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Google I/O looks to be about more than Android

Matt Hamblen | June 25, 2014
Google's annual I/O conference kicks off tomorrow amid widespread expectations that a new version of the Android OS will be unveiled, along with discussions of smartwatches and, perhaps, security.

Google's annual I/O conference kicks off tomorrow amid widespread speculation that a new version of the Android OS will be announced, perhaps one that marries it with Google's Chrome OS.

Google and other companies such as LG are also expected to talk up smartwatches based on the Google Wear OS, which was introduced in March.

The opening keynote begins at 9 a.m. PT (12 p.m. ET) in San Francisco with a live video stream online and Google has packed in a variety of breakout sessions into the two-day event. Many of those sessions, built around the conference theme of "design, develop and distribute" will also be live-streamed.

That overall theme indicates a strong focus on cross-platform functionality, although the conference agenda also promises discussion of plenty of cutting-edge technologies.

Five Google designers are part of a panel at 2 p.m. PT Wednesday on "Cross-platform design," with another panel on "Cross-platform interaction design" at 10 a.m. PT Thursday. Both will be live streamed. Various reports quoting unnamed sources have described a Quantum Paper design framework that works across a variety of smartphones, tablets, Chrome devices, browsers and even Google apps.

One of the more unusual live-streamed sessions is set for Thursday at 9 am. PT, when Google engineers will talk about several initiatives, including Project Tango, to build smartphones and tablets that incorporate 3D motion and depth-sensing capabilities.

According to the program notes for the session, Google plans to launch an Android smartphone-like device into space this summer to construct a 3D map of the International Space Station to "enable autonomous navigation of a floating robotic platform'' that will turn into a robotic assistant for astronauts. Tango will also help enable augmented reality technologies in mobile devices on earth.

Google announced its work with NASA on the Tango technology in April.

An Android update likely

As for Android, the timing is right for an update. Android 4.4, KitKat, was launched last October and many analysts expect an Android 5.0 release (to be called Lollipop, or possibly Licorice). Various other flavors have been announced in the Android line in the past, with between five and eight months between them.

Other reports, however, indicate Google will launch Android 4.5, not 5.0.

The timing is also right for some kind of Chrome-Android integration.

In early 2013, Google put its Chrome division head, Sundar Pichai, in charge of both Chrome and Android. And Pichai said in May that Google would continue to embrace both OSes separately, while adding: "The picture may look different a year or two from now...." As this year's Google I/O gets under way, those comments will be 14 months old.


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