For Android and Google enthusiasts, there's no better time of year than Google I/O. This year's "festival" starts on May 8 and runs for three days in the sun of Northern California, and will be the stage for Google to make announcements of all sizes about its products, projects and initiatives. We'll hear about Android, Google Assistant, Chromebooks, Google Play and just about every other big Google product or service.
But I/O isn't all about the flashy announcements and user-facing products — you could argue that isn't even a majority of what the conference is for. There's also all of the developer-focused announcements, talks, workshops and office hours available to let people learn more about how to interface with Google's technologies. This is, after all, a developer conference.
Whether you're following along for the consumer or developer announcements, here's what you can expect from Google I/O 2018 when it kicks off on May 8.
Google has already dropped the Android P Developer Preview to give us an early look at the next operating system release. But it isn't until Google I/O that we start to get details on what Google's vision for these new features and changes is. Across a variety of sessions, we'll learn about how developers will be able to leverage the new APIs in Android P, including indoor positioning, richer notifications, improved fingerprint authentication, multi-camera support, and yes ... display notches. The "What's new in Android P" session (2 p.m. May 8) will have hundreds of people watching in person and thousands catching the stream online.
Google I/O is also our best opportunity yet to see what Google's thinking about with the design of Android P. The best we have right now is a cobbled-together testing interface in the Dev Preview, and a couple leaked screenshots — but we're almost guaranteed to see more up-to-date versions in use across I/O, even in areas where you wouldn't normally be looking for it. We could also catch glimpses of this purported new "gesture" navigation interface, a better look at the color palette and more changes in store for Google's own Pixels.
Getting a new version of the Android P Developer Preview, potentially marked as the first "Beta" release, during I/O is completely expected.
Google apps / Google Play
In the Google I/O schedule, "Android & Play" are grouped together — and that makes sense, because without Google Play and all of Google's great apps, Android isn't of much use to any of us. The main keynote (10:00 a.m. May 8) typically has a rundown of the big customer-facing updates to all of Google's big apps like YouTube, Photos, Gmail, Maps and more. Given the importance of Assistant in the last year, we should see an emphasis on AI throughout these big app updates.
Unfortunately Google has this habit of announcing great new features for its flagship apps at I/O ... only to release them months later, if at all. We may not actually get to see these updates in action at I/O, and have to wait for updates in the weeks and months after.
We're unsure about the specifics, but are expecting updates to Google's strategy around Instant Apps and Progressive Web Apps (PWA). There's lots of overlap in capabilities here, and Google seems to be more interested in Instant Apps than PWAs — hopefully we can get more clarity on what's happening here based on Google's announcements. In either case, it's all about offering you native app-like experiences without necessarily going through the process of downloading, installing and launching a full app in the traditional sense.
Android TV / Chromecast
Google announced a new Android TV interface alongside Oreo, but unfortunately the rollout has seen all sorts of issues and hasn't actually made it to devices. That comes from a whole host of issues, but the underlying current of all of this is that Android TV just doesn't have a feeling of strong direction. We'll see Google's plans starting with the "What's new in Android TV" session (3 p.m. May 8) — and this update may even be large enough to warrant some time at the main keynote.
The Android TV interface may actually get another refresh to focus more on Google's handful of content strengths (YouTube, Play Movies, key partner apps) and less so on the main interface and navigation — because it's clear that developers aren't flocking to Android TV. In short, Google may make Android TV a bit more like a Chromecast. We've seen leaks of a new compact HDMI dongle from Google that purportedly runs Android TV, which could be a clue as to the direction for the platform. Rumors have also swirled that Android TV could be in for a rebranding, much like Android Wear just changed to Wear OS, to reflect this move.
As for Chromecast itself, we don't expect anything new to replace the current Chromecast Ultra — but depending on what happens with this potential Android TV dongle, there could be a shift in pricing of the current Chromecast lineup.
Google Assistant / Google Home
Google showed off about a dozen different Assistant-enabled Smart Displays at CES 2018, and four months later it's time we heard more about their availability. The only functional units we saw back in January were from Lenovo, and those were prototypes with limited features — at I/O, we should expect to see fully-functional devices with a finished interface that shows off how Google expects users to interact with these screens.
Considering the fact that Google Home, Home Mini and Home Max are all relatively new and don't need to have their hardware refreshed on a regular basis, don't expect to hear anything new on those devices. I/O will be all about Smart Displays and the Assistant improvements that are applicable across the entire range.
On the backend, Google's talking all about what it calls "Actions" — basically the way that you make your app or service available through Google Assistant across every device (i.e. calling an Uber from your Home using voice). There are a whopping 12 sessions about creating Actions for Google Assistant this year, which just shows how important Google feels it is. This isn't something that will manifest itself in a customer-facing change right away, but will hopefully increase the usability of third-party apps and services in Google Assistant in the year to come.
Chrome / Chromebooks
After Apple took a swing at Google with its recent education-focused event, expect Google to express its dominance in education with Chromebooks. We should get updates on Google's position in the education market, as well as a slew of updates on how Chromebooks continue to be a great choice for schools and children.
After the announcement of the first Chrome OS tablet, the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, the flood gates for these types of devices should open at I/O. We'll learn more about changes to Chrome OS aimed at making it more friendly to tablet-like devices, including information on the state of the Android app framework on Chrome OS.
More to that point, don't expect to see anything about tablets running Android — the emphasis will be on Chrome OS.
VR / AR
On the AR side, we'll see an update to Google's ARCore platform — bumping up to version 1.2. It's expected to offer better surface handling, better correction for light and shadows, and most importantly support for even more phones. That will extend to Google's "AR Stickers" as well, which should expand to more people soon.
We just saw Oculus unveil its standalone Oculus Go VR headset, and now it's time for Google to show what it has going on in virtual reality. We should see a refreshed interface for Daydream, available whether you're using your phone or a standalone headset. And on that second point, we expect Google to focus on Daydream Standalone rather than the "regular" Daydream headsets that require a phone — these Standalone units are cheaper, fully contained and address a wider market than just people who have new high-end phones.
VR is nothing without content, and Google should be showing off a lot — both from VR180 camera projects and with partnerships for educational content.
I/O is the perfect time for the top security people at Google to review 2017's security goals and what the landscape of Android and Chrome looks like.
The "What's new in Android security" session (9:30 a.m. May 10) is one of the most popular every year, because we get to hear the nitty-gritty about what Google's doing to keep our data safe when using Android. Typically that'll include talk about Google Play's security measures, what's worked well in Android Oreo, and what the impact is expected to be from the further security enhancements in Android P. This also typically offers up a few nuggets about the security practices of Android users as a whole, such as how many are using a secure lock screen or apps and services that use encryption.
Rumors are pointing to Google announcing a new system that would certify specific devices to run certain apps, for security reasons, and make those apps unable to run if side-loaded to other devices.
Google's support for the Kotlin programming language was an applause-worthy announcement at I/O 2017, and we'll see even more on the language this year. We won't see a bunch of announcements around Kotlin, but there are several technical sessions focused on helping developers work with this new language now that it's been available for several months. You'll notice a distinct lack of discussion about writing in Java — that's because Kotlin is the new hotness.
Kotlin will be the main language talked about at I/O, but you'll also hear about Flutter. It's a lightweight development language designed for quickly creating and launching apps across various platforms while hooking in natively to the platform's APIs. Flutter will also be discussed in reference to using Material Design across different platforms rather than just Android.
We'll also hear about updates to Android Studio, as well as the Firebase console and many of Google's other developer tools. These aren't sexy changes, but they're ones that will be repaid in higher-quality apps across the board.
Get ready for the show
Google I/O runs May 8-10, and gets started in earnest with the opening keynote at 10:00 a.m. PT on May 8. The Android Central team will be on the ground in Mountain View to cover it all, so be sure to follow our coverage all week long!