What SWAG will Google I/O 2016 attendees take home?

Google could give away an Android N device and a lower-cost redesigned Project Tango device to accelerate AR

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Next week, Google will show its love for independent software developers by giving them an exclusive first-look at new technologies and early and free access to new hardware at the ninth annual Google I/O conference

Here are a couple of educated guesses at free hardware, which developers call SWAG (something we all get), attendees will take home.

Early access hardware giveaways

The past is a good predictor of the future. Looking back at earlier I/O shows, Google wanted to give their loyal developers a head start developing for strategic new platforms and bestowed upon them the newest hardware.

past google io swag Steven Max Patterson

All of the strategic platforms above still exist except for the Nexus Q. Android market share has grown from less than 40 percent at the time of Google I/O in 2012 to more than 80 percent worldwide.

Android Wear, which debuted in 2014, has become a solid wearable platform that IDC predicts will hold 40 percent market share by 2020.

AndroidTV hasn’t dominated home media centers, but Chromecast is the most popular television streaming device.

As of January 2016, more than 5 million virtual reality (VR) Cardboard viewers have shipped.

Chromebook growth has not been as breathtaking as Android, but it has grown steadily, reaching a little more than 2 percent of the PC market.

A look forward will help find a gap in Google’s strategic platforms that could predict what hardware Google will give away.

SWAG Prediction 1: A Pixel tablet and detachable keyboard running Android N with split screen, floating windows and a mouse—and perhaps a stylus and Google Fi

Notebooks, tablets and smartphones are merging into a single mobile device form factor. In the face of year-over-year declines in PC and tablet shipments, IDC predicts the detachable keyboard category will grow by 78 percent this year and at a CGR of 15 percent during the next five years as devices consolidate.

Google has a gap in this category. The Microsoft Surface Pro product line proved the detachable tablet case for people tied to the Microsoft Outlook, Office and SharePoint ecosystem, offering a new Metro user interface (UI) that includes a touch screen and stylus. Apple’s equivalent is the iPad Pro. Android and Chromebook devices have a gap in filling the same role as a windowed platform within the Google ecosystem. But with some of the new features of Android N, the gap could be closed.

Android has supported keyboards, mice and styluses since at least Release 4.0 Jellybean. Android N supports split screen that divides the screen between two apps. With a little persistence using root access and a change to permission, free floating and resizable windows can be exposed in Android N.

Attendees might get a Pixel C, Google’s top-build-quality, ultra-mobile 9-in. tablet with a detachable magnet keyboard. It ships right now with Android Marshmallow but can be updated with an Android N image easily downloaded and installed like a standard over-the-air (OTA) update.

It could be something more than a Pixel C with a windowing version of Android N that has the one more feature needed to replace a notebook and perhaps a smartphone, too—a 4G connection. The giveaway might be a Pixel C–like device with 4G network support that includes a free three-, six- or 12-month subscription to Google’s virtual mobile network, Google Fi, proving that a single device can serve almost all mobile use cases.

SWAG Prediction 2: A refined lower-cost, phone-sized Project Tango device to accelerate (augmented reality) AR applications and perhaps Project Tango support with Google Cardboard

It is not the right time for Google to introduce an entirely new VR and AR product without producing more noise and less clarity because the developer community is fully consumed with early VR shipments from Oculus and HTC. The challenge for Google right now is remaining relevant in a VR tsunami. A lower-cost Project Tango device with better power efficiency than the early prototypes could help the company do that.    

Google arrived early in the AR world, with Project Tango introduced almost two years ago. The Project Tango Tablet uses infrared and RGB cameras in conjunction with position data from the gyroscope and accelerometer to determine 3D relative position. It creates a point map that accurately represents 3D space. A Tango device could map a room or whole floor in a building into a 3D map.

A Project Tango device could also be combined with a Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR-like headset to serve as an affordable AR demonstration and developer kit. Both Lenovo and Asus have announced phone-sized Project Tango devices that would also fit nicely into a headset form factor.

AR apps could be built to replace a tape measure or simulate decorating an existing room with virtual furniture in a merged rendering of the virtual and real on the Tango Project device.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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