Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Google's annual developer conference, Google I/O
, begins Wednesday, although it's likely to be a more subdued event than last year's extravaganza.
Google I/O 2012 would be hard to top: Skydivers wearing Google Glass broadcasted live video from the devices as they jumped from an airship over San Francisco, landed on the roof of the Moscone Convention Center, and performed bike stunts while making their way to the keynote auditorium.
Now that Glass is a real product and is being distributed to the developers who signed up to be Glass Explorers last year, execution matters more than publicity. Google will probably present a polished video about someone using Glass in a socially conscious or inspiring way.
[ Will Internet-connected glasses mean the end of manners? Read Google Glass Etiquette: A Work In Progress. ]
But if I/O 2013 offers less in the way of spectacle, that might mean more in the way of substance. Here's what we could see:
The Marriage of Android and Chrome?
The most interesting thing about Google I/O this year might be hearing what Sundar Pichai has to say. Pichai was recently tapped to take over management of Google's Android operating system, in addition to his duties overseeing Chrome and Apps.
Android and the Chrome browser both have been huge successes for Google. Chrome OS, Google's browser-based operating system, hasn't done as well. If Google wants to sell notebook hardware outside the education and business markets — and producing prestige products like the Chromebook Pixel suggests it does — it needs to find a way to make Chrome OS hardware more useful and better integrated with its growing Android installed base.
Google could create code that allows Android apps to be executed on Chrome OS devices, using its NaCl technology. Whether it will do so remains to be seen. But at the very least, we should expect the ability to edit Microsoft Office files in Chrome browsers and on Chrome OS devices using Google's QuickOffice technology, acquired last year. Google already has integrated QuickOffice into Chrome to allow Office document viewing. It might finally be ready to announce the ability to edit Office documents in Chrome.
Hangouts Gets Babel
Google has been working on an integrated cross-platform instant messaging and communication application. Referred to internally as Babel, it's now expected to be rolled into Hangouts, currently a video collaboration and broadcasting service. The new Hangouts is expected to integrate Talk and Messenger, with Voice to be added at a later date.
Nexus 7 HD
To compete with the iPad Mini Retina tablet expected from Apple, Google is reportedly upgrading its Nexus 7 tablet with a high-resolution screen and faster processor. Although not an earth-shattering development, an upgraded mini tablet certainly will be welcomed by Android fans.
App Engine Adds PHP
Apple has Game Center as a communal center of gravity for iOS and OS X games. Google doesn't have an equivalent, yet. The company recently hired game-industry veteran Noah Falstein as its chief game designer. And the .apk code for the recently released MyGlass app suggests Google Play Services are being developed.
A revamped version of Google Maps was spotted recently. Whether this is simply an aesthetic change or was undertaken to accommodate new services or devices isn't yet clear.
Google Now, Everywhere
Google Now, the company's mobile predictive search tool, could find a place in desktop browsers, or perhaps just in Chrome. Google apparently has been testing code that would allow this.
Google Compute Engine Restrictions Removed
In April, Google made Compute Engine available to customers paying $400 per month for its Cloud Platform Gold Support service. Compute Engine, which competes with cloud services such as Amazon EC2, previously had been available by invitation. Google I/O would be the logical time to announce unqualified public availability.
Android watchers remain convinced that Android 5.0, otherwise known as Key Lime Pie, has been delayed. Instead, they expect to see an incremental upgrade, Android 4.3. Notable features are said to include support for Bluetooth Low Energy and OpenGL ES 3.0. Delaying Android 5.0 has the advantage of allowing Google to respond to iOS 7, which presumably will be revealed in June at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference.
Glass just got a software upgrade so it seems unlikely Google will have much to announce. Perhaps we'll see a partnership with Warby Parker for fulfilling custom lenses or the announcement of distribution events for winners of Google's #ifihadglass contest. Or we might see some interesting third-party Glass apps debut.
What We Probably Won't See
Google is believed to be working on a streaming music service is similar to in concept to Spotify, though the reported launch date isn't until the third quarter of the year. Google was reportedly working on a physical Google Wallet card, but that apparently has been cancelled. Google TV persists but hasn't gotten much attention recently. Don't look for that to change. And after the debacle of the Nexus Q audio system last year, it seems unlikely Google will revisit music hardware, at least until it has a functioning streaming music service as a tie-in. Motorola's XFON may or may not make the cut. We'll have to wait and see.