What to expect from Google’s I/O conference this week

Expect a marathon of announcements.
Expect a marathon of announcements.
Image: Alice Truong
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Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo all had their chance. Now it’s Google’s turn to make its case for why developers should build their apps using its platform and services.

In years prior, the company has used I/O, its annual confab for developers, as a stage for splashy announcements, including showing off its mobile operating system Android in 2008 and its futuristic headset, Google Glass, in 2012—the latter famously demonstrated live by skydivers (video).

For Google, its biggest event of the year helps showcase its innovation and indicate its direction, in hopes of enticing developers to build for its many platforms. This year’s conference, which will take place Thursday May 28 and Friday May 29 in San Francisco, promises more of the same. The official schedule, along with rumors and leaks, point to some big themes: the internet of things, TV, payments, and more.

Android M

Android M will be the next major release of Google’s mobile operating system. Right now, there are a lot of floating theories about what M stands for—Milkshake, M&M, Macadamia Nut Cookie?—but Google might not reveal the name until after the conference, as it did last year.

Fingerprint reader

Though some manufacturers, such as Samsung, have built fingerprint readers into their Android phones, Google is expected to add fingerprint authentication more widely in Android M. Reportedly, Google almost put a reader in the Nexus 6, but the source code revealed it was ultimately removed, likely because it wasn’t ready for primetime.

Android Pay

Google may have had a head start in mobile payments, but Google Wallet has mostly languished since its introduction in 2011. Now that Apple, Samsung, and PayPal are crowding the field, Google is getting ready to debut Android Pay, which reportedly will allow retailers to accept tap-to-pay transactions in-store.

“It’s a very, very important form of data,” says Forrester analyst Michael Facemire. “Not only do they want customers using it, they want to make it incredibly easy for developers to add to their apps as well.”

It’s still unclear if Android Pay will replace or supplement Google Wallet, which in February got the blessing of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile—the very wireless carries that blocked the app from their phones—while acquiring intellectual property from the carriers’ joint mobile wallet venture Softcard.

Internet of Things platform

Google has reportedly been building a new platform for connected hardware. Codenamed Brillo, the software can run on low-powered devices, as well as larger appliances such as smart fridges, according to The Information. With Brillo, devices would be able to communicate with Google’s Nest products, which include a smart thermostat, smoke detector, and home security cameras from Dropcam.

“Now with Nest taking a much more visible role, you can probably expect something on the smart home front from Google at I/O,” says Gartner analyst Mark Hung. “Especially with Apple shipping its first HomeKit product next month, I think Google will need to respond.”

Android TV and Chromecast

Chromecast, Google’s smart TV operating system packed into a dongle, quickly gained traction thanks to its $35 price tag. Within a year and a half of its launch, it became America’s second favorite streaming device, beating out Apple TV and coming in behind Roku.

Android TV (and before that Google TV) never took off in the same way. Google TV devices “are selling fairly well, but they’re being returned,” Andrej Kostresevic, CEO of mobile engineering company Nomads, says, citing conversations he has had with TV sales reps. “If you look at some of the remotes…they look like a flight control dashboard. They’re very, very complicated.” Judging by the schedule, it also appears Chromecast will get updated and rebranded as Google Cast.

Blurring of the Android and Chrome operating systems

With senior vice president Sundar Pichai now overseeing Chrome, Google Apps, and Android, there’s much speculation that the company will reconcile its two operating systems: Android and Chrome OS. A former Google employee tells Quartz there have been many internal discussions around the topic, and we might begin to understand the company’s vision for its two OSes at the conference.

Standalone photo service

Google is reportedly planning to separate and reboot the photo service from its social network Google Plus. Bloomberg reports that the tool, which people can use to store and share photos, can post images directly to Facebook and Twitter.

Cardboard and virtual reality

When Google debuted its virtual-reality headset made of cardboard last year, it seemed like a total gimmick. But it’s plausible Cardboard will make a repeat showing at I/O this year, given the recent attention on Oculus at Facebook’s F8 conference and HoloLens at Microsoft’s Build conference. Google recently moved Jon Wiley, the former lead designer of search, over to Cardboard, giving the project some real legs.

Kostresevic estimates it’ll take five to 10 years before any of these headsets see “meaningful adoption,” so he sees any moves in virtual reality and augmented reality as “a race for media coverage at this point.”

Google Glass

Earlier this year, Google more or less admitted the failure of Glass as a consumer product. In addition to halting consumer sales, the company put the unit under the purview of Nest chief Tony Fadell. Many people are hoping this means Google Glass 2.0 will make an appearance at the show. Perhaps Google’s fashion partners, including Luxottica, can transform Glass into an accessory people would actually want to wear in public.

Android Wear

Google has been reportedly working on bringing Android Wear to Apple’s iOS. But one of the big challenges there will be getting Apple’s stamp of approval. It’s pretty routine for the App Store to reject apps with Android in the name or description.

Google Play expands to China

Apple’s China strategy has paid off tremendously, and it appears Google is hoping for the same. The search giant has largely maintained its distance from the People’s Republic, due to conflicts over censorship. Google has also accused the Chinese government of hacking into its servers.

The Information reported in November, however, that Google is now trying to get into the country, though it’s unclear what compromises it’ll have to make. Currently, Android phones sold in China don’t come preloaded with Google apps.

Thinking outside the password

Last week, Google along with 17 other companies received a certification for logging in with methods other than typing in a password. A developer on Google’s security team tells Quartz that security will be a theme at the conference, and the company will discuss new ways to authenticate.

The cloud

Google doesn’t typically use I/O to plug its cloud services, but it might this year as a reaction to Amazon and Microsoft. In April, Amazon revealed for the first time the size of its cloud business: $5.2 billion in sales over the last four quarters. At Microsoft’s recent Build conference, the company touted major improvements to lure developers over to its competing service, Azure.

Google hasn’t been sitting idly by: It introduced big price cuts to the Google Cloud Platform last week. With competition heating up, it’s possible Google will use this opportunity to woo developers over to its cloud.