Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, is scheduled to take place this week, kicking off with an opening presentation on Wednesday, May 11th, at 1PM ET. Although the conference itself is pitched at helping developers get the most out of Google’s tools and platforms, the keynote is relevant for a much broader audience, with hardware and software announcements for products due for release in the next 12 months.
This year, we could see a number of hardware announcements during the keynote. There are ongoing rumors about the search giant’s first wearable, the Pixel Watch, as well as a midrange counterpart to last year’s Pixel 6 smartphones. It’s possible we could also see a new pair of true wireless earbuds announced. And maybe even some surprises, too.
A smartwatch, a smartphone, and lots of Android
Software announcements are likely to focus on Google’s primary operating systems like Android 13, the next major version due for release later this year. Google’s presenters could also announce new features for other platforms like Wear OS or Android TV. The company’s ever-increasing range of services (think Google Maps or workplace tools like Google Docs) are also likely to receive some enhancements.
Here’s a full rundown of what we’re expecting:
Google might finally announce its Pixel Watch
Rumors of Google making its own smartwatch have been around forever, but 2022 could finally be the year it actually happens. There have been spec leaks, design leaks, and a US Patent and Trademark Office filing revealing the Pixel Watch name. Most significantly, however, is an apparent prototype of the smartwatch found abandoned in a restaurant, leading to a flood of photos being posted online.
Between all the leaks, we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of what form the Pixel Watch will take. The big question now is whether all of Google’s investments (which include spending billions on Fitbit) can create something that’s able to present a real challenge to Apple’s dominance.
A new midrange Pixel 6A
For the past three years, Google has followed up each of its flagship Pixel smartphones with a more affordable version with reduced specs. This year, it’s the Pixel 6’s turn, but rumors suggest the Pixel 6A might be a little different from previous A-series handsets.
While phones like the Pixel 4A and 5A paired similar camera features to their flagship counterparts with less powerful processors, reports suggest the Pixel 6A could flip this approach. A report from 9to5Google last year suggested the new phone could feature the same Tensor processor as the Pixel 6 but a downgraded 12-megapixel main camera sensor instead of the Pixel 6’s 50-megapixel sensor.
An announcement at Google I/O would come a little earlier than the August launches we’ve typically seen for Google’s midrange phones. But the timing of a recent FCC filing suggests its launch could be just around the corner.
Maybe some pro wireless earbuds
This rumor is less certain, but a recent leak from Jon Prosser suggested that Google is preparing to release a new set of true wireless earbuds called the Pixel Buds Pro. Not much is known about their potential features and specs, but the use of the word “Pro” in the name of a set of earbuds is typically used to show they support active noise-cancellation — which would be a first from a pair of Google true wireless earbuds.
Google currently only sells one pair of true wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds A-Series, which were originally announced as a more affordable counterpart to the second-generation Pixel Buds. But with the Pixel Buds now discontinued, Google is only selling the affordable entry in the lineup. Adding a Pro-branded entry would be a natural shift.
A host of details about Android 13
On the software side, there’s Android 13, the next major version of Google’s mobile operating system. It’s technically already been released in beta — offering small glimpses of Google’s plans for the update — but it won’t be until I/O that we’ll get a full idea of Google’s overall vision for Android 13.
So far, it seems Android 13 is set to continue a lot of the work that Google started with Android 12. Last year’s customizable themes (branded as Material You) look likely to expand to cover more UI elements in the operating system, and Google is continuing to restrict what aspects of the operating system Android apps have access to by default. Any news on major new initiatives will likely emerge during Google’s keynote.
And maybe, just maybe, some foldable news
Android 13 isn’t the only major update Google has coming to its mobile OS this year. There’s also Android 12L, a new version of the OS optimized for tablets and foldable devices. We know it’s due to release at some point this year and will ship on devices from Samsung, Lenovo, and Microsoft. I/O would be a good time for the search giant to offer more concrete details.
Android 12L is designed for foldables and tablets
As well as software, Google has long been rumored to be working on one or two foldable devices of its own. At one stage there were rumors that these were going to launch last year, but, given the lack of leaks recently, it doesn’t feel like an announcement is imminent. Foldable phones are, after all, still very niche products outside of China, despite Samsung now being in its third generation of foldable devices.
Signs of a new Nest Hub?
Given it’s only been a year since Google released its last Nest Hub smart display, it seems premature to expect a follow-up. But a report from 9to5Google from March claims we could see one featuring a detachable screen that could be used as a tablet at some point this year. The form factor sounds like it would be ideal as a smart home controller and would also explain the renewed attention Google is paying to tablets.
But with a vague rumored launch date of “2022,” there’s no guarantee Google will be ready to show off the new device this week, and that’s if it even exists in the first place.
Plus updates for its other platforms
Of course, Android isn’t the only operating system that Google manages. It also has Wear OS for smartwatches, which will almost certainly receive some onstage attention if Google does end up announcing its Pixel Watch this week. Even if it doesn’t, the presentation comes a year after Google announced it would be merging its platform with Samsung’s Tizen. (The resulting software went on to appear on the Galaxy Watch 4.) And it seems likely that Google will have more to add on how development is going.
Smart TV software could feature
There’s also its Android TV and Google TV software, which are designed for — you guessed it — TVs. And we know they have some new features coming this year because one of its product managers said as much back in January. Support for home fitness workouts is apparently something the company is interested in along with offering more smart home controls and video conferencing services.
Expect a plethora of Google software and service updates
Away from hardware and platform-specific announcements, a Google I/O keynote wouldn’t be complete without the search giant announcing updates for a handful of its numerous apps and services. Last year, for example, we saw a locked folder feature announced for Google Photos, updates to Google Maps’ augmented reality view, and a new “smart canvas” initiative for its office productivity software that’s designed to make its various services more interconnected.
Given the huge breadth of Google’s software offerings, it’s difficult to make specific predictions about which of them will get attention onstage this year. But I’d guess that Google Workspace is likely to feature prominently. “Smart canvas” has already resulted in some slick new features for Google Docs, and I suspect that this is just the start of Google’s plans to overhaul its office software for remote working.
With some surprises thrown in for good measure
Away from more typical product announcements, Google always has a few surprises up its sleeve for I/O. Last year, it revealed an experiment called Project Starline, effectively a video chat booth designed to create the impression that you’re sitting directly opposite someone who might be hundreds of miles away. Along with other AR / VR projects we’ve heard about (like the Project Iris augmented reality headset), it’s not a real product yet and might not be until 2024 at the earliest. But Google is often keen to show off these kinds of early R&D projects, and this year is unlikely to be an exception.