Google I/O is like Disneyland for Android users. It’s so fun and so chaotic. It’s the one time a year you can don a silly alien-eared Android cap and your weirdest Android t-shirts while simultaneously sitting in on sessions hosted by the engineers who work on your favorite technology. And even if you can’t enjoy Google I/O in person, Google makes makes the keynote and many of the sessions available online so you can still be a part of the experience.
We all know that with every I/O keynote, Google has a few surprises up its sleeve. Here are some of the announcements we expect from the company onstage at its annual developer’s conference, and a few suggestions for what we really hope to see.
We had a fleeting bit of confirmation that Android M would make its debut at Google I/O when a session description made mention of it, but that was quickly pulled once Google realized we had all caught on. Still, we can expect Google to debut Android M during the keynote, as evidenced by some of the sessions already posted. Besides, Google always announces the new version of Android at its big summer conference.
Google will also most certainly reprise its strategy from last year: seed a beta version of the Android source code to developers long before its official launch in the fall. Hopefully, something will be done to ensure that Android M rolls out more quickly to the vast majority of Android users, because it has taken way too long for Lollipop to hit most phones and tablets.
Games in your living room
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Google is making a huge play for your living room—and not just for streaming content. The Chromecast is great (and we may hear of its sequel at Google I/O), but it seems Google has even bigger plans for Android TV, which aims to bring its vast library of Android-powered games and apps to your living room.
Google’s serious about this, too. It’s introduced features that gamers actually care about, like preorders for applications (read: games) and new multiplayer features. There’s even A/B testing abilities coming soon to help developers determine how best to sell apps in the Google Play Store. The idea seems to be to transform the Android platform into more of a premium, cross-platform gaming experience rather than a reductive one—like the OUYA console, for instance.
There’s no doubt we’ll hear more about this during the keynote—and Nvidia’s Shield Android TV console, too, which might really help in this particular initiative. The Android-powered gaming machine was announced back in February with 16 gigs of storage, and a 500GB version made a brief cameo on Amazon recently. It's due for release any moment now; we’re secretly hoping that it's the gadget Google plans to dole out to developers this year to inspire them to make more powerful mobile games.
If Google really wants you to play games on Android TV powered devices in the living room, it'll need to step up its game. Tablet-quality games on the big screen isn't going to generate enough buzz to sell millions of $100-300 set-top boxes. They need bigger, fancier AAA games, and the powerful hardware of the Shield Android TV is a great tip of the spear to make that happen.
Project Ara and Tango
Google holds a separate developers conference for Project Ara because the technology is so new and experimental. We may not see much of an update on it at I/O—I don’t recall that we did last year, either—though there will likely be some heavy developer recruitment at the conference to help build up Google’s future-facing modular smartphone. As the modular phones approach their initial release, the likelihood of hearing something substantial about it at Google I/O increases.
Project Tango is a different story. Last year, Google offered a Sandbox for developers to come play with its 3D-mapping tablet. Johnny Lee, technical program lead for the project, was seen hanging around on the show floor, giving demos to anyone eager to try it out. Shortly after the conference, there was news that we’d see a consumer-ready version of the product from LG, though it’s nowhere to be found.
So what’s going on with Project Tango? Hopefully Google will reveal a little something during the keynote. The company will definitely tell us something at the Project Tango panel on Friday, May 29. I’ll be there to report on it.
With all this talk of gaming and immersive virtual worlds, Google’s bound to make some announcements regarding its Cardboard platform. It’s affordable, it’s accessible, and all you need is a cardboard contraption to see the future. Just don’t expect too much; Google just hired a new boss for its VR division and it seems too early for the company to have something really big to announce at Google I/O.
Google may well be working on an Android-based platform specifically for VR, and might even announce such a thing at the conference, but it's almost certainly too early for details. Still, it’d be nice to see more games and content announced that work with Cardboard.
Android Auto is alive and buggy—you can read all about my first drive with it here. I’m still working on the full review, which we’ll post after the developer’s conference.
You might be wondering why I’m spending so much time with Android Auto, and that’s because I can tell Google is really committed to it—something that was quite apparent when I had my demo in Mountain View a few weeks ago.
Back in December, Ars Technica reported that Android M was actually going to bring with it some new, more immersive infotainment features when used as the operating system for car infotainment systems. Maybe Google will talk about those during the keynote, or maybe it’ll announce some new automobile partnerships.
Or maybe it won’t. Maybe it will focus all its efforts at this year’s developers conference to recruit more apps for Android Auto. That’d be nice, considering how limited the app selection is now.
It’s been quite a year for Android Wear. After numerous device launches and a few significant software updates, Android Wear has really matured.
But it still has quite a journey ahead of it. For example, we’re anxious to find out whether or not Google will launch iOS compatibility for the platform. There’s been so much hinting about that particular feature that it almost seems like a sure bet. Can you imagine what that will do to iOS users? Think of all the choice they’ll have!
We’re also hoping that Motorola plans to add to Android Wear’s device arsenal by using Google I/O to reveal its next-generation Moto 360. The watch has gotten so cheap online, it’s bound to see a successor any day now.
An Internet of Things platform
The Internet of Things is becoming more than just a buzzworthy catchphrase to place in headlines. It’s now a veritable platform of its own (that’s what our sister site, TechHive, is all about!) and Google wants a piece of the pie. The Information reported that Google will announce more details for its Internet of Things software, code-named “Brillo,” at Google I/O:
Google is likely to release the software under the Android brand, as the group developing the software is linked to the company’s Android unit. The lower memory requirements for devices running the new software would mark a sharp drop from the latest versions of Android, which are primarily aimed at mobile phones with at least 512 megabytes of memory.
If you’ve been following closely, you’ll realize that it all makes so much sense. Google’s been heading this direction for a long time. Last year, it came out with a bang announcing Android on everything—in your car, in your living room, on your phone, and on your wrist. Now it’s time for phase two, which includes connecting the things you didn’t even realize could be connected: Your toaster. Your fridge. Your thermostat. Your lights.
This isn’t the first time Google’s tried to insert itself into your home, either. Android @Home was supposed to inspire that kind of synergetic connectivity within your abode, but it failed to take off.
I’ve personally been waiting for this to take flight since Google bought Nest last year. I can’t wait to see what they’ve decided to do with it.
It’s not like you didn’t see this coming. We haven’t heard much about Google+ since Vic Gundotra left last year, and now there’s some hearsay that Google’s is ditching Google+ in favor of a standalone photo service—kind of like what Picasa used to be, except with a bit more of a social networking element to it. However, that social network will embrace Twitter and Facebook rather than be exclusively tied to Google+.
The rumor makes sense, given the incredible recent overhaul of Snapseed and recent acquisition of Odysee, but it’ll be interesting to see what Google plans to do with Google+ after all this time.
What else do you want to see?
Did you notice that I conspicuously left Google Glass of this year’s list? I don’t believe that Google will do much with Glass this year at I/O. It’s been missing for some time now, and before Google can do anything with it again, it’ll need more development time. Google's hard at work turning Glass into a real consumer platform, but it can't make the mistake it made the first time around—over-promising a revolution, and only delivering a compromised developer platform that doesn't live up to the hype. Google Glass will be back, but probably at its own event.
Besides that, is there anything else you want to see come out of Google I/O? Leave us a comment, and remember that even if you’re not attending, you can watch along with PCWorld and Greenbot, or at Google’s official portal for the event. Either way, stay tuned, because there’s going to be a lot more coming to an Android device near you.