What We Expect From Google I/O

Google’s annual I/O developer conference kicks off on Wednesday – you can follow our full live blog here. It’s a day full of presents for Android developers, users and fans around the globe. Last year, Google took the wraps off of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the biggest update to Android yet. It also discussed its Google Wallet platform for mobile payments and much, much more. Then, on the second day, it introduced us to Chromebooks. This year we’re expecting the company to make several announcements, the biggest of which will be its Google Nexus tablet. What else is in store? Let’s take a look at what we’re expecting from Google’s I/O conference.

Definitely:

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

Jelly Bean is Google’s latest and greatest version of Android — Jelly Bean. Leaks have suggested that it’s currently being called Android 4.1 (but could launch as 5.0, we suppose), so it might not be as big of an update as earlier releases, but that could be a great thing for consumers. If Jelly Bean is minor enough, perhaps carriers and manufacturers will be able to push the update out to devices faster. That could help slim down Android’s fragmentation, especially if the update can be applied quickly. It may also hint to why Sony decided to launch the Xperia ion on AT&T with Android Gingerbread instead of Android Ice Cream Sandwich — perhaps Sony is waiting for Jelly Bean instead?

We’re expecting Jelly Bean to offer a few UI design improvements — Google could clean up Ice Cream Sandwich a bit, and maybe even some enhancements to battery life. Most of us know that Android phones don’t typically offer the kind of battery life that iOS does (depending on the size of your battery), but that’s also due to support for faster 4G LTE networks. Among those design improvements, however, is likely a revamped Google Play store.

Google could also build on ICS by enabling expansive device support for Jelly Bean. What if manufacturers could launch entry-level smartphones with Jelly Bean installed so that developers can create applications for a larger user base? Google could absolutely get started on fixing fragmentation by allowing Jelly Bean to run on entry-level and high-end devices, even if certain features are reserved for the higher-end smartphones and tablets.

Maybe Jelly Bean will also launch with Chrome as the default browser, instead of the current stock Android version. It only makes sense for Google to use its own mobile browser in Jelly Bean and we think it’s one of the best browsers out there for Android devices.

Samsung recently introduced S Voice, but maybe Google has its own Siri-competitor in store. Android already tightly integrates with voice commands and we’re hoping that Google can take this a step further by providing the ability to launch applications via voice, ask the weather and much more.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Google announced some sort of NFC (Near Field Communication) sharing experience between Android smartphones and tablets. I discuss this topic further under the NFC section of this editorial.

Nexus Tablet

We already brought you exclusive details on the Nexus tablet that Google will announce during I/O. ASUS will manufacture the Nexus tablet and it will feature Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, a 7-inch display, a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and an alleged price tag of $200. Google already has a well-established eco-system that provides video, books, music and applications to Android-powered devices — that means this could be the Amazon Kindle Fire’s biggest competitor yet. Hopefully the tablet hits the market soon, although we haven’t heard any specific launch date plans just yet.

Fresh Applications

We think Google will highlight new application partnerships. A recent screenshot of the Google I/O application suggested that Pinterest is going to launch an application, but we’re not really sure how many people will find the announcement that exciting. We’re also expecting larger partnerships with gaming companies to boost the company’s portfolio of games. Currently, seven of the top 10 applications in Google Play are games. It would only make sense for Google to expand on this further.

Maybe:

Android@Home Automation Discussion

Google introduced its Android@Home framework last year but we haven’t heard anything fresh on the topic since. We’re hoping that Google discusses its home automation products again. It would be amazing to control the lights, the stereo, a TV and more with one Google-controlled application — and Google said it was working on Android-powered appliances that could be controlled by other Android devices. AT&T is currently developing its own solution, which runs on the iPad, and several Samsung tablets currently allow you to change channels on your TV with a channel changer, but Samsung’s solution isn’t technically home automation.

Google Wallet Update

Sprint’s devices, and a few T-Mobile phones, support Google Wallet, the company’s mobile payment solution, but Sprint is allegedly working on its own client. Who will Google partner with next? AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all working on ISIS, an independent mobile payment solution. Will Google kill off wallet completely? Or perhaps it will announce partnerships with regional carriers that otherwise don’t have mobile payment solutions in place? We’re super excited about where NFC is going and hope that Google has more to add to the topic.

Deeper NFC Support for Tablets

Microsoft recently announced its Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro Surface tablets and then, a few days later, showed off how those tablets can interact directly with its Windows Phone 8 devices. We’re guessing Google has something similar up its sleeves. Dozens of Android smartphones currently support NFC but few tablets do. (There’s one Sharp tablet that I can think of with NFC support). Perhaps Google will discuss deeper integration and media sharing between Android-powered smartphones and tablets. Plus, Android has a much higher market share than Windows Phone does, so it’s more likely that users will be able to take advantage of NFC between smartphones and tablets sooner than they will be able to with Microsoft’s devices. Why wouldn’t Google announce that its products are capable of similar support?

New Direct from Google Devices

Google first began selling smartphones directly from its own store when it introduced the Nexus S. Then it stopped selling devices directly until very recently, when it posted the Galaxy Nexus and a range of accessories on its site. We wouldn’t be surprised if Google announced that it’s taking this a step further and that it will offer the Nexus tablet directly from its Google Play store, and possibly several other devices and accessories.

Possibly:

Maps Update

Google already had a special Maps event to discuss where it’s headed with its platform and, we’re guessing, that was just to assure users that the product is still relevant even though Apple is ditching Google Maps for its own solution in iOS 6. Google already announced a new offline mode for maps, but it’s only currently available in beta mode. We wouldn’t be surprised if the application was launched on Wednesday. Maybe there are a few secrets in store, too, such as improved navigation or more location-based partners. The company currently provides Zagat ratings within Map search but it would be awesome if there were a Foursquare or Facebook tie-in for quick check-ins, too.

We Doubt It:

A New Smartphone

We don’t think Google will introduce a new smartphone. We’re thinking it’s more likely that this event will focus around the Nexus tablet and that the company will instead announce plans to push Android 4.1 to smartphones, such as the Galaxy Nexus, in the near future. We also haven’t seen any leaks surrounding a possible update to the Galaxy Nexus, which means either Google is keeping the project super close to the vest or it will introduce a new Nexus-branded device at a later time, as it did with the Galaxy Nexus.