Google I/O 2013: What to Expect

Google I/O 2013: What to Expect


Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, begins Wednesday morning, and it has a tough act to follow.
The company set the bar high last year with a product- and event-dominated agenda, including the well-reviewed Nexus 7 tablet, a big step up for Android in version 4.1 “Jelly Bean” and an amazing skydiving stunt to hype Google Glass. Even the Nexus Q media console — a dud if there ever was one — was notable: It didn’t just fail, it failed spectacularly.
So how can Google top itself for 2013? Answer: by not trying. Ahead of the conference, Google’s Android head Sundar Pichai sought to manage expectations in an interview with Wired. Don’t expect the same product carnival we saw in Google I/O 2012. This year, Google is amping up the geek factor (if that’s possible) and focusing on developers.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any product announcements, just that the majority of them will probably be software rather than hardware. We also likely won’t see any new game-changers the way Google Glass stole headlines last year. In 2012, Google was planting seeds; now it’s watering them.
Here’s what we expect to see growing in that garden:

Glass Gets Clearer

Google Glass isn’t just a weird object sitting on a few Googlers’ faces anymore. Now, thousands of developers have the hardware, and most of them will be at I/O. Google is loading Day 2 of the conference with several sessions dedicated to developing for Glass, and there’s a good chance it will use the conference to reveal more official apps. Maybe we’ll finally see automatic picture-taking mode.
Might we see Sergey Brin interrupt another one of his executives on stage during Wednesday’s keynote to showcase another larger-than-life Glass stunt? Anything’s possible, but he’d have a hard time topping last year’s skydive — especially now that Glass is a real thing in developers’ hands and not some semi-mythical device.

Android Game Center

The most credible rumor about the coming conference is that Google will announce an official Android Game Center — a central hub for games on the platform where players can post scores, compete with each other and even engage in multiplayer gaming.
It’s an overdue feature, and would finally give Android the equivalent of Game Center on iOS. The introduction of Google Game Center for Android (as it’s rumored to be called) will make it easier for developers to create engaging, multiplayer games by standardizing the tools involved. Android phones, tablets and gaming devices such as Nvidia’s Project Shield will all benefit.
Might the introduction of an Android Game Center mean a return of the Nexus Q as a gateway to Android gaming on a TV? That’s doubtful, but if we don’t see some kind of rebirth for the Q at I/O 2013, we can consider it dead and buried.

Android Update

There will definitely be some kind of update to Android at Google I/O 2013, but it’s unclear how big of an update. Early rumors pegged the conference as the launchpad for version 5.0 “Key Lime Pie,” but now the buzz is pointing to a less momentous change in the ecosystem.
Yes, we may get another flavor of Jelly Bean before we can stuff ourselves with Pie. Android 4.3 supposedly upgrades the OS to Bluetooth Smart Ready, meaning phones will support low-energy devices such as heart-rate monitors. As for other features, we’ll have to wait and see, but they’re sure to be similarly minor.


A new tablet? Yes, that’s probably on deck, but it looks like it’ll be an update to Google’s succesful Nexus 7 rather than something new. A Nexus 8 — something to compete more directly with the iPad mini — has occasionally been rumored, but reports about it petered out, suggesting it was never real, or may debut later.
What about the Motorola X phone, which has been talked about for months? That’s almost certainly in development, but if it makes an appearance at I/O, it’ll probably be in an early preview form rather than a launch. Given how most companies reveal phones these days, Google would be breaking sharply from the current pattern if it unveiled something that won’t be on store shelves for months.


One of the bigger software announcements that’s been rumored is Google Babel (or Babble), which will represent a unification of Google’s myriad chat services. With Babel, products such as Drive, Gmail and Google+ will all use the same communication tools.
Babel looks very likely because it’s something Google really needs. However, various sites are reporting that Babel is just a code name, and Google will instead adopt terminology from Google+, and just call the new tool Hangouts.

Google Maps Update

Last year was a big year for maps. Not only did Apple launch its own service, but both Google and Apple upgraded their maps to 3D. Is there still much to do?
There could be. An upgrade to Google Maps’ design on the web is rumored to be on the agenda (making better use of space by overlaying info rather than putting it in margins), as well as more effort behind indoor maps. I’m sure anyone who ever got lost in an airport terminal will be glad for that.

More Output

Although it’s seemingly killing services left and right, Google still manages a lot of services, and I/O will likely bring with it updates to Chrome (what’s up with Blink?), Wallet (is that credit card coming?), TV (it’s do or die), Music (where’s on-demand streaming at?) and Photos (doing anything with Nik?).
Then there are the ongoing X projects, including the self-driving car and Google Fiber. We’ll probably get some mentions, possibly even clever ones, but not a lot of news other than the progress we already know about.

A Gentler I/O

So Google won’t be outdoing itself with another product cavalcade this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s slowing down. A quieter period was inevitable after Google launched high-profile products such as Glass and the Nexus tablets. But that gives developers more time to work with the tools Google has created, potentially leading to even greater benefits down the road.


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