The Google I/O developers conference keynote offered something for everyone — unless you happen to be interested in hardware.
While Google took great care to detail the interface overhaul for Android 12, new features in Wear OS and updates in everything from Maps to Google Docs, not a single new hardware product appeared at I/O. And if you're hungry for news about the upcoming Google Pixel 5a or the rumored Pixel Buds A-Series, that has to sting a little.
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In a way, the lack of hardware news should have been expected. While Google I/O garners worldwide attention, it's still a developer-focused conference, and developers want to hear about software, particularly the software enhancements that impact their own products. So more about Android 12's interface changes and what that means for apps, and less about which processor is powering the Pixel 5a.
Then again, Google has spoiled us at recent I/Os. Back in 2019 — the last time Google had a developer get-together — it unveiled both the Pixel 3a and the Nest Hub Max. Surely, some observes thought, Google might talk hardware again this time out, even if it was only to address the rumors that it was going to build its own chips for this fall's Pixel 6 release. Alas, no dice.
So if Google isn't going to make any hardware news at Google I/O 2021 — and it would be really weird to announce anything now — when can we expect to see the Pixel 5a, Pixel 6 and Pixel Buds Series A, all three of which could have made a cameo this week? We can't say with any certainty, but we can make some educated guesses.
Pixel 6 likely launch date
First, there's no need to panic about the lack of hardware announcements at this year's I/O. While Google didn't have anything it opted to show off at this year's show, that doesn't mean there's nothing to show off. The Android 12 code apparently references the Pixel 6 and Pixel 5a — and the Pixel Fold, too! — so it's safe to assume those phones are still much a part of Google's plans. Likewise, we've heard so many rumors about the Pixel Buds Series A at this point, it's likely those aren't the figments of some rumor monger's overactive animation.
The likely release date for the Pixel 6 is the easiest to figure out. Google tends to release its flagship phones in early October, and it's likely going to stick to that pattern with this year's model, barring any chip shortage-fueled delays. Google might be planning to use its own chips to power the Pixel 6, and that plan could still be, even without any heads up to developers during I/O.
Pixel 5a likely release date
The Pixel 5a's launch is a little trickier. One rumor suggests the budget version of Google's phone could launch on June 11 — since that's a Friday, we assume that would be the phone's ship date. But that doesn't leave a lot of time for Google to host another launch event, especially when it just had everyone's attention for the Google I/O keynote. When you also consider that the rumored June 11 would be at the same time as Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, you'd figure that any Pixel 5a news might get lost in the shuffle. We'd look elsewhere for a possible release date, in other words.
Google may have provided a pretty good indication of when the Pixel 5a is coming when it denied a rumor earlier this year that the phone was getting cancelled. The Pixel 5a, Google said, "will be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan and announced in line with when last year’s a-series phone was introduced."
Assuming that Google's referring to the Pixel 4a, that phone debuted in mid-August last year. That would give Google plenty of time to launch the phone ahead of September's expected iPhone 13 event without impacting the Pixel 6 rollout later in the fall. Or, Google could just combine two phone launches into one, and have the Pixel 5a and Pixel 6 join each other on stage. (The dueling version numbers would seem a little confusing to consumers, though, so we'll stick with that August theory.)
Pixel Buds A-Series likely release date
As for the Pixel Buds A-Series, we'd assume the launch of these lower-cost earbuds are likely tied to the Pixel 5a's arrival. The clue would seem to be in the name — Google appears to be making the A Series its moniker for lower cost products that deliver some of the capabilities of their pricier counterparts. So we'd expect Google to make that pitch for both a phone and wireless earbuds at the same time.
Of course, Google could surprise us all and pull entirely different dates out of the hat for its upcoming product launches. They don't keep calling these "uncertain times" for nothing, after all.