Google I/O 2021 set for May 18 — Android 12, Pixel 5a and more

google i/o
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It's almost that time of year, where Google fans everywhere gather for the yearly I/O developers' conference. This is where we hear about new Android and Chrome OS news and sometimes get to see hardware announcements, too.

After cancelling last year's conference, Google is continuing to observe COVID-19 safety guidelines with the 2021 edition of Google I/O. The developers conference takes place virtually from May 18 to 20, and it will be free to everyone. You can expect to hear news about Android 12 for sure, and maybe some tidbits about the Pixel 5a and/or the Pixel Buds A.

So the countdown to next month's Google I/O begins! Here's what we know so far going into Google I/O 2021.

Google I/O 2021: Android 12

android 12 developer preview

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The star of the show will probably be Android 12, with Google previewing new features, APIs, betas, and all the stuff that thrills Android developers. Most Android fans will want to pay attention to the keynote that kicks off the conference, as that's where Google usually highlights what it's doing with the next version of its software.

As for what we know about Android 12, we've had some time with the two Developer Previews that Google has released for Pixels. Not only is there a lot under the hood in terms of improvements and additions, but the biggest change is the new notification UI. 

Right now by installing the Android 12 Developer Preview, you can get a taste for what's coming. The beta software includes new animations and transitions for the notification shade, and it looks pretty nice.

android 12 developer preview notification ui

Android 12 Developer Preview notification UI (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Rumor also has it that Android 12 might include a theming system, something that Android fans have wanted for years. Basically, that would allow you to apply preset color palettes to the system as whole. And if app developers support it, this color scheme could apply to other apps as well.

Other big Android 12 changes include a dedicated one-handed mode baked into the OS itself (other phone makers have implemented their own), face-based auto rotate, more responsive notifications, and the possible return of the double tap on the back of the phone.

Google I/O 2021: Pixel 5a

So far, we're pretty sure that the Pixel 5a is coming this spring. Several leaks, including renders, have popped up in the last few months surround the new budget phone, which figures to replicate its predecessor, the Pixel 4a.

Google Pixel 5a front and back pointing diagonally upwards

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We expect that the Pixel 5a will continue in the 4a's legacy by offering one of the best camera experiences for less than $400. It'll come with the cleanest Android experience available, the no-frills Pixel experience Google is loved for. 

We're not sure which system-on-chip the Pixel 5a will use, though we'd imagine either the Snapdragon 732 or possibly the Snapdragon 690 from last year, which offered a low-cost 5G modem. The Pixel 4a was successful because of its price-to-performance ratio, and we don't imagine Google wants to break what worked.

Google I/O 2021: Pixel Buds A

This one is a recent development, but we expect to hear something about the Pixel Buds A, a new pair of truly wireless earbuds from Google. These were accidentally leaked by Google itself in a striking dark green colorway.

Google Pixel Buds A

(Image credit: 9to5Google)

Though we don't know much about a timeline for these earbuds, we think Google I/O would be a great time for the company to announce the new product. It would make sense to do so alongside the Pixel 5a.

We're hoping the "A" moniker means that these new Pixel Buds will be cheaper than their predecessor while still offering a compelling set of features.

Google I/O 2021: Chrome OS

At this point, we don't know what Google will reveal about its Chrome OS plans. Previous I/O conferences have given us Android apps that ran on Chrome, Linux integration, and so much more that we can't list everything. Especially since there was no I/O last year, we think there's plenty of Chrome OS/Chromebook news to come this year.

Google I/O 2021 outlook

Google i/o

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We didn't get a Google I/O in 2020 due the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the company has a lot to catch up on this year. As we've stated above, Android 12 is likely to be the star of the show, though we're sure that we'll hear about Chrome OS, too.

But don't be surprised if Google takes the wraps off the Pixel 5a and Pixel Buds A. Considering that we think the new budget phone will launch sometime in June, we're hoping that Google will talk about it at I/O. 

So mark your calendars for May 18 to 20, because it's going to be a busy few days.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.