Google’s big once-a-year developer conference kicks off Tuesday May 8th. While much of Google I/O is meant to support coders and the people who create apps and software for Google’s various platforms, what gets announced at the event will impact anyone who uses Android, Chrome OS, Wear OS, or any of Google’s many first-party apps—so basically everyone. Here are the big announcements we’re expecting to see (and a few things we won’t) at Google I/O 2018.
With a global install base of more than 2.5 billion devices (and that’s just counting smartphones), the headline act for Google I/O is all the upcoming changes to Android. That said, as Google’s mobile OS has matured, Android updates are less about big, sweeping changes and more focused on refining what’s already there. Right now, the next build is simply designated by the letter P, and for owners of supported Pixel devices, a preview build has actually been available for download since early March.
As always, there will be a number of cosmetic changes to Android as Google continues to roll out what people are calling Material Design 2, which is an update to Google’s existing visual language that features even cleaner lines, new transparent buttons and UI elements, and a lot of white space. In fact, users of other Google apps like Gmail, Google Tasks, and Chrome may have already noticed recent changes to those services that made them look a bit neater and more intuitive. Google has also tweaked the general look and function of Android with things like new notifications and quick settings panels, a vertical volume slider, and a clock that’s located in the top left corner instead of the top right.
Under the hood, we could see a much bigger changes in the way people actually use Android thanks to a new set of gestures that seem to borrow from the swipe controls Apple put in the iPhone X. We’re also expecting the debut of the new Slices API, which still needs a more detailed explanation from Google, but from what a few enterprising developers have gleaned so far, seems to be a new type of UI feature that makes it easy for developers to display snippets from one app inside completely separate apps or processes.
Oh, and for those trying to guess what the P will end up standing for, current guesses include Peppermint Patty, Pumpkin Pie, Praline, and more. However, based on a potential Easter egg Google hid in a batch of wallpapers released earlier this spring, the current front runner has to be Android Popsicle.
My best guess is that the rumored device will be a new Android TV device, which looks to supplant the company’s line of cheap streaming dongles now that Google has taken the Chromecast name and turned it into a feature set that can be built into various devices including TVs, media boxes, and speakers. Honestly, it’s about time, because while Android TV has been gaining traction from use in Sony televisions, it hasn’t gotten the same kind love through official first-party devices like we’ve seen for Google Home products.
With a total of eight sessions at Google I/O devoted to Android Things, Google’s burgeoning IoT platform, we should get a much better idea how Google plans to embrace a more deeply connected world where everything from your doorbell to your washing machine has some form of computer inside. It’s possible Google may even announce a full 1.0 release for Android Things, which would bring its framework out of beta after first announcing it back in 2016. Google will probably address how Android Things handles security and updates, the latter of which continues to be a big headache for third-party Android devices, which often have to wait six months or more to get the latest software.
After finally announcing the ability to use Android Auto wirelessly earlier this year (though only on select number of aftermarket head units connected to a Pixel), it seems Google is now trying to work its way deeper into cars with Android Automotive, which unlike the app on your phone that syncs to your vehicle, is a standalone OS made for handling more than just music, maps, and messaging. Android Automotive was first shown off at Google I/O 2017, and while many car makers have been reluctant to add Android Auto support to their vehicles, a more full-featured product could be what gets Google’s car portfolio rolling.
Headlined by a session on the Google I/O schedule entitled “What’s New in Wear OS,” there’s sure to be some info on Google’s smartwatch OS as the company tries to break free from the mess that was Android Wear. In the current Android P developer preview of Wear OS, Google has made some small additions like a new dark theme UI and new battery saving features, but the real interesting thing will be where Google takes Wear OS next.
With Google’s ever-increasing focus on machine learning, Google Photos and Google Lens, have become a popular avenue for the company to show off new applications for its AI smarts. Hopefully, we get an update on Google Photos’ object removal feature, which was demoed in 2017 but was never actually released, along with some handy new tricks to make storing, finding, and sharing your favorite pics even easier.
With the addition of the Home Mini and Home Max late last year, the Google Home family now sits at three devices, which means it wouldn’t be a stretch for Google to announce some new tricks its digital assistant can do at Google I/O. Also, after debuting the first Google-powered smart displays at CES back in January, there’s a chance we may also get more info about what the company is doing with its line of Echo Show competitors.
As for VR, with the the imminent arrival of the first standalone Daydream VR headset in the Solo Mirage and the stereoscopic Mirage Camera, which were born from a partnership between Google and Lenovo, it’s likely Google will also have some updates for where its growing VR platform is going.
With Google still working on getting the next version of Android out the door, I’d be shocked if Google shared anything about the next batch of Pixels, which based on past history, won’t make an appearance until sometime in the fall. However, if this report from India’s Economic Times is true, we may only have to wait until July or August. Current rumors suggest that Google will release three new Pixels later this year instead of its usual two, including a new, more affordable mid-range Pixel 3.
Google has tried making gaming hardware before, though it wasn’t very good. However, based on the success Google has seen with its Chromecast devices and game streaming services like GeForce Now and PS Now, it seems the company might give gaming another go with its rumored “Yeti” console. According to The Information, the device was actually scheduled to be released last fall, but was pushed for unknown reasons. Google I/O typically isn’t a hardware event, so it’s doubtful that Yeti—or whatever it is—will make its debut at I/O.
Apple Music and Spotify have gobbled up much of the world’s paid music streaming audience, but in the background, Google has reportedly been working on a revamped version of YouTube Music to provide people with yet another option. The service was originally rumored for a March launch that was postponed, so it may be too soon to expect it at I/O next week.
Don’t forget, these are just the broad strokes. At Google I/O there’s sure to be discussions on other topics such as Flutter, Google’s cross-platform development kit that works with Android, iOS, and Fuschia, new features for Google Assistant, possibly a new podcast app, the launch of .app web domains, and more. So don’t forget to check back next Tuesday, when we’ll be on the ground covering Google I/O from the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountainview, CA.