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What to expect from Google’s 2016 I/O developer conference

By Alice Truong

Thousands of developers are swarming into the Bay Area this week for Google’s massive developer conference. As usual, the company is expected to use the stage to give the outside world a peek at what’s to come.

This year’s confab is taking place on the search and tech giant’s home turf in Mountain View, California. Though the schedule for Google’s I/O developer conference includes three packed days of sessions, the most anticipated event is the two-hour keynote, which starts tomorrow (May 18) at 10 am Western US time.

Here’s what to expect from the keynote:

Android N

Google typically pulls back the curtain on the latest Android features at I/O, but in March it surprised developers by releasing a preview a few months early.

From that release, we already know the following features are coming to Android N:

  • Split-screen multitasking, which allows users to run two apps simultaneously (the feature is already on the iPad)
  • Bundled notifications, so alerts from the same app are grouped together
  • Improved battery life, which is achieved with an operating system that runs more efficiently in the background

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and Google will likely have more up its sleeve (see next item). Perhaps it might even reveal the dessert Android N is named for.

Android VR

In the week leading up to the conference, Peter Rojas, who founded the tech blogs Gizmodo and Engadget, tweeted that Google was planning to announce a standalone virtual-reality headset. In terms of performance, it’ll fall somewhere between Samsung’s Gear VR and the recently launched Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Adding fuel to the rumor, the blog Android Police found a clue to Android VR buried in the Android N preview. A May 16 note from PiperJaffray also speculates that Google has ramped up its hiring of employees with VR experience by almost 60%, bringing it to about 350, in the last nine months.

Project Tango

The I/O schedule this year includes at least five sessions on Project Tango. Tango is Google’s endeavor to map indoor spaces in 3D using cameras and depth sensors on Android devices. These sensors will soon show up in consumer smartphones. According to Bloomberg, the technology could help Google gain ground in virtual reality, since Tango doesn’t require additional equipment to map environments and recreate them digitally.

Messaging

Yesterday, Google released a new app called Spaces to help groups share articles, videos, and images. But reports from recent months suggest Google has much grander messaging ambitions. Google is reportedly working on a WeChat-like messaging app that integrates a chat bot—a big theme of Facebook’s and Microsoft’s recent developer conferences.

Google Chirp

Though it appears unlikely Google will launch its Amazon Echo competitor this week, the company could point to it as an example of its work in artificial intelligence. Internally nicknamed Chirp, Google’s portable speaker reportedly uses an intelligent assistant to respond to spoken queries and commands.

More women

Google’s made a huge push in recent years to welcome more women at I/O, and this year is no different. It has partnered with organizations, including the Anita Borg Institute, Women Who Code, and Girl Develop It, to offer stipends, travel grants, and tickets for female developers. A Google spokeswoman says 23% of attendees are female this year. Though the ratio is flat from the year prior, the rep notes attendance is up almost 25%. Before the conference kicks off, Google is also hosting a dinner tonight with about 1,000 female attendees.