It’s Google I/O time again, the time of year when the Internet giant holds its annual developers’ conference in San Francisco, showing off the cool stuff its army of engineers have been working on for the past 12 months.
The event, which will take place on Thursday and Friday, draws thousands of attendees, all eager to hear from Google’s top brass — CEO Larry Page gave an impassioned and much-discussed talk about the state of the tech industry in 2013 — learn about the latest products, and get their hands on the free swag that Google typically doles out (last year, attendees got two free Android Wear smartwatches).
Google hasn’t said who will be speaking at this year’s event, though it’s a safe bet that Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai, recently promoted to be Google’s head of products, will be leading the show. And while Google hasn’t discussed which products will get the spotlight, we’ve put together a likely list.
The star of the show is likely to be Google’s Android operating system, especially if Google unveils the next version of the software, dubbed Android M.
(Android versions are named in alphabetical order, with the current L version more commonly known as Android Lollipop. M could stand for any dessert — our bet is on Marshmallow, Milk Shake, or Mentos.)
Buzzfeed reported it could include a fingerprint unlocking feature, which could allow Android smartphones to match the iPhone capability that allows users to unlock the phone just by putting a finger on a special sensor.
The new Android could also provide users with more control over the personal information that individual apps access, enhanced support for voice commands, and built-in support for one-tap mobile payments through a new Android Pay feature, according to press reports.
Google could fold some of the new features into an update to the existing Lollipop version of Android rather than launching the brand new M version. A reference to Android M was spotted in the description of a session on the Google I/O calendar, but was promptly removed after news reports spread.
The Internet of Things is a goofy name, but as a technology trend it’s hot right now. The idea is that PCs and smartphones are not the only things that should connect to the Internet. Your fridge, washing machine, car, and even the lights in your bathroom could all be so much better if they were hooked up to a network so they could exchange data and be controlled remotely.
Google wants to help define this new interconnected world. Google purchased Nest, the maker of smart home appliances for $US3.2 billion last year.
But according to The Information, Google has another Internet of Things play up its sleeve called Brillo. Basically Brillo would provide a common platform for electronic devices to interconnect. The technology will be especially well-suited for low-powered electronic devices that don’t have a screen, according to The Information.
Competition to control the emerging Internet of Things is going to be tough: Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung are all working on technology too.
Mystery bluetooth device — Glass 2.0 or something else?
Google likes to take the wraps off new gadgets at I/O. Some turn out to be big hits, such as the $US200 Nexus 7 tablet launched in 2012.
Others, not so much. Witness the orb-shaped Q streaming media player, unveiled with great fanfare at the same 2012 conference, and then killed before ever landing on store shelves.
Glass is another interesting example: Google unveiled the device with an over-the-top skydiver/BMX bike sequence at I/O in 2012. But Glass never caught on with the general public and in January, Google halted sales of the consumer version of Glass, noting that it was time for a “strategy reset.”
So what’s this year’s surprise gadget?
One tantalising clue can be found in an April filing that Google made with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The filing is for a product identified only as “A4R-CAP1” and refers to a “Smart BLE device,” which means a smart bluetooth low-energy device. Most of the information in the filing is redacted.
But one detail that bloggers have homed in on is the description of the device’s e-label. Some noted that the description for accessing the table — users swipe left-to-right and bottom-to-top to access certain information — sounded a lot like the way Glass is used, theorizing that this could be the first sighting of Glass 2.0.
Business Insider recently reported that the Glass team now appears to be working on traditional eyewear as well as “other related devices.” So the mystery Bluetooth device could be one of various potential new products created by the Glass team.
Or, given that Google also has initiatives in TV, virtual reality and other gadgets, A4R-CAP1 could be something else entirely.
Google made waves last year with its Cardboard virtual reality headset. As the name suggests, the product is actually a just cardboard shell that houses a user’s smartphone. With special software on the phone, the cardboard-smartphone combo becomes a makeshift VR headset. It’s a simple trick that gave Google a foot in the emerging VR market, which could become increasingly important for gaming, entertainment and even shopping.
But with Facebook’s Oculus now set to release its Oculus VR headset in 2016 and Microsoft pushing forward with HoloLens, Google may decide it needs to make a bigger push into virtual reality. A Wall Street Journal report in March said Google is working on a special version of Android for virtual reality.
Google and Apple both have their sights set on the ultimate mobile device: the automobile.
Google’s Android Auto had its coming out party at last year’s I/O, with partnership announcements with carmakers and demos showcasing its capabilities. Android Auto currently requires that a driver plug their Android smartphone into the car to access all the features, but Google also wants to embed Android directly into the car. The Google I/O calendar has a couple of developer sessions focused on the car, such as “Designing for Driving” and “Getting your app on the road with Android Auto.”
The battle for the wrist is now underway, with Apple’s recently released Watch challenging the first crop of smartwatches based on Google’s Android Wear.
The Android Wear watches, which began shipping last summer, have not made a huge splash in the market and Apple’s entry into the business means the pressure will be on Google to jumpstart its wearables effort. New hardware partners, better battery life and enhancements to the Google Fit health-tracking software are among the expected improvements, according to some reports.
Another interesting theory is that Google could make a version of Google Now, its personal assistant technology, for Apple’s Watch.
Photo sharing, minus the Plus
A new online photo sharing and storage service may be in the offing, according to a recent report in Bloomberg. The new service would apparently be separate from Google+, the struggling social network that has until now served as the hub for many of Google’s photo sharing and storage features.
In fact, Google+ has been something of a question mark since the group’s boss Vic Gundotra left the company in 2014. In March, Google’s Bradley Horowitz announced that he was leading Google’s “photos and streams products.” The launch of a standalone photo service will raise more questions about the future of Google+.
We’ll be at the show on Thursday — the first keynote kicks off at 9:30 am local time (PT) — and Friday, so check back then to see all the news.