The annual I/O conference is Google’s chance to get in touch with developers, and let the world know what direction they’re about to take. At the conference, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing new and innovative products or services from Google. This year may be different.
That’s not to say Google isn’t innovating. We’ve seen a lot of buildup leading into I/O, and a lot of products we’d otherwise see at the conference have come out already. Things like the Chromebook Pixel, which would traditionally make a grand appearance, had its own ceremony earlier this year. What could have been a coup de grace for I/O was instead given a smaller, quieter berth into the world.
Then we have the fresh discovery of Android 4.3. Nothing has been said in an official capacity, but its existence is undeniable. We were all set for Key Lime Pie, and now it seems another Jelly Bean iteration will come first. Not a problem, but also not what we were expecting.
So what can we expect? At this point, speculation will carry the day. Now that the schedule has come out, we’ve come to realize a clearer picture of what we may see, and what surprises may be in store. We’re also left with a lot of wiggle room, making us think some very big things are in the works.
Will we see Glass? It should make an appearance, but not like last year. The entire project is getting ready for rapid expansion, with the API having been released. As developers get more involved with Glass, we’ll begin to see more apps and services available for it… but it won’t be a huge I/O newsmaker. Expect to see it, but also expect it to be treated like part of the fold rather than a curiosity.
If 4.3 is the next step, it will likely be full of marginal improvements. Since Ice Cream Sandwich, Android is a very mature system, with not much room for major improvement. Tweaks like photosphere or lock screen widgets are great, but not a monumental improvement to the overall OS. Even if we were to see Key Lime Pie, it’s likely we’d end up with the same marginal improvements we’re likely to see with a Jelly Bean update, and would probably have been disappointed.
A new Jelly Bean also has the benefit of reducing fragmentation in the Android space, but that’s really not concerning. Fragmentation has to do with device specs more than anything else, so all the talk of fragmentation is really chatter about upgrading your device. Fragmentation concerns are probably not the reason for 4.3. If we see this new Jelly Bean variant, it will be for functionality with other services. If that is confusing, don’t worry… it will all make sense by the end.
Like Key Lime Pie, we coerced ourselves into believing the X phone was going to happen at I/O. It doesn’t seem likely, now. New benchmarks have given rise to fresh rumors, but it’s a little close to the main event for benchmarks and testing. The X phone was also rumored to usher in the Key Lime Pie era. If Key Lime Pie and the X phone are going to skip into our lives holding hands, we will probably not see either at I/O.
With the new management shakeup, two significant pieces were moved around the chessboard. Andy Rubin, the father of Android, left the product. We’ve no idea where he is going, or what project the “entrepreneur at heart” will task himself with, but it promises to be noteworthy. At their recent earnings call, Larry Page was asked what Andy would be doing next. In answering, Larry had to bite his tongue:
He really decided it was time to hand over the reins and start a new chapter at Google. And we actually have an outside – we haven’t said what that is and I’m not going to make news today on that.
An outside… something… for a new project. What an interesting comment. That leaves more questions than answers, but Larry seems to think it’s newsworthy. It also hints that whatever Andy is set to do next may not be cloaked behind the X Labs doors. A shame, really… I was hoping for that elevator to space.
Then we have Sundar Pichai, who now heads up both Android and Chrome. A big job, but one he is uniquely qualified for. His turn at the wheel of both ships may also signify why there is one keynote speech. In years past, we’ve had two: day one focussed on Android, day two was Chrome. That’s not to say Sundar can’t give two speeches, but it does make for some interesting lead-in to the sessions.
At I/O, there are always smaller breakout discussions meant for developers to get tucked in about their chosen topic. Everything from Android to Maps have sessions, but this year teases a bit more than we’re being told. There is a lot of empty space on day three, making us wonder if new announcements will mean more sessions that day.
In examining the schedule, it also seems gaming is a popular topic this year. Just about every session category has gaming involved. If we connect some dots, Google seems keen to have developers create a rich, cloud based gaming environment for us all. It’s great to see, but why so much gaming? That leads us to our next stop on this mystery tour.
Google TV has been conspicuous in its absence. No presence on Twitter, Facebook… or even Google+ in 2013. They were diligently active on all fronts, then quietly disappeared. What seemed like such a big part of Google’s push forward has gone AWOL.
Should we be prepared for a refocused Google TV platform? There is no indication of such, but with the Asus Cube making its debut… we’d like to think the service at least has some life left in it. If Google were going to shutter TV, it’s doubtful they’d let a manufacturer push forward with a new device. Then, of course, there are all those sessions focussed on gaming.
Speculation abounds, but we can plainly see that I/O has a bit of a gaming undertone. An updated Android, a possible Google TV rebirth, and tons of gaming sessions that span all manner of platforms. Perhaps we’ll see Google TV as a gaming console, with your Android device acting as the controller. Remember that Chrome experiment a few weeks ago, where your phone controlled the ball travelling through the maze in your browser? A fun little feature at the time, but perhaps more poignant than we knew.
There is also news that Google has hired Noah Falstein as their “Chief Game Designer”. No lightweight to gaming, Falstein has been around the genre for…. well, ever. You don’t hire someone of that caliber unless you’re serious about making a big push. If anyone can transcend tradition and usher gaming to the next level, it’s Falstein at Google.
If we don’t get Key Lime Pie or the Motorola X phone, we can safely assume that I/O is getting back to its roots. This conference is meant for developers, and as much as we like new toys… those are both better suited for the fall Nexus launch. We’ve also heard nothing about a new Nexus 7, or even Nexus 10. Again, both best suited for the fall.
Google I/O is about Google, and development. I hope it stays that way. Babel is prime for delivery, but that could be more relief than exuberance for us. Google appears to have found a nice balance between innovation and stability, which is needed moving forward. Whatever Google has in store for I/O, we’re sure it will be subtly brilliant.