.

There’s arguably no other company doing as many cool things on the web and mobile as Google. And yet there’s also probably no other company that shoves as many half-baked things out the door that will inevitably wind up being mothballed. Experimentation is good, but it can be frustrating as heck. On the upside though, all we have to do is wait until next year’s Google I/O, when we’ll get a bunch more cool new apps!