Google I/O is soon to be upon us. On May 15th we’ll finally find out all the juiciest stuff coming from Google within the next 12 months and, short of any catastrophic delays, the next version of Android will be unveiled.
Here’s a list of what we hope to see from Google this year, as well as a few expectations.
The next version of Android is probably the mostly successfully secretive of any release in recent memory. Until a few weeks ago, tech gurus all at least seemed to agree that it was more than likely going to be called “Key Lime Pie”, continuing along the trend of alphabetically consecutive dessert names. However, even that has been thrown in to question with new evidence that it may end up being yet another iteration of Jelly Bean.
As such we can’t even tell if it’s going to be Android 5.0 or Android 4.3. Obviously if it’s another Jelly Bean release then 4.3 would be the obvious option and, based purely on how few leaks there have been, we don’t expect there to be any big enough improvements to justify a “5.0” tag. So 4.3 is probably the more likely of the two possibilities at this juncture, but it’s by no means guaranteed.
There’s sure to be a bit of the usual ‘fighting fragmentation’ rhetoric, but we learned long ago that OS fragmentation was an Android issue that’s here to stay. Granted, Android devices do tend to update a bit more regularly and a bit faster these days than they used to and we expect that trend to continue. But don’t expect any sudden massive development where Android valiantly kills off fragmentation once and for all.
As far as the improvements themselves go, what can we expect? There’ll be the usual improvements to efficiency and speed. Some aesthetic tweaks are bound to come along, as are some new options for customization. Battery life will probably get a boost and obviously there will be a bunch of new/upgraded Google Services available. But as far as the actual OS itself goes we’ve got nothing solid.
What we expect to see a lot of is new cross-platform features designed to sync the Google account experience across a wider range of devices. It’s possible that most of the new Android stuff is geared at consolidating the Google ecosystem, rather than improving the Android experience as an individual unit.
Babel has been leaked again and again, so it’s a pretty sure bet that we’ll see it launched at Google I/O. Babel, also referred to as ‘Babble’, is basically slated to be Google’s answer to iMessage, except it will be available to everyone, rather than just Android users. Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, WP (possibly not at first) and whatever else you can think of are all in Google’s sights for Babel.
Google being what it is, there’s also great potential for Search and Maps tie-ins. There are likely a bunch of cool little features that could be added which we haven’t thought of and won’t even try to predict. But even if it does just end up being a nuts & bolts unified messenger on its release, so long as the interface is good enough to attract more use than Google Talk, then it’ll be a good move by Google. As long as it’s unified, notifications will be synced and conversations will all be in one place, meaning a much more viable multi-access messaging experience.
As things stand now, a user can respond to a Google Talk notification on their phone/tablet/PC, but that same notification won’t be then erased from the two devices on which they didn’t respond. At this point that’s a pretty pointless flaw to be perpetuating.
Should it end up being a solid service, Google stands to pick up a lot of traffic with this one. iMessage is incredibly popular, especially thanks to it replacing SMS by default between iPhone users. If Google could offer something similar that works on every device in the market then Apple would either have to open up iMessage to the non-iOS masses or risk losing some presence.
Google is building some kind of cross-ecosystem gaming platform similar to Apple’s Game Center, except targeted at a wider variety of devices and platforms. Chrome Games, Android Games, Google+ Games and everything else Google has going for it in the gaming department right now are all said to fall under this new Google Games umbrella.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise. Not only is it a totally understandable move, but Google already talked about it at last year’s I/O conference.
This mightn’t sound like massive news to the average Google user, but it will end up affecting the user-end experience in a profound way: making a singular ecosystem will encorage developers to concentrate on Android.
It’s still a sorry fact that Android usually gets games and apps after iOS and occasionally even completely misses out. Should Google merge all of its gaming platform systems then suddenly the potential user base for any single game is increased significantly, as devs wouldn’t have to do even nearly as much work to get their game across multiple platforms.
The move would be unlikely to affect any games currently on the market. But going forward devs code design their games for Native Client, thus making it much easier to offer it to all of Google’s users.
With Google+ integration on a multi-ecosystem platform Google is also in a good position to offer a social gaming service like Xbox Live or Apple’s Game Center complete with achievements, sharing, rewards etc. Of course, Google+ isn’t exactly the most popular social media system around, but it’s a pre-existing tool that is powerful enough to be the backbone of a social gaming service. So why not use it?
Other than being obviously tied in with whatever happens Google Games-wise, we don’t expect too much more from Google Play other than some of the regular UI and aesthetic tweaks.
Google Play gets updated pretty regularly, so it’s entirely possible that Google won’t even bother showing anything off at I/O and just continue to release updates whenever they’re ready.
Google Maps might actually see some pretty big new features for mobile this year. Already there have been 3D maps added, but the 3D buildings are still a bit beyond the range of viable. Of course, on a PC or Mac things are much more detailed, with Google Earth popping in and providing a huge level of detail for anyone who wants it.
Google Earth has always been way too much for smartphones to handle. That is, until now. With quad-core processors and 2GB of RAM modern high-end handsets like the HTC One, Galaxy S4 and just about any other big release coming this year should be able to hold their own against such a processor-hungry service if it were to get a few mobile-centric efficiency adaptations.
Network speeds, too, have increased in many areas thanks to the increasing adoption of the 4G LTE standard.
As such it’s only a matter of time before Google starts merging Google Earth, or at least elements of it, in to the mobile Google Maps app. Properly-rendered, textured and skinned full 3D maps could be a thing in the near future. Right now Google Maps (and Apple Maps, if you’re in to that kind of thing) already offers something similar to this, but it tends to be a bit clunky and, let’s face it, images don’t always come out particularly ‘accurately’ or quickly.
With network and processing power increases Google can offer an even better maps service than it already does. If not this year, then certainly next.
There’s still going to be a long wait until we get the full 3D, properly-rendered and fast-loading package of Google Earth on our smartphones. Even modern desktop PCs with landline connections often have trouble loading close-up shots of densely-packed cities. That won’t stop Google from trying, of course, and we do expect to see at least some improvements in the 3D landscape department.
Google Now and Search:
With the ever-increasing importance being attached to voice recognition interfaces by mobile OS developers there’s little to no doubt that Google Now and Google Voice are going to get some decent upgrades. Whether or not these improvements will actually make a big difference to usability is anyone’s guess.
The problem with voice recognition these days isn’t so much that it doesn’t understand the user. Of course that is such a prevalent issue that when Siri or any other service screws up it’s become an everyday part of contemporary humor, but voice recognition has come an incredibly long way in just a few years.
Of course anywhere outside the US usually suffers, as the services in question are usually designed in North America and, as such, tend towards being designed to understand the American accent. The UK, too, gets a bit of special treatment, but anywhere else it’s often pretty frustrating to get anything understood.
Probably the biggest issue is the social faux-pas surrounding using it in public. A faux-pas that, in our opinion, is quite right to exist. Loud people talking on their phone on public transport are annoying enough. Now imagine a world where everyone is also talking to their phone. One shudders to think.
Despite this, voice recognition software does have its uses. Writing out texts or emails while walking or driving on the street have obvious advantages. Moreover, they avoid that faux-pas problem, as the user just looks like they’re talking on their phone.
We’ve found asking for directions to be another incredibly useful part of voice software. As are other simple queries like “who won the [insert sport here] game last night” etc. Unfortunately both of these uses are plagued by the regional issue we mentioned before. Place names are notoriously hard for voice programs to pick up on (just try using it in Australia) and not every country’s professional sport results are delivered in neat little responses.
We expect in particular to see updates to Google Now. Google Now has already made its debut on iOS, right in time for the I/O conference and whatever juicy updates are coming later. For those who haven’t used it Google Now is essentially Google’s answer to Siri. Its layout and interface has received critical acclaim from many a reviewer, so we hope to see it get some updates if only to keep Android competitive in every aspect of the mobile market.
Google Fiber and Google TV news:
Google Fiber and Google TV are becoming more of a complete package, thanks to Google Fiber’s ongoing expansion. After Google recently all but tripling its Fiber market with plans to move in to Austin and Provo, Fiber could turn out to be bigger news this year than it has been previously.
Although it’s unlikely that anything big coming within the next 12 months will be shown off, Fiber is in a position to do some pretty serious gloating. 1Gbps download speeds for $70 per month, 200 channels of over-fibre TV for $50 more and free 5Mbps broadband for anyone in Fiber-covered areas has definitely given Google the cred to make a few sweeping statements about ‘the future of Google Fiber’, Google TV and the broadband industry in general.
We’ll be disappointed if we don’t get at least a little bit of Google’s friendly-future rhetoric on this subject.
New Google Nexus devices:
While we are interested to see the next nexus tablets and smartphone out of Google, we have to say that we’re not super excited about it. We’re sure we’ll see a new Nexus Tablet of some description, possibly a new Nexus 7 and Nexus 10. We expect them to be capable, affordable tablets just like their predecessors and to not really shake-up the market in any significant way other than to offer the public a new, solid and competitively priced alternative to iPads and Windows tablets.
We’re not exactly intrigued by what the next nexus smartphone will be, either. We’re not even sure it’ll make its debut at I/O. The Nexus 4 was a great little smartphone, but likes its Nexus Tablet cousins it fell in to the category of ‘affordable’, rather than premium.
That’s all well and good and we think Google’s focus on the mid-to-lower ends of the market is an intelligent one. But cheaper devices rarely offer anything that we haven’t seen before. It’s sure to be a fast and reliable, and we definitely think it’ll offer a lot of bang for its buck. But we don’t expect anything along the lines of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which, when it was released, was definitely one of the best smartphones on the market.
One thing a lot of folk are talking about is the possibility of a Motorola-made ‘Nexus X’ handset. If this turns out to be true then color us intrigued, but we doubt it. Motorola Mobility is still in consolidation mode from the massive restructuring it suffered after the Google takeover. On top of that, Google hasn’t been very vocal about pushing Motorola as a brand since the buyout. We’d expect Motorola’s new owners to start getting the brand-name out there a bit more vocally before releasing an Android flagship device with a Moto logo on the back.
TL;DR: One or two new Nexus tablets, possibly a Nexus phone and probably not much, if anything, from Motorola on the hardware front.
Google Music Subscription Service:
There are quite a few rumors circulating about a monthly Google music subscription service. That is, a Spotify-style service where users pay a flat monthly fee and in return get either limited or unlimited access to Google’s (presumably) fantastically massive music library.
We can seriously see this happening. After all, if Spotify can dominate the music subscription streaming industry to much then Google can certainly at least make its presence known. Microsoft, too, has been fairly successful with Xbox Music, originally Zune Pass. Even Sony has its own Sony Music Unlimited, although that service is somewhat less successful than the two earlier examples.
Google already tried to release a Google Music streaming service a couple of years back. It was very exciting at the time, even if the service did rely entirely on streaming and originally didn’t even offer the option of off-air play. However, it was only available in the US and was pretty handily dismissed by the more international and better-established Spotify.
One of the reasons, however, that Spotify manages to draw a crowd is its Facebook integration. Granted, that integration is not nearly as prevalent as it once was, but it’s still very useful in finding friends to follow. Google, on the other hand, is hardly likely to play nice with the world’s #1 social media site. It’s far more likely to continue pushing Google+. Still, with all of Google’s expected up-coming cross-platform integration (babel, Game Center, etc) it still has the ability to offer a compelling cross-platform music service even if FB is left entirely out of the picture.
Of course, the Music Industry’s attitude to copyright, which not only approaches but makes a habit of leaping over the boundaries of good business sense in to the dark wilds of yesteryear, could prove problematic or even fatal to something as potentially big as a Googlefied Spotify. As such it’s entirely possible that, should such a project be planned for release this or next year, it may see lengthy or even indefinite delays at the hands of an army of lawyers.