Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) will kick off its annual I/O conference with a keynote address Wednesday in San Francisco. The conference, while geared to software developers, is sometimes used by Google as a launching pad for new products and updates to existing ones, like the Android mobile operating system.
This year, the question is whether Google will keep the event as low-key as it did in 2013, where few products were announced and the most surprising event was the attendance of CEO and co-founder Larry Page, who was initially not expected to attend. The year before, a skydiver landed on the roof of the Moscone Center, recording the whole thing with Google Glass. Some outlets are hoping that the I/O 2014 keynote involves robots.
Whether or not it opens I/O 2014 with a major spectacle, Google will have plenty to talk about. In the past year, it made several major acquisitions, including eight different American robotics companies.
Google also acquired Nest Labs in January, a manufacturer of smartphone-connected thermostats and smoke detectors that prove it has gotten serious about dominating the “smart home” product segment. Nest announced the acquisition of Dropcam last week, a connected camera company that allows people to view live video feeds through the cloud.
Both Google and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) are competing over who can better capitalize on the much-hyped Internet of Things and how it relates to consumers’ homes. Apple announced HomeKit at its own developer’s conference earlier this month, a software environment that would provide a unified interface for smart home apps.
Nest recently announced that it was partnering with a number of appliance manufacturers to create a network of devices that can interact with smartphones, including light bulbs that can blink red when the Nest Protect smoke detector is going off, and a garage door that turn on your air conditioner when you get home. Nest said it would release a toolkit to software developers to allow them to integrate smart home devices with their apps, and Google could use I/O to unveil a new software for Android to rival HomeKit, and prevent Nest’s products from getting lost in a fragmented, uncoordinated smart home market.
Google announced Android Wear in March, promising more details to come about its foray into wearable devices, like Motorola’s Moto 360 watch and the LG G Watch. Samsung is also rumored to be unveiling its own Android Wear watch at Google I/O, and one of the devices is expected to be one of the free giveaways offered to ticket holders at this year’s event.
Last week, the company released a video introduction to Android Wear, touting how Google Now’s notifications would allow smartphone users to “engage more with the world” around them. LG said in March it would release the first Android Wear smartwatch, so expect the G Watch to go on sale soon, with Samsung’s latest and the Moto 360 following later this year.
Google said it will release Glass more widely sometime this year, but has not provided an exact date for an updated consumer version of its wearable headset. While Google Glass has gotten more than its fair share of negative press and raised a number of privacy concerns of late, the search giant has not given up on the camera-connected headset.
Google could announce the next step for Glass Google I/O, or at least tout sales figures for the wearalbe. The company is reportedly waiting until more apps are available for Glass, but expect the device to get a little bit of love at I/O 2014.
Android “L” has been leaked as the 64-bit version of the mobile OS. The earliest screenshots reveal that the software is far from being ready for consumers, and Google may take a page from last year’s I/O and wait to unveil the next version of Android at a separate event later this year. However, it could also follow the Apple model, of announcing the update now, and releasing it in the fall.
Google will reportedly make the switch over to Android Runtime (ART) standard in the next version of Android. The runtime environment manages the installation and operation of apps in Android, and ART makes them open faster (but take up more disk space) than the Dalvik Runtime (DRT) that’s currently standard on Google-powered devices. Google also has said it will include a “kill switch” that allows smartphone users to remotely wipe and lock a stolen device until it is returned.
Quantum Paper, the company’s attempt at unifying the look of Android, is also likely to be included in a future version of Android. By making Google products look consistent across Android, iOS, and the web, it could help quell criticism of the “fragmentation” of its mobile operating system.
Android TV, the set-top box interface leaked by The Verge earlier this year, could also make an appearance at I/O. While sales of the $35 Chromecast have been robust, Google is reportedly planning to enter the market for larger devices like the Roku 3 and Amazon.com Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV.
Images of a HTC-made Nexus tablet have also emerged, showing a device that looks similar to LG’s Nexus 5. The device reportedly specs an 8.9-inch display with 2048 x 1440 resolution, as well as HTC’s signature front-facing speakers. Read more about the tablet, codenamed Volantis, here.
The leaked Nexus 9 comes amid numerous reports that the Nexus program will soon be replaced by Android Silver, a new program supported by specially-trained employees at kiosks throughout wireless stores nationwide. While it seems like Google is keen on continuing with Nexus products currently in the pipeline, devices still under development, like the Nexus 6, are reportedly being reworked into comparable Android Silver devices.
If Google decides to pull the plug on Nexus, transforming the program into a souped-up, retail-supported version of the Google Play Edition smartphone line, then it will likely announce the change at a completely separate event.
Google has a number of plans in store for Chrome OS, and the line of low-cost Chromebooks currently dominating low-cost laptop sales. One of the bigger changes could involve a touchscreen feature inside of the OS, which has become a popular feature in a number of new Chromebooks.
Fans of Chromebooks and the Android OS have long hoped that Google would allow apps to run on both devices. Doing so would make the Chrome OS compatible with the millions of apps available on Google Play, and significantly more competitive with full-size OSes like OS X and Windows. If touchscreen implementation becomes a key part of the Chrome OS, Android integration could be the next logical step.
Self-driving cars have become a major point of interest for Google. The project started out by converting existing cars with expensive hardware, but Google announced a major step forward for the project in May when it announced that it would build about 100 driverless vehicle prototypes, powered by electricity and without a steering wheel and pedals.
Google says if the tests are successful, it will look for “partners” to scale up manufacturing of its self-driving cars. While it may not have any major announcements in store for I/O, you might expect Google executives to arrive in a driverless ride.
Google has been slowly expanding its fiber-optic network in new cities throughout the U.S. The project is popular with Americans fed up with their current Internet service providers, and Google could use I/O to announce updates to the expansion.
Project Loon has run into trouble as of late, with one balloon sinking in New Zealand and another taking out power lines in Washington state. In the past year, Google has also acquired Titan Aerospace, a solar-powered drone manufacturer, and Titan Aerospace, a satellite imaging company.
While Google may not use I/O as a platform to discuss expansions to its sky-high Internet ambitions, the company sees the growth of reliable networks as vital to its continued success. Look for cues about Google’s satellite plans during presentations focused on Maps at I/O.
Google also has a number of other interesting projects in the works, including the modular smartphone concept (Project Ara), which had its own developers conference earlier this year, and Project Tango, the company’s interior 3D-mapping technology.
NASA used Tango prototypes to equip its SPHERES drones with the ability to aid astronauts on the International Space Station. Google also unveiled an alpha, or developer version of a Project Tango tablet earlier this year.
On Friday, June 26, Regina Dugan will lead a session at I/O to discuss Ara as well as Project Tango. Dugan, who heads Google’s Advanced Products and Technology group, a piece of Motorola Mobility retained from its sale to Lenovo, always has interesting things to say about some of the advanced projects in Google’s pipeline.
We will be watching Google I/O closely this year to see where the tech behemoth is headed. Will you?