Google I/O is the annual tech holiday for all fandroids and lovers of Mountain View moonshots. It’s a software party mostly, so check your new hardware expectations at the door. It’s a full two days for Google to showcase the future—or at least the next 12 months—and it all starts today.
Considering Google has wedged itself into every part of our lives from high speed internet and the smartphones in our pockets, to the way we consume information on the internet and drive cars, we can’t possibly foresee everything Google might announce. But we’ve collected all the rumors and announcements from Gizmodo dot com and other trusted sites around the web to piece together a rough guess of what you’ll hear about this week. A lot of these are rumors, so read with some healthy speculation.
Android M (Muffin, Marshmallow, M&M, Macadamia Nut Cookie?)
Last year’s I/O saw an ambitious reimagining of Android with its Material Design makeover. This year probably won’t see anything nearly as exciting. In fact, if iOS 9 hearsay holds true, this might be the year of stability and security updates for both iPhone and Android.
Rumors have it that Google may be trying to wrench some of the security control out of developers hands and make permissions, like access to your camera or location, an opt-in choice for users. It’s a thing that used to be called app ops, and it means you could decide just exactly how many permissions you want to let apps have on your smartphone. Could this limit functionality? Most definitely, but it’s an important choice that should be available to everyone. This means customizing apps, security, and privacy to what you want, which is kind of the entire promise of Android in the first place.
Google may also be playing catchup to Apple and Samsung by finally introducing official fingerprint sensor support for Android, allowing apps to take full advantage of biometric authentication.
Google is also kind of obsessed with making the internet and technology as kid-friendly as possible —even if it’s not doing the greatest job ever. With obvious early indoctrination benefits (and nabbing some valuable data), Android just miiiiiight be creating a kids version of Android if this opt-in Google Play email (note the date) is to be believed, which would most likely limit app accessibility to certain ratings in the Google Play store.
And lastly, we’re also hearing that Google wants to work on Android’s battery life—specifically by trying to make it suck less. Android Police says RAM and battery usage will be a big focus for M, improving how much apps are nomming on battery life when your phone is idle. Yes. Just yes.
Also, let’s talk about that name. All we really know, of course, is that it’s M—an alphabetical Android tradition that will eventually morph into some delicious candy or dessert. The current testing name is MNC, which stands for Macadamia Nut Cookie, but will most likely change once Google’s next-generation Nexus smartphones are ready this fall. My money is on Muffin, personally.
More Mobile Payments
At I/O, Google may turn its attention to mobile payments—probably now dubbed Android Pay—in an effort stay ahead in our post-credit card world. Google gobbled up Softcard, a once-popular mobile payments app, and devoured the tech that powered it. Some of that could make its way into the new Android Pay platform, which will supposedly allow for third-party apps to build one-touch payment features and also have a more robust tap-to-pay architecture, similar to Apple Pay.
Android Pay is being built on a new API layer, according to Android big boss Sundar Pichai at Mobile World Congress this past March. He also said Google Wallet will still exist alongside this new payments platform. Exactly how are those two are going to work together? Well, Google’s got to leave some room for surprise, I guess.
The Great Unbundling and Google+
Google+ is pretty much dead. This may be old news for those of use with a realistic worldview and earth-shattering information if you are one of the few people who figured out what the hell “circles” were, but that doesn’t mean that all its best features have to die. In fact, it’s all but certain that Google will be launching a new photo-sharing app, born from the ashes of Google+, that will thankfully not require a social media account for you to use it. And so it was that Picasa became Google+, which became Google Photos, which will hopefully just stay that way.
Once again Sundar Pichai, who’s as leaky a ship as Tim Cook it seems, said back in February that Google was “actively working” on the photos application inside of Google+ and that you’d see Hangouts, Photos, and Google+ as three separate entities. Now it’s almost certain we’ll hear more about this app; Android Police even got an exclusive look at the software:
The app will replace the current Photos shortcut on Android and will come with all the amenities of the Google+ feature with some updated design, especially in the editor. It should be an all-around improvement to the stock photo editing and storage experience on Android (and maybe the web, too.)
Surprise, surprise. Android is continuing its software Manifest Destiny across all your devices. Let us count the ways.
Android Wear: Google updated Wear with lots of software goodies just last month and just a few days ago got totally awesome Google Maps support for your wrist. So we may not see any software specifics for Android Wear, except maybe some big picture thinking. What we hopefully will see (fingers crossed) is possible iOS support for Android Wear devices, which would make smartphone purchases for iPhone slingers a much more challenging decision.
Android Auto: Google launched Android Auto, its smartphone-based smart car OS, at the last I/O and now vehicles are finally starting to roll out with the software attached. There’s one rumor that Google is toying with untethering the car from your smartphone and shipping cars with their very own version of Android. I’m sure we’ll hear more on the future of Auto but any new features concerning Android’s car conquerer still remain a secret.
Android TV: With Apple rumored to update Apple TV, it’s hard to imagine that Google will be completely quiet on the subject of Android TV, its streaming OS to help raise the IQ of all our television sets. We might get some new partner information and a little more substance to the December rumors that Android TV is working on integrating live TV into its service, but so far, not much chatter here.
Android VR: Of course Android is going to get in on the VR game. Back in March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google had a small team toiling away on bringing Android to virtual reality. Evidence that Android VR is coming is supported by the fact that there’s an event on Friday titled “Designing for Virtual Reality,” which will be led by Google’s VR team. They’ll also most likely talk about the future of Cardboard, Google’s successful DIY VR experiment, and how it may be transitioning out of its awkward cardboard phase.
Android Brillo: When I say “Android Everywhere,” I mean it. It’ll be in your smartphones, cars, VR headsets, smartwatches, and yes, your fridges, door locks, lightbulbs, and thermostats as well. For months, Google has been working on an OS for low-powered devices like the ones you’d find in a smart home. We’re talking little guys with only 64MB or even 32MB of RAM to work with. Anything that can make the current smart home less buggy is a welcome innovation. This project started out as Chromium, but has now been moved over to Android, so that’s how we’re expecting it to be branded.
Into the Far Flung Future
What about Google’s more...ambitious projects? Like balloons that can deliver internet, smartphones that are actually hardware chameleons, “look ma, no hands” automobiles, and the company’s own plan to take on telecos?
We probably won’t hear much about the modular Project Ara since the team held their own developers conference in January. Google Loon may be a potential talking point as lots of news reports state that the internet-delivering balloon project is about ready to go pro. At the very least, we’ll hear some data, statistics, and future planning for some—and hopefully all—of these projects.
...And Yeah, Maybe Some New Hardware
So I know I said to check your hardware expectations at the door, but a little wishful thinking never hurt anyone. There are a few rumors suggesting that we could be seeing some new Chromecast hardware, which would be a first for the dongle since it was announced back in 2013. A brief mention waaaaay back in October says a second Chromecast may take more advantage of a large screen paired with a small screen. There are even a few events that mention developing for Chromecast at this year’s I/O. Also with a new Apple TV fast on the approach, the timing would be perfect.
I wouldn’t expect any kind of Nexus devices. Even though rumors are already leaking about a few handset possibilities, those smartphones usually launch with little fanfare in late October. However, Google Glass redux may be right on the horizon. Including Google’s own promise to try again, a late April interview from the Wall Street Journal revealed that the new Glass would be designed by the Italian firm Luxottica and would “be out soon.” Not much is known about the little device, but literally anything would probably be an improvement.
Hear any other juicy rumors and tidbits about the upcoming software bonanza? Leave ‘em in the comments of course. As always, we’ll be live at Google I/O May 28-29, so check back for more updates and see which of these rumors are really fact or fiction.