It's that time of year again, and by the looks of things Google has plenty of awesome to show us.
Google's annual developer conference is right around the corner, and there's a lot to talk about this year. A lot has happened in the last 12 months that position Google to make some big announcements this year, continuing the bold new direction the company has taken Android, Chrome, and just about everything else the company does.
While San Francisco prepares for thousands of developers — as well as a couple of Android Central's finest — to descend once again upon the Moscone West convention center, it seemed like a good time to take a look at what we're expecting from this year's Google Nerd Christmas.
1. Android M — all about polish
Lets get the big, obvious one out of the way first. Google's going to talk about the state of Android right now, which usually means a fun graphic with activation numbers and developer payouts from app purchases, and then they are going to dive into their plans for the next version of Android. While our trusty alphabet and some common sense told us the codename for the next version of Android following Lollipop would start with an M, an accidental mention on the schedule for this year's events removed any lingering doubt. Google's going to talk Android M, and our guess is it's going to be way more about platform unification and polish than anything else.
Look for more cleanup and new features, but not a total reboot in Android M.
With just about 10 percent of Android devices running Lollipop, it's unlikely we'll see any massive shift in design language or developer guidelines. Google's Material Design efforts are still rolling out to everything. And we're likely to see a move toward refinement, with smoother animations and more defined guidelines for material behaviors. We'll also see a lot more about how Material Design is going to continue to weave itself into the rest of Google's products — particularly with Chrome — as we see Google's mobile and web platforms grow even closer together. Developers will hear a lot about how to write for both platforms, including how to better handle permissions. Whether the need to have well-defined permissions on the web turns into a new permission system on Android has yet to be seen, but there aren't many folks out there who'd say no if it happens.
And there's a good chance we'll walk away from Google I/O this year with an M preview build for the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, but it's unlikely we'll hear much (if anything) about new Nexus devices. Google has worked out a healthy niche for themselves in Fall releases, and since Lollipop is still very much a new thing for most folks it seems likely we'll see a repeat of last year in terms of release cycle. Google is probably going to use this event to focus on platform unification, which means more about Android Auto, Android TV/Google Cast, home integration, and some new things about Enterprise, Education, and Health.
2. A more secure Android
The balance between security and ease of use will get better.
Google has been big on adding simple security features and demonstrating how effecting their Play Store monitoring tools have been this year, and you can bet Android M is going to include more of the same. Smart Lock options will continue to grow, and whispers of a more granular permission system helps paint a clearer picture of where this next version of Android is going to be focused. These are useful features for consumers and Enterprise customers, which ties in nicely with Google's Android for Work deployment.
This is also a perfect time for Google to unveil the fingerprint APIs that didn't make it into Android 5.0. We know there was originally supposed to be a fingerprint sensor in the Nexus 6, but the forced delay likely gave Google time to sort out ways to wrap the security measure into things like Android Pay and individual app access or login. While it's true there's no current Nexus hardware around to take advantage of this new feature, it's something you can expect to see on a lot more devices after Samsung delivered fingerprint security so successfully in the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge.
3. Android @ Home — or thereabouts
Google's purchase of Nest might finally lead to home integration that works.
While it may not have the same name or function in exactly the same way, there are a lot of puzzle pieces pointing to the return of Google's efforts to do more in your home. A couple of years ago this was called Android @ Home and included things like smart lighting and the aborted Nexus Q. In 2015, however, smart lighting is already growing at a rapid pace and the Internet of Things is connecting a lot of other home appliances to the network. The one big thing missing from the jumbled mess that is the Internet of Things is a unifying effort that actually works. Fortunately for Google, they already own a company that has proven to be better than most at doing exactly this. Nest.
Nest has already made some impressive strides in acting as the central accessory for a smarter home, with your smartphone acting as the unifying mechanism, but Google is likely thinking a lot larger than this. Rather than an extension of the "Works with Nest" program, Google will most likely talk about an entirely separate mechanism for communicating with all of the smart devices in your local network. In order for this to work, Google's going to need some impressive partnerships and a platform that any company can work with. That mechanism might well be a new Nest thermostat, or it could be something low-power and inexpensive you attach to your network via Ethernet, but there's most likely going to be some kind of hardware involved.
4. Google Cast and Android TV
Google is far from done pushing into the living room, and with Chromecast continuing to gain momentum and Android TV finally having a compelling hardware option in the NVIDIA Shield Console — whenever they get around to actually selling it, that is — we're going to see a huge push towards gaming and watching television through Android TV and Google Cast. A quick look at the schedule for I/O this year shows a ton of sessions focused on exactly these things, and a couple of curious sessions on building "channels" for Android TV that will get a better explanation during the event.
The past year of Android TV was just a teaser. Get ready for the good stuff.
Google wants this to be a thing so badly that many of these sessions are repeated to make sure everyone who wants to learn at the event can do so, which means it's not exactly a leap to suggest there's going to be some hardware discussed during the keynote. Maybe that means an update to the Chromecast hardware, maybe it means we'll see some Android TV boxes that offer HDMI passthrough. We don't know just yet. Whatever happens, it's going to have a lot to do with Google and gaming and your living room.
You can expect Google to talk at least a little about Cast for Audio as well. LG's relatively quiet rollout of their multi-room speakers and the Sonos connection with Google Cast for Audio are the only things out right now that play nice with this protocol, but as Google moves further into living room invasion this is going to be a significant piece of the puzzle.
5. Chrome and Android together at last?
You don't have to be paying particularly close attention to see Google has been making big steps toward bringing Chrome and Android together. While it's unlikely we'll see the two products merge together into a single operating system anytime soon — if ever — we're going to see more cross-platform behaviors and design languages that play nice across all of the different potential screen sizes.
Android and Chrome have been moving closer for some time.
We've already seen Google encouraging developers to test these waters with ARC Welder for Chrome, where Android apps can be uploaded and tested in touch and non-touch environments and then repackaged for Chrome. But the next step is a little trickier. Google can't expect users to upload their own APKs or treat apps different across platforms just because they should know better. Instead, we're going to get web containers for these apps to take advantage of the lightweight windowed nature of Chrome OS. This is going to mean Android developers will need to figure out how to better request permissions for account and hardware access, which usually happens individually in HTML5.
This creates a lot of questions, like what will become of the Chrome Web Store and how will non-Chrome OS devices handle this experience, but we're just going to have to wait and let Google walk us through it.
6. Growing Android Wear and Android Auto
Now that Google's wearable efforts have shifted from face computers to wrist computers and from awkward Car Mode features to full in-vehicle solutions, we're going to hear a little more about how those platforms are growing. Android Wear will have completely updated to version 5.1.1w by the time the main event begins, so we'll most likely be hearing more about how developers can take advantage of the platform than anything else.
Watches and cars and faces — oh, my!
Google's going to push hard about the things Android Wear does that the competition doesn't. The always-on wrist-mounted screen is going to have developers seeking the best way to offer a great experience, and Google's session lineup looks ready to deliver. It wouldn't be surprising to see Google announce support for Android Wear on iOS, and maybe even some additional info about the Intel/Tag Heuer smartwatch.
The same could be said of Android Auto, which due to the costs and general lack of availability has an especially low adoption rate at the moment. Google has a pair of sessions focused on delivering apps to the car, which will hopefully include some new information about availability for some of the hardware we've seen announced over the last year.
As for Google's other wearable technology, we're probably not going to see a repeat of Sergey Brin landing on the roof of Moscone West, and not just because Tony Fadell is in charge of the project now. There have been several statements about being less public about the next version of Glass and waiting until it's a complete thought, and it's only been five months since Fadell took over the project.
7. Everything else we think will be at I/O 2015
Google's got a lot of little things happening as well, and hopefully we'll see those things become a lot bigger this year.
- Android Pay will most likely be announced. Here's hoping it's everything we want it to be.
- Hangouts will probably get an update amidst the Chrome/Android love fest
- Google Now will get smarter
- We're going to hear more about voice commands, maybe even an API for developers to play along like Google had with Glass
- Jerry is going to have an HTC Re on a stick, and it's going to be glorious.
- Kid-focused Android Apps are coming, with a ton of rules about how ads will work inside them
- Google Cardboard will get an honorable mention of some kind, but probably not much more
Join us May 28 and 29 as we bring it all to you! Bookmark our Google I/O page now!