On the heels of Apple’s WWDC and its software announcements, Google will soon be having its own annual conference for developers. Just as Apple’s announcements have a habit of making waves in the tech community, Google has dropped all kinds of big announcements at I/O. We’ve rounded up some of the hottest rumors so you know what to look forward to later this month.
First, you might want a taste of what has happened at this event before. Here are some highlights from last year:
- Google Hangouts debuts as Talk successor
- Google Play Music All Access subscription service debuts
- Major Google Maps redesign on desktop and mobile
- First Google Play Edition phone announced (Samsung Galaxy S4)
- Chromebook Pixel unveiled
Of course, beyond those headliner announcements, Google talked to developers about the behind-the-scenes things matter to them.
At previous I/O conferences, which have happened annually since 2008, we’ve seen a variety of other milestone announcements. The first I/O, in 2008, is where Google formally introduced Android as we know it. Subsequent iterations have been home to more significant announcements than we can list, with things like Google Now, Google Glass, Nexus 7, the Chrome Web Store, and Android versions 2.2, 3, and 4.1 being unveiled at I/O events in the past.
What will we see this year? It’s, of course, impossible to know, but we’ll take a stab at it. There are some near certainties, where we’re just waiting on specifics, and other potential announcements that are mere speculation.
Very likely to be announced
- Android Wear goodies
Though Android Wear was already announced earlier this year, Google I/O is the perfect venue to see a more finished product and maybe even some hardware. The original release dates for the LG G Watch and Moto 360 were targeted for this summer, so it makes good sense that they could show up here as well. Google often gives away a bunch of free devices to the attendees, so what better way to get developers programming for Android Wear than give several thousand of them free devices and then have them sit through hours of how-to talks?
This is a big potential get for Google, as Apple disappointed onlookers by being conspicuously quiet on their upcoming iWatch at the WWDC last week. If Google can beat Apple to the punch, they can win the PR battle of “inventing” the smart watch, though neither one will have quite done that. The market is waiting for a big splash in this segment that is truly useful, affordable, and cool.
- Google Stars bookmarking service for desktop, possibly mobile
Google seems to have accidentally posted their long-rumored Google Stars extension to the Chrome Web Store for just a few minutes, which was long enough for someone to grab it, upload it to the web, and allow the tech blogosphere to run rampant with it. It is easy to overstate what Google Stars is – it is basically a feature-rich bookmarks/favorites extension, unless there is much more to it that we have yet to see. We have so far just seen a version that is an available extension for the Chrome browser, which would also potentially limit its appeal.
Nonetheless, it appears to be a true added value to the normal bookmarking feature. It takes the tagging features that Firefox users are probably used to and packages them in a more appealing interface that should make adoption easier. Google has also made sharing a part of the extension, perhaps with a vision for making Stars a link-sharing platform that doesn’t have the same time sensitivity that Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter have.
- Google Now feature updates
On the Android platform, there is nothing as distinctively useful, unique, and uniquely Google as Google Now. It was inspired by no predecessor and has consistently delivered on its promise of being a useful, intuitive, and yet unobtrusive digital assistant. While new features seem to be cropping up on a weekly basis, like its new feature that automatically notes where you last parked, expect some announcements on Google Now at I/O. The main question is whether the announcements will be big or small. We know that bill reminders are coming, for instance, but that probably isn’t worthy of a keynote.
- Android TV
The Verge got its hands on some Android TV prototypes earlier this year, but we haven’t seen anything new since. The apparent successor to the failed Google TV looks promising, but we would have said the same of Google TV when it was announced. To compete with Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox One, and the plethora of Smart TV platforms out there, Google will have to knock this one out of the park. While it isn’t their style, they might have to make their own hardware for this one to work out the way they want it to.
As The Verge writes, “Android TV is no longer a crazy attempt to turn your TV into a bigger, more powerful smartphone.” Their mockups and uncovered documents detail a platform that is simple, easy-to-use, and stop way short of trying to reinvent or fix the way televisions are used. It leverages something Google has proven to do well with Google Now, which is tell users what they are looking for before they even look for it. Rather than be a “dumb” list of apps, Android TV aims to give content suggestions that make media consumption easier.
Some evidence/logic suggests an announcement
- Android 4.5/5.0
It’s been a while now since Google introduced Android 4.4, which took the confection nicknames to a new level with the co-marketing from Kit Kat. While there is little out there about what the next major OS update will include, timing suggests something may be imminent.
Perhaps Google can take something out of the Apple toolkit and focus on a graphical refresh rather than making big functionality changes. While the so-called “holo” interface is nice enough, it is getting a bit stale. Taking a note from recent UI updates to services like Google Plus and the leaked images of a redesigned Gmail could leave clues as to what the next major Android version might look like.
The main reason I hesitate to fully endorse the “major Android update” rumor is that Google has begun a habit of launching new software with new Nexus hardware…
- Nexus 8
With the aforementioned rumor in mind, it might be about time to unveil a new Nexus tablet. While the Nexus 7 is still probably the best tablet on the market, there’s always room for innovation. Google is expected to wisely take a step into the 8″ market segment, where many believe the tablet market as a whole will settle. It is a size that is a good compromise of portability and usefulness while definitely not being confused for a phone.
Past rumors have suggested that HTC may be the hardware manufacturing partner behind this one and there are examples within Google code updates that suggest a new Nexus device is on the way. The main question is whether I/O will be the place for such an announcement. Android Geeks recently reported a rumor from a Google employee who believed Nexus 8 and Android 4.5 update announcements are near, so there is definitely something to this idea.
- Android Silver to overtake Nexus and Google Play Edition programs
A particularly intriguing rumor that has been floating around for a few months is that in the near future, perhaps after the next Nexus 8 announcement, Google will bring an end to the Nexus program. Looking at the competition, Apple, and their ability to exert absolute control over the hardware running their software, Google would probably like to make a move in that direction.
That doesn’t mean Google wants to be Apple – they are still a services firm. But rolling out timely updates and ensuring a good and consistent user experience across devices is clearly a priority. Nexus devices have put pressure on other device makers to deliver an experience that does not depart too greatly from the “vanilla” Android one.
The Information broke this one, detailing Google’s desire to create a more thriving upper-echelon market segment among Android devices in favor of Nexus phones, whose place and role in the smartphone market was never clear. When Android Police followed up on this report, they reported moderate confidence in the Android Silver rumor, saying that they have legitimate sources and Google was seriously contemplating the idea but details are sparse and plans could still change.
The rumor centers around the idea that Google would endorse a select few devices with “Silver” status, so long as they meet a set of expectations and specifications. One of these is that the departures from “vanilla” Android must be few and far between. Further, the devices must be flagship, top-of-the-market phones or tablets; Silver is not for the budget segment.
Further, Silver buyers will get access to priority customer service from Google. One such feature will be something like Amazon’s “mayday” button, for on-demand assistance. There will also be added support for migrating contacts, texts, call logs, and the like to the new Silver device from a variety of other devices. Could I/O be the place this is all rolled out?
- Project Ara details
Project Ara is a well-publicized project by Google that might well be described as the Android of hardware. Just as Android was and is an open source project built on user collaboration and customization, Project Ara tries to bring that mindset to the handset. The end products of Project Ara will be very cheap skeleton phones that have extremely simple upgradeability via “modules.”
For instance, you could buy the $50 base model, then choose between 2G, 3G, 4G, and LTE radios, several levels of processors, different RAM amounts, and simply plug those components into the frame which is designed to accommodate a variety of components. Below is a promotional image from Project Ara of what some prototypes look like.
The original target release date for the first Project Ara devices was January 2015, so more details about the progress of this Google-owned initiative would hardly be surprising. There is a lot of potential good for mankind and Google both in Project Ara, so seeing it reach feasibility will be very interesting.
People can exercise much more control over their devices with this sort of system, spending what they want, as they want. Likewise, it makes Android the perfect operating system of the future, as it was designed to work on any device rather than just specific advices like the closed-source iOS and Windows Phone.
GeekSided will be staying on top of all the rumors as we get nearer to Google I/O 2014 and we’re the place to go for coverage of the event as it happens. Check the I/O 2014 tag to stay on top of all the latest updates. I/O will be on June 25 and 26.
Tags: Android Android Silver Android Tv Android Wear Google Google I/o Google Now Google Stars HTC I/o I/o 2014 Lg Lg G Watch Modular Phones Moto 360 Motorola Nexus Nexus 8 Project Ara Rumors Smartwatches Technology