Google already went public with a detailed schedule of the Google I/O 2016 technical sessions. But what will be revealed in the opening two-hour keynote led by Google CEO Sundar Pichai is a tightly held secret until May 18 at 10 a.m. PT. The following are some rumors and educated guesses about what Google could announce during the keynote.
1. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and 360° video announcements.
Google probably won’t announce a VR headset. Not because Google can’t, but because developers’ attention is completely consumed by the Oculus and the HTC Vive maelstrom and because 50 different VR headsets are predicted to be announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next January. Headsets will become a commodity that doesn’t fit Google’s business model—though it may sell one made by a partner, like it sells Nexus Android devices. Google will monetize VR in another way.
Project Tango will be Google’s proxy in AR. There is room for Google right now in AR because this technology is at a very early stage of development compared to VR, and consumer or industrial products have not shipped yet. Project Tango technologies are a critical component in AR because it gives apps a human-like awareness of 3D space with precise dimensions. It will be brought to the forefront of the AR discussion with new hardware from Lenovo and Asus and perhaps other unannounced partners.
Also expected to get a lot of attention is 360° video. That’s because competition between Facebook 360° video playback capabilities and YouTube’s will heat up this year. What might Google introduce? Real-time VR streaming. Real-time 360° video streaming began rolling out a month ago with select YouTube partners. It’s not the same as real-time VR streaming, though, because VR would require audio and video images acquired from every direction to be transmitted at the same time. It is a front-end video and sound acquisition and processing problem that Google may have solved with partners that may bring a standard to real-time VR. It could let a person be believably present in a remote meeting or transport a spectator from his or her living room into the sports arena.
2. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be made accessible to more developers.
Google’s commitment to and investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is convincing evidence that Google will one day deliver on Pichai’s promise: “artificial intelligence that can help us in everything from accomplishing our daily tasks and travels to eventually tackling even bigger challenges like climate change and cancer diagnosis.”
AI and machine learning is a field of academics and specialists and is not yet accessible to most developers without training. Google may announce the products of its own internal development that improve speech recognition, language translation, machine vision and autonomous cars based on AI and machine learning. It remains to be seen if Google can make specialized and complex tools, such as its open-source machine-learning system Tensorflow, useful to independent developers.
3. Firebase app development will accelerate and cost will drop.
Firebase will get a lot of attention. It is a real-time database that provides an API that allows developers to store and sync data across multiple clients. A broad range of mobile apps can be created using Firebase without building a backend application that, given the constrained supply of mobile developers, accelerates app development—especially with small teams of independent developers. Google could offer Firebase at an even lower cost for more usage tiers, making it an economic first choice. Tighter integration with IDEs and build tools could make it a technical first choice, too.
4. Firebase will be extended to the IoT.
Google’s IoT offerings, Brillo and Weave, are not on the schedule. It could be because integration between Brillo and Weave and Firebase may be announced. Firebase’s real-time, data synchronization, authentication and security are a good fit for IoT apps. Brillo, a subset of Android, is Google’s IoT device operating system, and Weave is the network architecture designed for low-power, low-speed, small packet communications compliant with the early IEEE 802.15.4 standard adopted by chip makers such as NXP and Freescale.
Google’s developer relations have talked about prototyping IoT apps with Firebase. Tightly integrating Firebase with Brillo will accelerate building IoT apps with Brillo devices. Delivering similar Firebase support over standards-compliant Weave on other IoT operating systems such as Apple HomeKit, Nest Weave, MQTT and AllJoyn would increase the potential for Firebase in IoT.
5. Android N will be announced and available.
The third beta release will be announced and made immediately available. Android will be repositioned to include an ultra-book configuration like the Surface Pro or iPad Pro, bringing to the forefront a new UI that employs keyboards, styluses, touch screens and windowed apps.
6. ChromeOS will merge with the Google Play Store, and Android apps will be made widely available on ChromeOS devices.
Chromebook applications are called Chrome browser extensions. There are a lot fewer of them than Android apps because the Chromebook marketing budget is smaller and the Chromebooks represent only about 2 percent of the notebook market. The ChromeOS that runs on Chromebooks can run Android apps with a VM-like ChromeOS feature called Arc Welder. Arc Welder is the technology behind a recent change in version 51 of Chrome OS that shows a checkbox in their settings menu that reads “Enable Android apps to run on your Chromebook.”
Merging Chrome extensions and distributing Android apps to Chromebooks through the Play store will give the platform the reach and marketing scale that it lacked; however, for many reasons, ChromeOS and Android won’t merge in the near feature.
7. Project Aura will be announced.
Project Aura, or Google Glass 2, might be announced. It has been under development since the Explorer program was cancelled in January 2015.
8. A framework to accelerate progressive web app development will be unveiled.
Progressive web apps are an important software development technology for Google. A progressive web app is an application that has been built using a set of web development techniques and technologies that help enable a website to be progressively installed and act like a mobile application as the user becomes increasingly engaged with the experience. It is very possible that Google will announce an open-source framework that uses Polymer components to accelerate progressive web apps.
9. Improvements will be made to Onhub.
OnHub home networking and video and audio casting hardware both could see a refresh that improves performance and reduces the price.
Google I/O will be held for the first time at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, where there is space for up to seven simultaneous technical talks. During many slots, however, fewer than seven talks are listed on the schedule. Google has left space in the detailed schedule to follow up with technical presentations about the keynote.