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Google I/O — What It Is, and Why You Should Be Excited

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In the past, tech trade shows were the primary domain of nerds and business people. At most, they were worthy of short, four-minute packages on the nightly news — usually in a spot designed to show laypeople a glimpse of some vague futuretech — and that was pretty much it.

Nowadays, industry events are a hot ticket in town attracting big media attention and huge attendance. They can create enormous hype and a booming business out of a single device, platform or network and turn business people into celebrities, worthy of coverage across a multitude of media — everything from traditional broadcast news and print to podcasts, online video and blogs.

Google I/O is no exception. Short for “Innovation in the Open,” I/O debuted in 2008 for the developer community, and its intended focus on technical matters kept it from really capturing the public’s imagination. (You win geek credits if you also notice that “I” and “O” are also reminiscent of binary 1s and 0s.) In contrast, Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s conference quickly grew to epic mainstream cultural prominence, thanks to its steady annual unveiling of long-awaited, highly anticipated and much-rumored/buzzed-about new iPhone hardware.

Now as much as I don’t want to engage in platform partisanship, I do note that it probably doesn’t hurt that Apple’s WWDC is rumored to leave out a sexy hardware upgrade announcement for its iPhone (in favor of a fall announcement). Seems like there’s less to steal the thunder here, no?

But even aside from that — what a difference a year makes. Devices loaded with Android, Google’s mobile operating system, has grabbed more (much more) public adoption this past year. Also over the course of the past year, Android tablets have launched and even more are planned, all running Honeycomb, a tablet-optimized version of the OS. Google TV also launched. And a Chrome laptop (the CR-48) anchored a pilot program and is now the subject of subscription rumors.

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Sure, people en masse turned “Google” into a verb long ago, but now, more of them are considering its products genuine objects of desire. Heck, I even recently encountered a very non techie mom rocking an Evo 4G. She had no idea what fragmentation or open source meant, but she knew enough to question me about what she should consider next along this line and asked “Isn’t Google having some sort of convention soon?” So even she knew about Google I/O. I was actually proud of her for having some interest in the products she’s investing in.

So if you’re getting any heat from a loved one who doesn’t understand your excitement, anticipation, salivation over Google I/O, just forward this post along and tell your parent, guardian or significant other to get with the program — and understand that conferences like these don’t just tell us what’s coming along in the distant future, but also what’s coming next. They inform us not just as geeks, but as end users and consumers so we can make smarter choices. And hey, if you giggle like a young schoolgirl at various times during the conference, so be it. We won’t judge you.

Sidebar: Past I/O Innovations

In years past, we’ve seen several innovations reach our hands. Some were successful, some weren’t, but they all pushed the envelope. Let’s take a walk down memory lane:

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Google I/O 2008: Among the news here was Google Gears getting a name change to just Gears, a social venture called Google Friend Connect, the Google App Engine and a little project called Android. All but the last two survived (and boy did that last one ever survive!). The mobile OS was demo’ed running on a handset, and a few months later, the first device — the G1 on T-mobile — debuted to lukewarm reviews. It was a rough initial showing for Android, but even then, many of the critics could see the potential in it.

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Google I/O 2009: This year and the one previous, there was a special focus on the Google App Engine, as well as HTML 5 and its influence on web apps. But the big announcement had to do with Google Wave, a now defunct tool that unfortunately suffered from a unique syndrome — though the company and developers were excited by it, end users couldn’t understand how to use it or what it was intended to do. (It was actually a collaboration and communications tool.) In the end, this show was perhaps more infamous for the fact that attendees all went home with an Android phone (running 1.5) in their pocket.

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Google I/O 2010: WebM, the Chrome Web Store, and the growth of the Android Market got some decent play over two days’ worth of keynotes. There was also a demo of some unnamed Google cloud-based music system, one that had actually begun development years before. At this point, we still don’t have an official public release on this (in fact, the service was even taken offline), but given how much attention “cloud-based” music is getting these days, it should surprise no one to see a further announcement at this year’s I/O or at some point during the year. Google also cemented its rep for freebies by doling out HTC Evo 4G handsets to attendees.

But beyond all this, the big news indisputably had to do with Google TV. Where that will go at this point, if at all, was up for debate a short while ago. The demo was flat-out sexy, but UI issues and limited content (not to mention big pricetags) has kept it from really taking off in the marketplace since then. Logitech, a key partner and maker of the Logitech Revue with Google TV, only sold $5 million of them in Q4 2010.

(My opinion? Google desperately needs to get more content to make this thing fly. And finally bringing the Android Market for Google TV wouldn’t hurt either. Frankly, these two things are plenty to tide people over until the other UI issues get worked out.)

Google I/O 2011: So what’s next? Well, this is the subject of lots of rumors, and TechnoBuffalo has thrown down our own predictions of what we may see. Predictably, much of it has to do with Android, Google TV and Chrome — both software- and hardware-wise. (Click here to see the predictions.)

Will Android unify its smartphone and tablet OSes? Will the fact that Google’s YouTube is striking deals with more and more major studios give Google TV new life? And will a publicly released Chrome laptop, with better hardware, ever see the light of day?

You’ve got to tune in to find out. TechnoBuffalo’s Noah Kravitz will be there live to cover all the news, so be sure to bookmark our landing page for Google I/O coverage here.

And then let us know: Is there a specific announcement you’re hoping for? Let us know what you think below.

 


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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