With WWDC behind us and Microsoft's Surface tablet out of the bag, it's Google's turn to take the lid off its latest. Its annual I/O developer conference, which kicks off today at 12:30EST, should offer a heaping buffet of new products and software developments. But let's start with the usual amuse-bouche: a crapload of rumors. So what might I/O bring this year?
Jelly Bean a.k.a. Android 4.1
Here's as close to a lock as you'll get: Android's latest tasty OS reboot. Originally thought to be called Android 5.0, the latest rumors have tipped that Jelly Bean is actually more of an incremental update from Ice Cream Sandwich, thus the 4.1. It's not entirely clear what features it will be packing, but there are reports of better battery life, improved search bar, and Chrome as a native browser. It's supposed to appear on Android devices by the end of 2012; hopefully that means lots of Android devices, and not just the latest Nexus. If there's one thing Google and its hardware partners need to work on, it's getting its handsets up to speed quickly.
Google's more than 50 Android OEM partners should be a little nervous over this one; a Google-branded tablet—built by Asus—has been one of the most pervasive and long-standing rumors surrounding I/O. The latest reports tip a 7-inch Tegra 3 device running on Android Jellybean, Google's next-gen mobile operating system. It's supposed to be the first piece of hardware to run on Jelly Bean. Believed to be named Nexus 7, the tablet will be priced around $200, the sweet spot for it to compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire.
Need more proof that this is coming? An Asus exec reportedly confirmed its existence—and imminent arrival—this morning.
Android Entertainment Device
This would be something meant to challenge AirPlay and Sonos, a gadget that would let you stream music and perhaps video in the home, and control it through a tablet or smartphone app. It would be the first piece of hardware from Google's Android@Home division, which was announced at I/O last year but so far hasn't produced any actual products. All this possible hardware news portends of a bit of a shift for Google, which hasn't ever been a gadget maker. Though the purchase of Motorola might have changed all that.
Google Maps for iOS
At WWDC Apple officially broke up with Google as its default maps provider. Cupertino has its own maps baked into iOS 6, which means it would make sense for Google at the most to debut a standalone app for Apple gadgets, and at the very least to release an iOS SDK.
A Reboot for Google TV
Google TV hasn't exactly caught on. But there's supposedly a significant makeover coming to Google TV, and I/O is its coming out party. There's not a lot of solid intel on this one, but it could (and should) include new content partnerships, more OEMs on board, and a revamped interface.
An Answer to Siri
If the other popular kids have something, well dammit Google has to have it too. This means Google may well have a Siri competitor in the hopper. Possibly called Google Assistant, the voice control system would, of course, work on Android devices. Google's voice recognition technology is no joke, and Siri's spotty performance makes it low-hanging fruit.
Name the last time you saw Google Wallet anywhere. Duane Reade maybe? While in theory it's a convenient system, it hasn't been embraced. So Google might be reworking it, moving away from NFC and toward a cloud-based payment system, in the style of PayPal.
We've already seen Google's futuristic (and dumb-looking) augmented reality specs in action. Sergey Brin has been parading them around, and a video shot with the frames has also been released. Google's not going to make the glasses available at I/O—they're not expected until next year—but there's a good chance they'll give developers a closer look.
Because Google apparently wants to be everything for everyone, it's prepping a cloud services platform, a la Amazon EC2. This rent-a-server platform is something that doesn't really affect John Q. Consumer, as it's aimed primarily at enterprise developers. Booooring.
Door Number Two?
As WWDC and Microsoft's last-minute Surface unveiling demonstrated quite emphatically, events like these almost always hold a surprise or three. Last year, it was Android@Home. This year? Impossible to say. But what we do know is that Google has demonstrated near-limitless ambition since Larry Page took over as CEO, and a willingness to test all kinds of waters. We'll be covering the announcements live as they happen in just a few hours. Frankly, we can't wait to see what's in store.