Technology

Google I/O – five big things to expect this year: Control Shift

Andrew Sadauskas /

Google’s big annual developer conference, known as Google I/O, is about to kick off in California.

Basically, you can divide the tech year into three parts. In the first third of the year, you have the two big annual tech trade shows of the year – the International CES in Las Vegas for consumer electronics, and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Major tech companies, including the likes of Samsung, Microsoft, HTC, Panasonic, Sony, LG and others, use these shows to reveal  their roadmap for the year ahead, as well as some of the new gadgets they have planned. It’s also when a number of smartphone makers (including Samsung) unveil their main flagship mobile phones each year.

Towards the middle of the year, the focus shifts to the developer conferences. These are where developers get their first glimpse of new versions of Android, iOS, Mac OS-X and Windows. The biggest of these conferences for Google is known as “Google I/O”, Apple has its “WWDC”, and Microsoft has “Build”.

For Google, Microsoft and Apple, these conferences are where they persuade developers to create new apps for their platforms. This is an incredibly important business – after all, no-one wants to spend hundreds of dollars purchasing a new device only to discover no-one has written any apps for it!

In the back half of the year, we have the lead up to Christmas. This is where Apple typically unveils its latest iPhone, Samsung updates its Galaxy Note series, and various other companies also make pre-Christmas device announcements.

So what can we expect from Google I/O? Here are my five tips:

1. Android M

Google releasing an update to Android is almost a certainty. In fact, back in May when Google published the schedule for Google I/O, one of the developer sessions had the following description: “Android M is bringing the power of Android to all kinds of workplaces.”

The announcement of Android M comes less than one year after the release of the last major version, Android 5.0 Lollipop (which was developed under the codename “Android L”), in October of last year.

Google has traditionally labelled each version of Android alphabetically and, in turn, given each of them a confectionary-themed codename beginning with that letter. Past versions of Android have included 1.5 Cupcake (release C), 1.6 Donut (D), 2.0 Eclair (E), 2.2 Froyo (F), 2.3 Gingerbread (G), 3.0 Honeycomb (H), 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (I), 4.1–4.3 Jelly Bean (J), 4.4 KitKat (K) and 5.0 Lollipop.

This has led some tech journalists to ponder the tasty treats that begin with the letter M. Android Muffin? Android Marshmallow? Android Mars bar perhaps?

2. More Android on non-traditional devices

Last year, Google released a number of new versions of Android. These included Android Wear (smartwatches and wearables), Android TV (smart TVs and set-top boxes), and Android Auto (for cars).

After a year in the marketplace, there are a lot of lessons learnt. There are also a number of new competitors, most notably the Apple Watch, to contend with.

Already Google has hinted at a new slimmed-down version of Android designed to be embedded in “internet of things” devices, known as Brillo.

It’s fairly safe to assume there’ll be more updates to Android on non-traditional devices.

3. An Answer to Satya Nadella

Of course, Apple is not the only company Google will be responding to.

One of Google’s biggest rivals, Microsoft, has been completely transformed and refocused in the year since current chief executive Satya Nadella took the helm.

Where once Microsoft’s apps and services were largely tied to devices running Windows, Nadella’s big focus is cross-platform compatibility and integrating Microsoft’s products with competitors. From Outlook with Salesforce to Azure with SAP, from Android tablets with Office 365 to OneDrive on the iPhone, you can run Microsoft apps and services no matter what devices you use.

It’s a sure bet that whatever Google announces, Microsoft’s resurgence will be the elephant in the room.

4. More integration

Until now, Google has basically had two different app ecosystems. It’s had Chrome OS for its Chromebook laptops, while at the same time it’s had Android for smartphones and tablets. The split has mirrored Apple’s which has Mac OS-X running on its computers, and iOS for its iPhones and tablets.

Last year at Google I/O, Google made the first tentative steps towards integrating the two halves of its ecosystem by announcing some selected Android apps will now work on ChromeBooks.

Since then, Microsoft has unveiled its next big competitor to Android, known as Windows 10. Not only is Microsoft making it easy to port apps from iOS or Android to Windows, but it’s promising developers they’ll be able to write “universal apps” that run the whole gamut of devices that run Windows.

A good response to the “universal apps” threat posed by Windows 10 would be to improve the integration of the ChromeBook and Android ecosystems, perhaps by making it easier for app developers to create apps for both.

5. Moonshots

Google is notorious for its “moonshots”. These are long-term, high-risk R&D projects the company runs in areas such as using balloons to provide internet access or self-driving cars.

If Google has a trick up its sleeve, more likely than not, Google I/O is when it it’s going to be revealed. After all, more likely than not, third party developers will be needed to create content, apps or services for it.

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Andrew Sadauskas

Andrew Sadauskas is a former journalist at SmartCompany and a former editor of TechCompany.

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