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Google I/O 2016 preview: All the biggest announcements you can expect next week

Published May 11th, 2016 12:36PM EDT
Google I/O

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Every year during the spring and summer months, Android and Apple users alike are given a glimpse into the future of their respective mobile operating systems. Apple of course has WWDC which is slated to take place in June and Google will kick things off one month earlier when its annual I/O developers conference kicks off next week on May 18.

What makes Google’s I/O conference arguably more interesting and exciting than WWDC is that there’s a whole lot more to cover. While Apple will predictably cover the future of iOS and OS X, Google, as it’s prone to do, will cover an incredible array of products and technologies, hardly a surprise given how many different pots Google has its hands in these days. Indeed, Google’s broadening interest in all facets of technology – and even science – is what prompted the company to rename and restructure itself under the Alphabet umbrella.

All that said, we are eagerly anticipating Google to make a number of interesting announcements that extend far beyond the company’s upcoming Android N update. From a rumored VR headset to more information regarding a Project Tango smartphone, the collective eyes of the tech world will understandably be laser focused on all things Google I/O next week.

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With so much on Google’s plate, we’ve put together a short but sweet primer to help give you a better idea of what to expect when Google’s 3-day developers conference kicks off. Notably, this marks the first time I/O will be a 3-day event, suggesting that Google has a whole lot to discuss.

Android N

It wouldn’t be Google I/O without a new version of Android. Codenamed Android N, we can fully expect Google CEO Sundar Pichai and other executives to show us what the future of Android looks like. As for the playful food-related name Google plans to give to its next-gen version of Android, rumor has it that the N stands for Nutella.

Now because Google began pushing out developer previews of Android N not too long ago, not everything about the company’s next-generation OS will be a surprise. In short order, some of the rumored features Android N will bring to the table include quick reply notifications, notification bundling, an easier process by which device manufacturers can push out updates to users, multi-window support, new tools to prevent excessive data usage if need be, support for pressure sensitive displays a la the iPhone 6s’ 3D Touch feature, and better battery management.

Self-Driving Cars

Google has been testing self-driving cars for some time now, but there are rumors suggesting that the search giant will take some time at this year’s I/O event to show them off to the public for the first time. With Tesla having already rolled out its Autopilot software, it will be interesting to see if Google is ready to take the wraps off of its own self-driving car technology.

Amazon Echo competitor

The Information earlier this year published an interesting expose on Nest and its CEO Tony Fadell. Buried within the report was an interesting nugget indicating that the Nest team has been busy building a device intended to compete with the Amazon Echo. While no release details were provided in the original report, Google I/O would represent the opportune venue to unveil such a device.

Project Tango

Project Tango has been talked about for years now, but in 2016, the wait for a consumer-oriented Project Tango smartphone will finally come to an end. Indeed, Lenovo and Google haven’t exactly been quiet about their partnership involving a Project Tango smartphone slated for release sometime later this summer. With a release date fast approaching, it’s a safe bet that we’ll see such a device take front and center stage next week at Google I/O.

For those unfamiliar, Project Tango involves equipping smartphones with a vast array of advanced sensors that, together with a phone’s camera, can quickly survey a room and construct a 3D map of its interior.

Virtual Reality Headset

Virtual Reality is all the rage these days and Google isn’t going to just sit on the sidelines and observe. According to a February report in The Wall Street Journal, Google has been developing a more advanced virtual reality headset that “doesn’t rely on a smartphone, computer or game console.”

While it remains to be seen if such a device is ready for public viewing, it’s no secret that Google has been taking VR related endeavors more seriously in recent months. Earlier this year, Google announced the formation of an entirely new division dedicated solely to virtual reality computing.

Project Aura 

The first incarnation of Google Glass didn’t revolutionize much of anything, despite early excitement about the product from vocal supporters. And while Google Glass is now often the subject of ridicule, Google still has big plans for the technology.

Say hello to Project Aura, a.k.a Google Glass 2.0. Project Auora is reportedly being managed by Nest CEO Tony Fadell and will reportedly have more of an enterprise focus as opposed to a focus on consumers. Now what this entails exactly remains open to speculation, but some believe that Google will try to market Google Glass 2.0 to those in the manufacturing and healthcare industries.

Either way, don’t be surprised to see if Google takes some time at its developer conference next week to give us a report on the state of its efforts surrounding wearable technologies. 

Chrome OS/Android merger

This is a rumor that has been floating around for a few months now. Originally reported by The Wall Street Journal this past October, it’s believed that Alphabet has grand plans to fold its Chrome OS under the Android umbrella.

The move is also an attempt by Google to get Android running on as many devices as possible to reach as many people as possible. The operating system runs phones, tablets, watches, TVs and car infotainment systems. Adding laptops could increase Android’s user base considerably. That should help Google woo more outside developers who want to write apps once and have them work on as many gadgets as possible, with little modification.

Work on this initiative has reportedly been ongoing for more than two years now. It’s believed that Alphabet will showcase its progress on this particular endeavor at Google I/O next week ahead of a 2017 final release.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.