A year ago, Google executives took the stage at the company's annual I/O developer conference and unleashed a torrent of products — an AI-powered assistant with an Echo-like speaker, a new virtual reality platform and a way to try out apps without downloading them first.
With the 2017 edition of Google I/O kicking off this today (May 17), expect a lot of those projects to be back for an encore appearance, as Google looks to move forward with its assorted initiatives.
How to Watch Google I/O
Google's Sundar Pichai will take the stage at the Shoreline Amphitheatre at 1 p.m. ET today — you can watch a live stream here — and here's what he and other Google executives are likely to reveal.
What We Expect
As always at a developers conference, the focus at Google I/O this week will be on the under-the-hood tools developers need for Android, Google Assistant and the many other pies in which Google has its fingers. That likely means very little hardware will come out of this week's show. Google may have taken the wraps off Google Home at the 2016 I/O keynote, for example, but the voice-powered speaker didn't arrive until five months later. So don't expect a big reveal for the Pixel 2 smartphone this week is what we're getting at.
More Android O Features
This one's about as big a no-brainer as you can get. Obviously, with thousands of developers converging upon its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters for three days, Google is going to have something to say about the next version of its Android operating system.
We already have some idea of what to expect with Android O, thanks to a developers-only preview edition rolled out in March. Among the highlights in that release were improvements to battery life by limiting what apps can do in the background, improved Bluetooth audio, categorized and snoozed notifications and platform support for autofill features.
Other notable improvements include system-wide picture-in-picture video, support for physical keyboards and a cleaner, simpler Settings page.
Google's likely to introduce a second preview version of Android O at some point during I/O, which will introduce even more features that the company will be happy to talk about during its keynote.
One possible topic of conversation could be Google's Project Treble. As reported by The Verge, the goal of Treble is to speed up the rate at which Android updates arrive on your phone. Google is looking to separate the Android OS framework from device-specific software that chipmakers write, which would let phone makers push out updates faster.
Google could announce an official name for Android O at I/O, but it seems more likely to follow the course it took last year when it asked developers and users to offer up suggested names, as if Android O isn't going to be called Oreo.
Google Assistant Hits the Road
Google Assistant already lives on your phone and, if you've got a Google Home handy, in an Amazon Echo-like speaker. The next frontier for Google's voice-powered assistant looks like it's going to be your car.
Bloomberg reports that Google will show off Audi Q8 and Volvo V90 SUVs that are running Android as the OS for their infotainment and navigation systems. Google Assistant will ride shotgun on these Android-powered cars, allowing you to use your voice to look up directions and initiate phone calls, among other features.
Google showed off some Android-powered concept cars at I/O last year, but the partnership with Audi and Volvo shows just how serious Google is about Android's automotive future.
Other Google Assistant Advances
With Microsoft unveiling a Cortana-powered speaker last week and Amazon still enjoying a major edge with all the things its Alexa-powered Echo speakers can do, don't expect Google to content itself just by getting its Assistant into cars. Several sessions at I/O focus on the Assistant's capabilities, with a high-profile talk in the main amphitheatre looking at how developers can "plug into the Google Assistant services ecosystem."
That sounds an awful lot like Google looking for more ways to expand its Assistant's feature set.
One of the new devices that Assistant could wind up on is the iPhone. Android Police reports that an iOS version of Google Assistant will launch soon in the U.S. This week's I/O keynote would certainly draw a lot of attention to that launch.
Google's Assistant push could translate into new capabilities for the Google Home speaker. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was looking to add telephone features to its speaker — something Amazon just added with the video-calling capabilities on the Echo Show.
Google is also rumored to be considering the addition of mesh Wi-Fi features to the Home speaker. These sorts of hardware announcements aren't typically made at a developer-focused event like I/O, but given the tech world's focus on voice assistants these days, you wouldn't be surprised if Google talked up its own plans.
Last year's I/O saw the introduction of Google's Daydream virtual reality platform. Since then, Google's rolled out a VR headset that few phones beyond its own Pixel devices really support. (Google's own website lists the Mate 9, Axon 7 and Moto Z as Daydream-ready.) We're likely to get an update on Google's VR plans, which could include new features, added support from new phone makers or new hardware altogether.
On that front, the Wall Street Journal reported in February that Google was working on a standalone headset that wouldn't rely on a phone or computer to drive the VR action. Microsoft has a similar effort underway, and we're starting to see some of the first mixed reality headsets it's creating with the help of hardware partners. If Google's serious about its own standalone headset, I/O would be a good venue for letting developers know what's coming.
We've known since last year's I/O that Chromebooks would be able to run Android apps. And in January, Google said that every single Chromebook going forward would be able to access the Google Play Store. The feature remains in beta though, and we haven't heard much from Google when to expect a ready-for-prime-time release.
With an I/O session entitled "Android Apps for Chromebooks and Large Screen Devices," we're expecting Google to provide more detail.
Speaking of app-related news from last year's I/O, the 2016 conference teased the idea of Instant Apps in which you can try out apps without having to download them. The feature is now available in a very limited way, but multiple I/O sessions this year on Instant Apps suggest that this will be the feature's coming-out party.