Google I/O preview: what to expect from the biggest Google event of the year

June 23, 2014
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Google I/O is starting on Wednesday, and this year, we have tons of exciting stuff to look forward to.

I/O may be a developer-centric conference, but the event has always been a celebration of all things Google more than anything else. And boy, there’s a lot to celebrate. Android is taking over the world, making the jump from smartphones and tablets to the fast growing field of wearables, to autos, to smart home systems, and your living room. And that’s just on the Android front – from self-driving cars, to Chrome OS, to balloons in the sky, to computers on your face, Google’s projects are amazingly prolific and bold.

Let’s briefly go through some of the developments that are likely to happen at Google I/O this year.

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Android Wear and Google Glass

Android Wear, an implementation of Android designed specifically for smartwatches and other wearable devices, will likely be center stage at Google I/O 2014. The conference schedule includes several Wear-focus sessions, and multiple reports suggest that LG and possibly Motorola will fully reveal their smartwatches at the conference. The LG G Watch in particular seems like a safe bet, as sources told us Google will be giving away a G Watch to every conference attendant.

Besides the G Watch and the Moto 360, Samsung is also said to be showing its own Android Wear smartwatch at Google I/O, though we have no details on it. It’s possible that other Wear partners will join in the fun (Asus, HTC?), but that’s just speculation.

Will I/O 2014 mark Glass’ full public debut? There haven’t been leaks about it, and the conference session doesn’t seem to suggest a big Glass push this year. But Glass just launched officially in the United Kingdom, so it’s possible that Google I/O will bring some more good news for international users.

Philips Android TV

Phillips take on an Android-powered television set.

Android TV and Google’s set-top-box

Having a solid foothold in the living room is crucial for any digital ecosystem to thrive, and Google has long tried to establish itself in this area. Google TV has failed, and the Chromecast, while relatively successful, is too basic to form the backbone of a living room stack. Have no fear, Android TV is coming to the rescue.

Android TV is rumored to be Android adapted to large screens, in a way Google TV never was

Android TV is rumored to be Android adapted to large screens, in a way Google TV never was. Instead of Google TV’s tablet-like interface, Android TV will feature content in scrollable tile stacks that should be way easier to navigate with a simple remote. There will be all the apps you’d expect from a smart set-top-box, including access to the Play Store, and content from big providers like Netflix and Pandora. Gaming will be a big component of Android TV, leaked screenshots have shown, and it’s possible that Android TV devices will come with Bluetooth controllers, either bundled or offered as separate accessories.

Code found on Google’s servers suggests that the company is working on its own Android TV device. Presumably codenamed “molly”, this device may be a reference set-top-box in the vein of Nexus devices, though we don’t know if Google will launch it as “Nexus TV”.

Past rumors said Android TV/Nexus TV would launch at Google I/O, but there aren’t any sessions at I/O overtly covering developing for TVs, which may be a sign that Google isn’t ready yet to show Android TV. But session schedule isn’t a perfect predictor of I/O announcements, so Android TV remains on our list.

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Android in the car

There was little news on the auto front since Google and several global carmakers announced the Open Automotive Alliance back in January. That could change on Wednesday, according to one report, which claims Google will introduce Auto Link, a feature that will allow drivers to control their Android smartphones with the controls in their cars.

It doesn’t make much sense to build embedded operating systems for cars, when you can simply project a phone’s interface to the in-dashboard touchscreen and make it driver friendly. We first heard about this “projected mode” in a Mercedes job listing from March, and incidentally, Apple is taking the same approach with the CarPlay initiative.

Google will probably announce Auto Link at Google I/O, but don’t expect to hear any announcements about specific car models that will use the technology.

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New Android version? New Nexus tablet?

Things complicate a bit when it comes to the chance of seeing a new Android version announced at I/O. Google typically releases major Android versions alongside a reference device, usually a smartphone. This year, HTC is rumored to make a Nexus 9 tablet, but that will only launch in Q4 2014, so it’s unlikely that Google will come up the long-awaited L-release at I/O this week.

We can’t really rule out a smaller point release though, and a preview of features coming in a future update is possible as well.

We don’t expect new Nexus hardware, but Google may offer some information on Android Silver, the program that will reportedly replace Nexus devices starting in early 2015. The cat is already out of the bag, with several outlets reporting on it, so Google might as well come clean.

Quantum Paper Google Design

Design changes and new features

There’s been a lot of talk lately about a big redesign coming to Google’s apps, that would bring a more consistent look across Android, web, and iOS. Dubbed Quantum Paper, the initiative could be announced at I/O, along with tools for designers and developers to implement the new guidelines.

Judging from the sessions, design will be a main focus of I/O this year. Even Matias Duarte, head of Android UX, hinted at a design-centric I/O edition and encouraged designers to attend the conference. Moreover, Duarte talked about his belief that mobile, as the central focus of UX designers, is dead, and that future UI implementations from Google will scale across screen sizes, from smartwatches to big screen TVs.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about a big redesign coming to Google’s apps

But it’s not all design – Google may be rolling out a new fitness-focused backend service similar to Play Games, that would make it simpler for app developers to tap into the data collected by fitness gear. Another rumored feature that could come even without an OS update is wider support for Google Now voice commands.

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All the other cool stuff

Project Tango, Project Ara, driverless cars project, Nest, Chrome OS, Project Loon, smart contact lenses, Google Now, the list goes on and on. Google has dozens of ongoing projects, ranging from intriguing to the downright futuristic. And that’s without counting the wonders coming out of the Google X skunkworks, of which we hope to see something new and amazing this week.

Android Authority at Google I/O

As usual, expect round the clock coverage of all the new and interesting stuff coming out of Google I/O. This year, we only have Josh Vergara on the ground in San Francisco, but rest assured that Josh is perfectly capable of delivering some amazing videos all by himself. The rest of the team will at home, glued to the monitors, watching the livestream and reporting on all the announcements as they come.

What are you excited the most this year at Google I/O?

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