Google I/O 2016: What to expect

This year, Google is taking I/O 2016 back to the mothership. Instead of holding it at a convention center in San Francisco, the company is hosting the event at the Shoreline Amphitheater outdoor concert venue right in its backyard (no, really). The show is meant to educate developers about using Google’s platforms, but the reason we all tune in is to see product updates and big, brand-new things from the Internet giant.

I don’t know for sure what Google will have to flaunt at I/O, but it’s not too hard to guess, based on the official agenda and rumors. Here’s what I expect to see at Google I/O 2016.

Virtual reality pushes forward

2016 is already the year of VR, and the I/O is staking its claim with a session on the conference schedule called VR at Google. That’s not a surprise, given that Google’s been playing with virtual and augmented reality at I/O for years. The company has shown off Cardboard, its low-cost portable VR viewer initiative, for the last two years, and this year we’re certain to see new developments.

Indeed, the VR rumors abound. Tech guru Pete Rojas — the founder of both Gizmodo and Engadget — tweeted on Wednesday that “Android VR will definitely be announced next week” and that it “will be a standalone headset.” And just a day later, we got some possible corroboration: Android Police reports that the I/O developers’ tool lists “Google VR” as a placeholder section.

For more VR insights, check out the wishlist from my colleague Scott Stein for what he hopes to see from VR at I/O.

Expect more from Project Tango

Google’s Project Tango will be at I/O, as evidenced by a number of sessions on the agenda. That makes sense, because the motion-tracking and mapping tech ties directly in to Google’s VR and augmented reality efforts (see above). As any owner of the HTC Vive will tell you, you need to “map the room” so you can avoid real-world obstacles while you have the goggles on.

We saw some enticing Tango action at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, and we know a phone Lenovo is developing will go on sale soon, too. (Lenovo is having its own developer confab in the Bay Area just a few weeks later.)

Giving Android some love

Updates on Android are par for the course at I/O; two years ago, Google debuted Android L at I/O ahead of the official 5.0 Lollipop release in the fall. They did it again with Android M before 6.0 Marshmallow last year, too. This year is a bit different because Google decided to get a jump on Android N (official name forthcoming) by unveiling the developer preview back in March.

At I/O this year, Google’s scheduled its “What’s new in Android session,” guaranteeing that we’ll see at least some updates, if not the next developer preview of N.

How about Google’s other big operating system, the browser-based Chrome OS? There was that big rumor back in October that Chrome and Android were on a merger path for 2017. We don’t spot any Chrome-specific developer sessions on the schedule, so whether or not we hear any new Chrome OS news is anyone’s guess.

“OK Google” at home

Google may be working on a home speaker you can talk to much like the Amazon Echo. Details are scarce, but reports say its internal name is “Chirp” and it will respond to “OK Google” commands to ask about the weather, search the Web, and control your music. Rumors say it likely won’t debut at Google I/O, but we could still see it anyway.

Stay tuned

This is the first I/O since Google restructured itself into “Alphabet,” segmenting other parts of the empire into separate companies. Whether any of those sister projects or companies make an appearance at the I/O keynote is also a mystery. We could see the next Nest-sponsored smart home device or a self-driving car demo from “Google X.” Or (more likely) they could stay close to home base, and only emphasize truly Google products and services like the ones outlined above — plus, perhaps, YouTube, Maps and good ol’ Google search.

But no matter what happens, we’ll be there. Google I/O starts on Wednesday May 18, 2016, with the big keynote kicking off at 10 a.m. PST. Tune into CNET for all of the coverage — we’ll have editors on the ground, a live show back at HQ, and people broadcasting on social media from the event.

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