Google canceled last year’s annual Google I/O developers conference due to the pandemic, but this year, it’s back—virtually.
The event kicks off Tuesday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT with a keynote speech from Google CEO Sundar Pichai. And while we don’t know exactly what Google has in store this year, we’re hoping to hear more about Android 12, Google Assistant, and Google’s vision for the smart home.
Android 12’s New Look
It’s been a while since we’ve had a major shakeup of Android’s UI, but three developer previews and a plethora of leaks suggest that Android 12 is getting a big overhaul. Leaked screenshots show a new colorized interface, matching widgets, and menu schematics based on the dominant coloring of your chosen wallpaper. There’s also a reprised Quick Settings panel, with larger buttons and more contextual information. Even the Assistant shows off a little color once summoned.
XDA Developers has been uncovering some of the more significant interface changes we might see finalized in Android 12. Expect the always-on display and lock screen to be a part of the revamp, along with other subtle UI effects like screen transitions and typography.
Other improvements in Android 12 will likely center around audio and video playback and under-the-hood privacy and security changes. Reports point to specific features, like Android automatically shelving unused apps and offering better support for scrolling screenshots, as well as updated notification permissions.
There’s also a rumored gaming dashboard coming, though it’s not clear if it’d be exclusive to Pixel devices. The gaming mode would effectively add proper controls and helpful information like a frames-per-second counter. It could be akin to the gaming launcher that OnePlus bundles with its smartphones, which blocks out notifications and other interruptions so you can focus on the game.
Finally, Some Traction for Wear OS
Wear OS takes a lot of (well-deserved) heat for falling behind other smartwatch platforms, but we may finally see some updates. There are two sessions on the I/O schedule to go over what’s new and how to develop Tiles for Wear OS. Google’s even sending out surveys, asking for guidance on what to do next.
And just when you thought that the Pixel Watch rumor was dead in the water, it resurfaces with a vengeance. YouTuber Jon Prosser recently showed off a convincing render of a circular watch that looks exactly like what we’ve all envisioned a Pixel Watch would look like.
This is also the first big event since Google’s acquisition of Fitbit was a done deal. We likely won’t see anything new on the Fitbit front (after all, they just announced the Fitbit Luxe last month), but maybe we’ll see closer integration between your Fitbit and Google accounts.
The last bit of Wear OS rumbling is from Korean news outlet MT, which points to a supposed Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 running Wear OS instead of Samsung’s Tizen OS. Speaking as a person wearing a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active because there was no comfortable Wear OS equivalent, having this come true could be all Wear OS needs to emerge from its current rut.
Don’t Bet on the Pixel 6
With the event being virtual and the lack of live audience to “ooh” and “ahh” over the announcements, it’s unlikely Google will show even an outlined render of the Pixel 6 during the developer keynote—though it’s teased smartphones this way at past developer conferences. There’s still so much we need to learn about Whitechapel, Google’s turn at making a mobile processor. And it would be such a major play against Apple’s silicon parade that it would warrant a separate event along with the official launch of a new flagship device.
It’s no guarantee that they’ll be introduced during the Google I/O keynote, but the Pixel Buds A were already inadvertently leaked on Twitter. They’re a cheaper alternative to the regular Pixel Buds, which cost $180. According to the leak, they promise to deliver quality sound and one-tap pairing with Google Fast Pair.
Don’t count too hard on Google revealing the budget-inclined Pixel 5a, either. With the global chip shortage and delays in nearly every nook and cranny of tech manufacturing, there’s only a slim chance the Pixel 5a is ready to launch this soon. At least we know it’s coming, as Google refuted reports it’d canceled the model, confirming instead it would be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan.
The Google Assistant in Your House
Google’s vision for the smart home will undoubtedly see some air time during the opening keynote. There’s even a session devoted to what’s new in Google Assistant the following day. According to the description, we can expect to hear a state of the union of sorts for the Assistant, plus new product announcements, feature updates, and tooling changes. We might even potentially hear about BERT and how Google uses it to make the Assistant understand us when we’re mouthing off gibberish, though that’s the kind of tech demo that plays during the opening keynote.
There’s a session later on that same day about what’s new in the smart home, with a mention of new product announcements and a showcase of Assistant experiences built by the developer community. Anything new introduced during these two sessions will likely be software updates or abilities made available to the Assistant since there’s already a new batch of Nest Hub smart speakers and displays.
There is also some expectation that Google will announce new products for its home security system, including better security cameras and a second-gen security system. Last year, Google discontinued the Nest Secure DIY security kit, then revealed to 9to5Google that it was planning a “new lineup for security cameras for 2021.” It’s also plausible it will partner up with security veterans ADT, considering the company’s CEO told CNBC it would be rolling out “Google products in the third quarter of 2021.”
Android in Your TV
The Chromecast with Google TV came storming in last holiday season to set the standard for Google TV devices going forward. There are no specific Google TV sessions on the calendar. However, there is already a developer preview available for Android 12 for TVs, and Google I/O is precisely the venue to walk developers through that sort of thing. Any major Google TV news will likely be more subtle through code reveals and other features announced for Android 12.
Chromebooks in All Forms
There’s no way we can forget Chromebooks, especially not after the platform’s phenomenal growth through the pandemic. Google offers a session on what’s new in Chrome OS the day after the keynote. The session will cover updates to Chrome OS’s Linux environment and new APIs. Hopefully, we’ll also learn how many people have adopted Android apps on Chromebook laptops since they debuted nearly three years ago.
Whatever Google plans to reveal, join us for our coverage of the virtual I/O 2021 developers conference beginning May 18 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET.