Last year’s event saw the introduction of the hugely popular Nexus 7 tablet, the Android “Jelly Bean” OS update (with Google Now) the Google “Q” streaming media hub (a dud) and Google Glass skydiving (amazing). It’s going to be all but impossible to “one-up” last year. Consequently, Google has decided not to try.
Earlier this week, Google Chrome/Android boss Sundar Pichai was managing expectations. He told Wired that the show wouldn’t see any major (hardware or OS) announcements:
It’s not a time when we have much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system. Both on Android and Chrome, we’re going to focus this I/O on all of the kinds of things we’re doing for developers, so that they can write better things. We will show how Google services are doing amazing things on top of these two platforms.
Nexus Device Upgrades
Despite Pichai’s remarks, it’s likely there will be some upgrades to the Nexus 7 tablet and possibly Nexus 4 smartphone. One rumor is that the Nexus 4 will get a memory upgrade (32GB) and LTE support, which is currently missing. The Nexus 7 is supposed to get at least a couple of new hardware features too: a higher resolution screen and rear-facing camera.
Some outlets have also suggested we might see a price drop from the already-reasonable price of $199 to $149. However, Google might pull an Apple and drop the price of the first generation Nexus 7 while maintaining $199 for the newer device.
Finally, there are rumors that the Nexus 10 (made by Samsung) might get a cellphone-service option. Samsung has brought cell service to its own 8-inch Galaxy Note already, so it may also offer it for the Nexus 10. It’s not clear how many people would want to use the 10-inch device as a phone, although they could just use the data plan.
Google Maps UI Changes
As reported last week, Google Maps is also likely to get a significant UI refresh and overhaul. That will probably be announced at I/O. In addition to changing the look and navigation on Maps, Google is also making them more social, enabling users to filter local results by their Google+ circles.
The new UI appears to be a least partly drawn from or inspired by the UI being used in Google’s Hotel Finder product. Below is a screenshot of what the new Maps UI is supposed to look like.
Android: Key Lime Pie Vs. Jelly Bean 4.3
We could see the next incremental upgrade of Android Jelly Bean, currently in version 4.2. That would mean Jelly Bean 4.3. However the next major change slated for Android is Key Lime Pie (Android 5). That might also be previewed at I/O.
While Key Lime Pie would be more “newsworthy” and make a bigger splash, it would also potentially exacerbate Android’s fragmentation problem. Most users aren’t on Jelly Bean yet. Gingerbread, which is Android 2.3, is still the most widely used version of the operating system, followed by Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4).
Google Subscription Music Service
Google Play already allows users to buy music. However, one of the more significant announcements likely to come out of I/O is a new Google subscription music service, being characterized as a challenge to Pandora and Spotify (Apple is also poised to launch a streaming music service).
Google reportedly already has deals in place with three of the major music labels. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Google has signed deals with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group to give people unlimited access to certain libraries of their songs for a fee…
Google may also be preparing to launch a gaming hub, including multi-player experiences “similar to Apple’s Game Center,” says Wired. It may be called “Google Play Games” or “Google Game Center.”
This gaming rumor has been called the “most credible” of the collection of rumors leading up to I/O. There’s a great deal more information and anticipated features of the new gaming hub on the Android Police blog.
Google’s Missing Wallet
There was also supposed to be the announcement of a physical payment card for Google Wallet to broaden its reach and appeal. However, at the last minute, that was apparently scuttled by the company (CEO Larry Page, in particular). That’s according to AllThingsD last week.
More or less simultaneously, news came out that Google Wallet lead Osama Bedier was leaving the company.
Google had seen the introduction of a physical card as a way to reach a more mainstream user base for its Google Wallet service. It’s not clear whether the card is dead or just on hold.
PayPal has a physical card; however, it’s not clear how widely used it is.
Babble On Google
Finally, there are rumors of a new unified and cross-platform messaging service from Google called “Babel” (or maybe just Hangouts 2.0). It will supposedly combine and integrate all of Google’s existing messaging services into a single product that will be available across operating systems and clients: iOS, Chrome and Android.
There’s more detail on its potential features and capabilities on Pocket-lint.
Below is an image (via Wikipedia) of Pieter Bruegel’s celebrated 16th Century painting The Tower of Babel, which has nothing to do with the anticipated Google messaging product, except the name potentially.