Google I/O 2016: What to expect

This years Google I/O is just around the corner. We gathered up everything we know about the conference into one article, so that you know what to expect.

This year's Google I/O is just around the corner. We gathered up everything we know about the conference into one handy article, so that you know what to expect in the coming few days. Despite the large number of expected announcements, Analysts believe that this year's Google I/O will be a relatively smaller scale event compared to previous conferences.

Virtual Reality

We know Virtual Reality is going to be big this year for Google. Back in January, Google launched its Virtual Reality division. VR is so big, that it ties into almost every other emerging technology from Google. There is a version of the Android operating system in the works that is only for Virtual Reality Applications.

There is also something known as "VR Helper service" in the new Android N, which seems to be a way for applications to manage notifications and pop-ups while the user is engaged in virtual reality activities. There seems to be some kind of audio technology for VR being developed, that reacts to head movement in VR space to realistically modify the sound output. The developer console for Google Play is using the phrasing "Android VR", which seems to indicate a dedicated VR device from Google.

The device will apparently be better than Samsung's Gear VR but not as good as HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. There is already a killer application from Google out for VR, Tilt Brush, but this currently requires a PC and Steam to work, so we are not sure if Android VR will support Google's disruptive new application. Google has also patented a hologram display for its Glass. This is meant for interactive user experiences in augmented reality, we are not sure if any development on this is ready, and if it will be seen at I/O 2016. There are sessions scheduled for VR in the classroom, and making games for VR.

Android N

Google I/O 2016: What to expect

Android N is expected to be unveiled in this Google I/O. There is a lot of focus on VR functionality this year. Android N is expected to have a revamped settings interface. The bars between two settings are gone, and each setting has a subline that provides additional context about the particular settings, without needing to navigate to adjusting the setting. The Navigation Drawer was expected to be scrapped, but that has just got relocated to a hamburger button (three parallel lines) in the menu. These are experimental changes and may or may not be seen in any announcements.

A feature that is not expected to land in this developer conference, is a native pressure sensitive touch implementation in Android N on the lines of Apple's 3D touch. Although there are phones in the market with pressure sensitive touch, including models from Huawei, Gionee and ZTE, these manufacturers have to use 3D touch in their own implementations, till Google provides native support in the operating system.

Two New Nexus devices from HTC are expected to be launched, with Android N. The devices are code-named Marlin and Sailfish.

Material Design

Back in January, Google's design chief had indicated his grand scheme for UI design. Matias Duarte wanted smartphone UI to move beyond iPhones. Material Design is Google's take at the next step in UI evolution, after Jony Ive and Steve Jobs's skeumorphic design, and Microsoft's flat UI.

Material Design is a frequently updated design guideline document. Material Design uses depth and shadows to make direct manipulation of objects intuitive for touchscreen interfaces.

The smooth animations are another aspect, which invites you to watch your intentions in actions, instead of directly showing the end result. The animation from circle to square in the WhatsApp display picture is an example of this. Think of all the series of animations that happen to the crates and bombs after you catapult an Angry Bird, Google wants to bring that delay and invitation to watch the consequences of your actions unfold, into regular UI. This approach is showcased in the countdown timer of the official Google I/O 2016 web site. There is an entire session dedicated to using motion in material design.

There have been changes based on the concepts of material design to Google's services over the past few months. First, the mobile interface for YouTube got cleaner and less cluttered, and then the web interface for YouTube also got a hidden material design facelift. This Google I/O one can expect more guidelines, and a comprehensive set of rules when it comes to implementing material design on various platforms, from small screens to large.

Google ChromeOS

ChromeOS and Android were long expected to merge. A more streamlined OS to work on a wider variety of devices may still land, but there are indications that this will not be happening just yet, if at all. Google Play apps are expected to land on ChromeOS, this may be a step in bringing the two together. At the end of the conference, we will at least know if the Chrome Web Store will continue to be live or not. There are still Chromebase laptops in the pipeline, so it might not be the end of ChromeOS just yet.



Chirp is expected to look somewhat like the OnHub

Chirp is Google's take on Amazon Echo. Based on the OnHub router design, Google's Chirp will be a physical voice activated intelligent digital assistant. The standalone device does not need a computer or a smartphone to be tethered. While other digital assistants such as Cortana or Siri are known for their personalities, with hard coded responses to questions, "OK Google" has deployed machine learning and neural networks for true adaptive artificial intelligence that rapidly deliver personalised search results. There is no obvious slot in the schedule that can accommodate this device, so Chirp might be launched later in the year.

Project Tango

Another big announcement that ties into Android N as well as the virtual reality efforts of Google. Project Tango is an indoor mapping service, that can be used by a number of applications. It can give contextual awareness and allow applications and games to smartly use objects in the surroundings, when it comes to virtual reality. Mapping indoor spaces can help navigate add maps to indoor locations, such as office complexes, shopping malls or airports.

Project Tango screenshot

Project Tango hopes to enable developers to make new applications and services for virtual reality applications, augumented reality applications as well as smartphones. Back in January at CES 2016 Lenovo showcased its still under development prototype of a smartphone with Project Tango features built in. These applications can use real life objects, including furniture, doors and screens to animate virtual characters and objects around these real life objects. Project Tango can also be used to give machines an understanding of the surrounding, say remembering or finding a lost object, or choosing what sort of surfaces are appropriate for projecting screens or user interfaces on.

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Neural Networks

Google has been developing some of the world's most advanced artificial intelligence technologies. In the investor's letter this year, Sundar Pichai outlined how they are deploying AI technologies to tackle everything from mundane tasks of users to big questions such as climate change and cancer research. Google just added distributing computing capabilities to its open source TensorFlow machine learning platform. Google also recently open sourced Parsey McParseface, one of the world's most advanced natural language parser.

Google is apparently working on an AI powered messaging application. The newly launched Spaces is a perfect platform to deploy such an messenger service. Although it could be a standalone chat service. The service is expected to be similar to Facebook's Messenger service. Natural language communication over text messages with intelligent digital assistants is considered the next paradigm shift in human computer interaction by major technology companies. Microsoft Bot Framework is also working on moving all the action from apps to bots.

Xiaomi mysterious involvement

Xiaomi Global VP has been tweeting out a series of teasers about Xiaomi's participation at Google I/O. Guesses for what this announcement may be range from a chromecast, a gaming version of chromecast to chirp. When it comes to speculating what this device may be, your guess is as good as ours.

This article has been updated to include Artificial Intelligence, the launch of Spaces, and Xiaomi's mysterious announcement

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