It’s February 2014, and all is well in the world of Android. With 79% of the world’s smartphones sold in 2013 running some form of the Open Source software, I’d say that the little robot isn’t doing too badly. CES was a blast, and Android officially expanded from its original home of phones and tablets — it’s now in cars, on televisions and under your bed if you’re brave enough to look. With MWC coming up in a few days time, there is no doubt that OEMs will launch a lot more devices that will either wow us, or cause us to look away quickly. But there’s something else in the air. Something that only die hard fans get excited about. Something that makes nerds, the world over, call in sick for work. It’s called Google I/O, and this year, it’s going to be epic.
Sundar Pichai, head of Android and Chrome over at Google, took to Google+ a few days ago to announce the dates for this year’s event. June 25th and 26th are the days to watch. Immediately, we noticed that it had been cut short by one day, as compared to last year, but it simply means that the information will be coming thick and fast, and we’re here to make wild and bold predictions about what might be coming our way.
Gaming at I/O
Flappy Bird. I’m not quite sure of when that name will ever leave our memories, but it might be a few years into the future, or maybe a few months for some of us. What’s interesting is that a small developer from Vietnam created this game in his free time, and it changed his life forever. Going from dormant to having millions of downloads in a few months earned him as much as $50,000 a day in ad revenue. Such is the power of gaming and Google knows it. In addition to Niantic Labs, the team behind Ingress, Noah Falstein, a game designer who worked for LucasArts, 3DO, and Dreamworks Interactive, signed for Google in May of 2013, albeit with one thing on their minds; gaming.
Ingress, the augmented reality game has divided players into two teams, and battles have raged the world over in a fight for dominance. With rumours of an iOS version swirling around, we have reason to believe that there is some fire behind the smoke. What Niantic does next will be a huge move. Monetization of Ingress may involve ads, or simply merchants paying Google to set up portals in stores, locations or business areas in general. Commercial locations will love to have additional waves of persons coming through their doors daily and Google may be able to capitalise on this. What if Ingress makes an appearance on Glass? That would surely blow a few minds, as long as they tweaked it to use less battery than it currently does.
With Google Play Games linking us all together, the stage is set for a blockbuster of a game to come from Google itself. If the recently announced Project Tango is anything to go by, the next few games coming from Google might set the stage for some totally unprecedented stuff and both my phone and mind are ready for the awesomeness.
Chrome OS and Chromecast
Android is known everywhere, but Chrome OS? Not so much. Chrome OS got off to a slow start, but it blew up in 2013. Chromebooks accounted for over 20% of US laptops sales, a host of capable Chromebooks were launched, and LG’s all-in-one Chrome machine initiated the move away from being a Chromebook and Chromebox only OS, to one that embraces other form factors as well.
The increased numbers are good, or even great, but for Google, great is not enough. Chrome OS is constantly being refined with performance and security boosts, and more importantly, it is making a comfortable home in Windows 8. There’s bound to be some mention of the increased productivity that can be had on Chrome, and we can’t help but wonder if Google will launch new Chrome hardware this year. Lest you forget, the Chromebook Pixel was given to developers last year, after it had been on the market for a couple months, and we just have a sliver of hope that there will be a refresh of it this time around. Added to that, many have suggested that a Chrome Tablet is in the works, with some even stating that the elusive Nexus 10 will be just that. At this point, we’re not quite sold on the idea, but with transformer laptops popping up all around, the likelihood of such a device is quite possible.
The Chromecast is a favourite of everyone and their dog. Ease of use, affordability and effectiveness makes it Google’s top selling device. With a released SDK, developers are now free to run wild, thereby expanding the reach of the device. While I don’t expect to see any major Chromecast news at I/O, there just might be the announcement of new apps, or new possibilities that we have long clamoured for (read: streaming local content).
Developers and Apps
Where would any platform be without developers and apps? They make or break the experience, and the bank accounts of platform owners. With over 1,000,000 apps in the Play Store, Android is sitting pretty and users have an embarrassment of apps to choose from, but all’s not well with the picture. You see, Google has long encouraged beautiful apps. YouTube, Google+ and Keep, though different in some ways, all ooze a sense of fluidity, beauty and consistency. Sadly, this is not the case with a lot of Android apps. Instagram, for instance, still uses an iOS layout, which has caused me to use Phonegram in its stead, and many others still have not adopted the Holo theme.
To the average user, there is no difference between Holo apps and the others. Fine. No problem. To us however, iOS themed apps and Gingerbread apps are quite an eye sore, and one that both we, enthusiasts, and Google would love to get rid of, once and for all. For each I/O, since 2012, Google has emphasized Holo-themed apps. Google has long required developers to adopt the theme, and while some have, and more are doing so each day, we have yet to rid ourselves of the blasphemous apps that plague the Play Store. Expect more incentives from Google at I/O. Expect simpler guides and ways to create Holo apps, and to verify whether or not your app fits the guidelines. We empathize with Google, and sympathize with our peers, but things are getting better and we’re grateful for it. Google has gotten rid of terrible apps before, and I’d love to see them do it again.
The tablet scene has become much better, but still leaves a lot of work to be done. Google will once again emphasize the benefits of following guides which automatically scale apps for a wonderful user experience, whether you engage them on your phone, or on your tablet. Over the past year, tablets have been getting increased love, something that Google will be pleased about, but their work in by no means complete. Highlighting tablet optimized apps in the Play Store and the inclusion of both phone and tablet screen shots have helped to improve the user experience if I may say so myself, but, here’s to hoping that a lot more apps will adopt tablet the optimized layout — enough to make Tim Cook shut up about it, even though that may be difficult to accomplish.
Phone Updates and New Android Version
What can I say? The situation has improved markedly over the last year. OEMs have finally realised that we do care about updates, and that we won’t buy their new deivces if they didn’t update the old one; well, sort of. Motorola, once a Google Company and still is for the time being, embarassed the multitude of Android OEMs, and even Google itself when KitKat launched. The Moto X, whether you love it or hate it was the first non-Nexus device to get the upgrade, and it did so before most Nexus 4’s for that matter. Thank you Moto. The Moto G, their second major offering, launched with Android 4.3 JellyBean and KitKat was promised in January, but many actually received the update in December. HTC and Samsung, feeling the heat of the kitchen, immediately announced their plans and devices to be updated, and some flagships like the HTC One and the Note 3 have started receiving the update.
For long, many have blamed Google for the update situation. Many have also stated that Google was not responsible, but rather, the OEMs. With Motorola, presumably without Google’s assistance of course, updating their phones that quickly, we cannot help but notice that their lack of customizations on top of Android either lead to, or was the main proponent of their quick update. Motorola wanted to prove a point. They wanted to show the world that they came to play ball, and that they did. With Google Play Services controlling core updates in the background, regardless of OEM or carrier, Google has been taking care of the important stuff. In an effort to save face however, the major players have started doing better, and we’re hoping for improvements at I/O, however good they will be.
We should not expect too many changes to Android this I/O. A point upgrade from 4.4.2 to 4.4.3 may bring few, if any, visible changes to the OS. Instead, it may feature under the hood tweaks and performance boosts that the Android authorities would have been working on for the weeks leading up to the event. Performance boosts, and improvements that squash bugs but extend battery life are always welcomed by us, and, if I were prone to bet, I would bet on a minor but important upgrade to give the Nexus and Google Play Edition fanboys something to rub in the faces of their HTC and Samsung-loving peers.
Glass is supposed to go on full retail this year. The public knows about it; it’s no longer a secret. Glass has made several special appearances at high profile sporting events, in the Operation Room and official frames have been released. With an ever growing accumilation of apps in tow, it seems like the perfect timing for the revelation of its selling price. A Q4 2014 release date has been rumoured, but I wouldn’t be surprised to have a major update at I/O; whether it be an Ingress release, or some other killer app just to tide us over, or even the full release that just ‘blows us away’. Pay attention, you ‘glassholes’ because the time of your redemption is nigh.
Although this does not officially exist, it almost feels like it. With a host of smartwatches being announced at CES, and a lot more promised for MWC, Android fans are buying watches, and are warming up to the idea, but deep down inside, we’re all waiting for Google’s take on this category. Given their presentation and support of Glass, we can imagine that it will be well thought out and well put together. What we don’t know right now is whether it will take the route of the Gear; trying to fit phone functions into a watch, or whether it will take the route of the Pebble; a watch that is simply connected to your phone and gives valuable information when desired.
An appearance at I/O for the watch may be totally unexpected, but don’t rule it out. There is so much rumoured to be in the pipeline that something’s got to leak at one of, if not their biggest and most important event for the year right? Besides, I’m yet to be blown away by any of the current smartwatches; maybe Google would like to change my opinion of them very soon. Hint given.
Lastly, and the one you’ve probably been waiting for, is the appearance of a new Nexus 10, 7, or 8. Make no mistake; no new pieces of hardware were released at last year’s I/O, much to the disappointment of the fans and press at large. No, the Chromebook Pixel was not new. That said, it does not mean that they will continue with that trend this year. Although the time has been cut short by a day and Hugo Barra is no longer at Google, the lack of a new Nexus 10 has not gone unnoticed by us all. Rumours abound of an Asus, Samsung, or HTC made Nexus 10, and while we are yet to see any of these, smoke seldom appears without fire.
The first Nexus 7 was announced at I/O 2012, and while its second iteration had a change of heart and launched elsewhere, I/O is the birthplace of their smaller tablet, and it may return home this year. The main problem though, is that, for long, many have suggested that it might not be a Nexus 7 this time, but rather an 8 inch tablet. The slightly bigger screen offers more to see, and hits a sweet spot between the 10 and 7″ form factors that Android has long rode with. Google has even tested the popularity with the release of the GPe LG GPad 8.3. Having recently spent some time with a Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, I can confirm that it is the best of both worlds to some degree. What ever comes our way, Google, we’re ready for another tablet and we demand one. Please.
Much has been predicted about this year’s I/O. There’s something to keep each of us happy until then. The chances of all of these things being crammed into two days of I/O are low, but the anticipation is what keeps us going most of the time. Whether it’s a new version of Android, gaming performances, Chrome OS development or a shiny new piece of hardware, there’s going to be something at this I/O for some one of us, or maybe for even all of us. As we count the days to its arrival, I’m sure that we will have other product releases, announcements and rumours to tide us over. Until then, ask that you sit tight, and send all news, rumours and leaks our way. Peace.