Google I/O: The Developers Guide Of What To Expect

If you like Google, mobile development and cloud platforms, this is going to be a good week for you.

Google will have lots of goodies this week for developers - and consumers - at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco. We might see some new hardware, a couple updates to Google’s major platforms (Maps, Android, Chrome, Google+ and Play) and most likely a surprise or two. But, really, the week belongs to the developers.

Historically, I/O has been an occasion for Google to get its developer community together and introduce them to the newest tools, tips on how to develop for Google apps and best practices. Until the last couple of years, I/O (which Google started in 2008) was all about developers and less about big product announcements. In 2011, Google announced Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich as well as Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer. In 2012, the rage was Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the Nexus 7 Android tablet and the spectacular unveiling of Google Glass. This year, we expect Google to once again focus heavily on its developer community - with fewer major product announcements.

From a hardware perspective, Google may or may not announce new devices during I/O, but don't expect an event like 2012, when Google-branded hardware stole the show. If Google does announce hardware, we expect that it will release (or at least update) some kind of Nexus tablet and/or smartphone (probably through LG), an update to its Chromebook line (likely through Samsung or Acer) and maybe something to do with Google TV.

Otherwise, Google I/O will be a developer’s paradise. Here’s what mobile, Web, cloud and social developers should be looking forward to:

Android Update: Probably More Jelly Beans

Chrome Android by Paul Wilcox Chrome Android by Paul Wilcox

Google’s new head of Android, Sundar Pichai, told Wired not to expect any major product announcements at I/O. Considering that Pichai is head of Android and Chrome OS, we tend to think that he was specifically talking more about Google’s computing platforms and less about new hardware. 

That said, Google will update Android one way or another this week. The rumors surrounding I/O are that Google will issue an iterative update to Jelly Bean, Android version 4.3. If true, that means that Google is not yet coming out with Key Lime Pie, the next named version of Android. 

Regardless if we see a new version of Android or just a Jelly Bean update, there will be plenty of Android news at I/O. Some major themes:

  • Gaming: Google will host a variety of game-related developer sessions at I/O. It will give developers best practices, design tips and ideas on taking their games to the next level. Google’s Ingress augmented/alternate reality game will be featured, with several Ingress battles taking place at Moscone West during the week. Most of the Android gaming sessions will take place on Day 1 (Wednesday, May 15) of I/O.
  • Design & Performance: Google’s biggest objective with Android during the week will be working with developers to make their apps function seamlessly, look better and present dynamic user experiences. Most design and performance sessions will take place on Day 2. 
  • Google Play: Google will be giving developers tips on how to best monetize their apps and get seen on its app store, Google Play, throughout the conference. Google Play sessions will be held on Day 2 & 3. 
  • Maps: We expect a big update to Google Maps in both user interface, functionality and developer tools. Location is a key ingredient in how Google uses Android and there will be a variety of location- and Maps-related sessions on all three days of the event.

Chrome OS Tools, Apps & Features

Chromebook (by Mark Hachman) Chromebook (by Mark Hachman)

Again, if we can believe Pichai, there will not be any major new announcements for Chrome. But there might be a new Chromebook announced at I/O and there will definitely be new feature updates. 

Chrome OS and the Chrome browser are important to Google because they are the company’s window to the Web. Chrome OS is also a key cog in Google's cloud strategy - the company wants to tie developers to the operating system and get them to run their apps in Google’s cloud platform. Many of the announcements and sessions at I/O related to Chrome will focus on functionality, cloud adoption and Google Apps (like Maps, Gmail, Drive etc.). On Monday, Google announced that Gmail, Google+ Photos and Drive will be merged to give users 15GB of storage. That type of integration will be prominent in how Google steers developers toward developing for Chrome at I/O.

  • Drive: Google will be making a bid to get developers and users to tie their Chrome OS and browser storage to Drive, its personal cloud product. Google will push tying use of its Apps to Drive, such as in the Day 1 session titled, “Integrate Google Drive With Google App Scripts.”
  • HTML: Chrome is for the Web and of the Web. Hence, HTML will always be a big part of development for apps on Chrome OS and the browser. I/O has several sessions on how to create mobile websites optimized through Chrome with HTML. It will also have sessions on Dart, Google’s programming language meant to accelerate function and performance in HTML Web apps. 

Google+ Enhanced Communication

The biggest improvements to Google’s social network likely concern communication. Google Babel is rumored to be the company’s integration of all of its messaging platforms into one product - likely to be rolled out through Google+. Google will spend a lot of time showing developers how to use Google+ as a “one true sign-in” platform, much like Facebook uses your profile to let you sign into a variety of websites. Google will also announce new features to Google+ designed to get developers to build more apps for the platform and increase engagement - from brands and consumers. 

Location, Location, Location

Google Maps will get some heavy play at this year's I/O. Maps will likely get a user experience overhaul - look for that to be a major component of Wednesday morning's keynote. Google wants Maps to be integrated everywhere, from Android to Chrome to every third-party app in between. On Day 1 and Day 2 it has a variety of sessions dedicated solely to Maps integration. That includes HTML5 and mobile Web visualization, indoor maps, API integration and discovery.

Only A Little Glass

Google Glass was the big announcement at I/O 2012. It will likely be a major theme at the keynote on Wednesday. The hype that surrounds Glass requires Google to mention it prominently. Yet, when it comes to developers, Glass will only be a sideshow to the major events around Chrome, Cloud and Android. 

Google is holding just four announced Glass development sessions, all on Day 2. Essentially, these sessions are Developing For Glass 101, and will include how to use the Google Mirror API.