Google I/O week is here, and Android-watchers in particular as well as Google fans in general are buzzing over what the Goog is planning to wow us all with in San Francisco. A slick new phone? A brand-spanking new version of Android? Another one of whatever the heck this was?
Alas -- despite the wistful hopes of some of the more enthusiastic gadget bloggers -- it's looking more and more like we're not going to see a major new hardware release or all-new Android version at this year's show.
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This may be, at least in part, the product of a new direction for the Android division under new chief Sundar Pichai. Pichai, who's also the boss of Chrome, recently told Wired that this year's event would focus more heavily on developer-related issues. What that likely means is that we'll see plenty of important stuff like new APIs but fewer ooh-and-ah-inspiring gadgets.
Chats with several developers at last year's show seem to indicate that a focus on tweaking and unifying the platform would be a welcome direction for the company to go with Android.
The news that Google Play Games -- a sort of Xbox Live/PSN system for Android gaming -- is even now rolling out in the latest version of Google Play Services also points to platform and ecosystem concerns being the main events at this year's show. (H/T: Android Police)
But even though Play Games is something that seems more or less confirmed at this point, that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from running wild with whispers about Google Glass, though almost everybody seems to think that looking for a general availability date at this year's Google I/O is quite premature. If that news puts you at a bit of a loss for guesses about what they might actually announce, you're not alone.
Still, it's not out of the question that the Goog could do something like broaden the "Glass explorer" program and dish out more of the devices to developers, while relaxing the strict limitations on what the initial API is and isn't capable of. And that would even fit in with the expressed developer-centrism on the agenda, though I'd be startled to find that rumors they're planning to give away Glass as this year's swag -- last year, it was a Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7 and Nexus Q -- are true. Free Glass would be particularly surprising in light of the reports that there's a brand-new version of the Nexus 7 on the way (packing substantially improved features for the same $200 price), so you'd think they'd be much more likely to hand those out instead. (H/T: CNET)
But what of the Android software itself? It sounds like there's going to be a new version, but the conventional wisdom has shifted heavily against the possibility of Android 5.0 and in favor of an incremental upgrade to Android 4.3. If that's the case, look for more performance tweaks, minor feature additions and a bigger role for Google Now, which is great if you're the kind of person that enjoys your phone being able to deduce a distressingly large amount of information about your habits and interests.
Really, though, I've detailed the case against Key Lime Pie landing at this year's I/O in the past, so there seems little point in diving back into the topic here. But hey, won't it be funny when Google psyches us all out again and releases Android 5.0 anyway?
Like a parent insisting on inviting less popular kids to a birthday party, Google will also lavish some attention on Google Plus at I/O, having already revealed a mobile Web content recommendation system for developers based on the social service:
While the feature is nicely presented, it remains to be seen how enthusiastic mobile Web developers will be about the ability to foreground Google Plus content.
Something I'm pretty sure everybody is going to be enthusiastic about, however, is Google's After Hours party Wednesday night. Having been there last year, I can tell you that the lineup of entertainments included the famous DJ Paul Oakenfold, the band Train, flight simulators, miniature golf, skee ball, some kind of weird mechanical bulls, and free hot dogs. Yes, I realize how much that sounded like a Stefan bit from SNL, but really -- this is a weird party. I expect further bizarre collections of amusements this year.