Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) annual I/O developer conference kicks off on Tuesday after being shut down entirely last year due to the pandemic. But this time around, rather than packing the Shoreline Amphitheater outside the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, the show will be an all-virtual affair, streamed on the Google I/O website and YouTube.
As its name suggests, Google’s I/O showcases the company’s latest software developments for developers, and provides them with the means to create the next generation of apps.
But that doesn’t mean regular folks like you and I don’t have anything to look forward to. I/O also provides the company with a chance to show off its own new apps and hardware from its Pixel and Nest products.
Here’s what we’re expecting out of this year’s big show.
Google typically uses I/O to showcase the next generation of its Android operating system. Since Android is the most widely used OS in the world, every change the company makes to the software affects millions of users.
So far, Google has given us a small look at what it’s cooking up in the latest version of Android, called Android 12, via its developer preview. We’ll see a number of under-the-hood improvements, including haptics-backed audio that matches audio cues to vibrations from the phone.
XDA Developers managed to get its hands on early documentation of Android 12 showing off the new look and feel of the operating system, which includes changes to the notifications panel, new privacy settings, and conversation widgets — persistent conversation bubbles that you can pin your Home Screen and reply from.
And of course, I/O should provide us with the official launch date of the full public release of Android 12.
Pixel Buds A
Google has all but announced the Pixel Buds A on its own already, thanks to a tweet the company’s Android Twitter account fired off and then promptly deleted that not only revealed the buds, but provided information on its quick pairing feature.
The Tweet, which was captured by the fine folks at 9to5Google, went out May 4, and the earbuds will likely make their second debut at I/O. The Buds A are expected to be an entry-level version of Google’s existing Pixel Buds, which sell for $179.
Google’s answer to Apple’s (AAPL) AirPods, the Pixel Buds offer five hours of battery life, with the wireless charging case providing up to 24 hours of extra power. The buds use passive-noise cancellation, rather than the pricier active-noise cancellation found on the AirPods Pro. That means the Pixel Buds A should also use passive-noise cancellation.
Active-noise cancellation earbuds limit ambient noise from interfering with your listening experience by using built-in microphones and speakers to play sounds that match the frequencies of those around you, cancelling them out. Passive-noise cancellation buds more or less plug your ears.
WearOS and a Pixel watch
I/O 2021 will be Google’s first after its $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit in January. The thinking has been that Google would be able to use Fitbit’s technology and wearable know-how to bolster its own smartwatch division, which has fallen behind market leader Apple.
In April, Jon Prosser, a prominent YouTube leaker, shared a slew of renders of a rumored Google Pixel watch via his YouTube channel, and if the images are accurate, we could see one heck of a good-looking smart watch. Sporting a circular design, rather than the square design of the Apple Watch, the Pixel watch could finally put Google on the map as a smart watch leader.
And if there’s a new smartwatch, you know that means Google will also be showing off improvements to its WearOS, the operating system behind Google-powered wearables.
Google will still have a long way to go to catch up to Apple, though. According to Counterpoint Research, Apple controls a 40% market share of the global smartwatch market. The next closet is Samsung at 10%. So yeah, just a slight lead.
Smart home products and Google Assistant news
Google always likes to show off new smart home products at its developer conference, and this year isn’t likely to be any different. Expect to see some announcements regarding the company’s Nest line of speakers and smart displays and new integrations for them.
And of course, Google is certain to make a number of announcements related to its Google Assistant, which gets smarter every year.
Google has made its Assistant the centerpiece of its smartphones and smart home devices, ensuring you can access it with either the push of a button or using your own voice. In recent years, the company has pushed the limits of what the Assistant can do by adding features like Duplex, which allows the voice assistant to make phone calls for you for things like making dinner reservations.
More from Dan: