Google’s biggest show of the year, I/O 2018, will start up in just a few days. In addition to tons of developer talks, the show typically serves as a coming out party for a bevy of Google announcements.
I/O hasn’t necessarily been your typical tech announcement event where months of pre-leaks reveal 90 percent of what will happen.
But while we can’t know what’s coming for certain—everyone remembers those skydivers wearing augmented reality glasses, right?—we can go into this year’s show with a few informed predictions. Based on our analysis of evidence, past news, and Google’s usual release schedules, here’s what we’re expecting at Google I/O 2018.
Android P Developer Preview 2
This first one is easy. Every year Google releases a new developer preview of Android at I/O, and Google’s own schedule says we’ll get a new developer preview in “May,” the same month as Google I/O. A new preview of Android P is pretty much a lock. The real question is “What do we expect in the second Android P Preview?”
More Material Design 2
The first Android P preview arrived in March with a big UI overhaul. There’s an all-new notification panel and quick settings, a new main settings screen, and lots of redesigned system UI components like the volume interface, text selection, animations, and dialog boxes. In the past few months we’ve also seen a whirlwind of UI changes from Google in other products, with a new design style appearing in Gmail.com, Chrome in its Desktop, mobile, and OS varieties, the Google account interface, Google Pay, the Android Developers site, and the new Google Tasks app.
All of these redesigns could loosely fit under the same overarching design style, which feels like an evolution of Google’s current “Material Design” guidelines. The new design doesn’t have an official name, but internally at Google it has been called “Material Design 2” and “Material Design Refresh.” Whatever Material Design 2 ends up being called, at I/O we expect Google to formalize the new design style, publish design documents, and have several developer sessions covering all the new changes.
Google likes to keep the I/O schedule vague before the keynote, but there’s a few sessions that suggest Google will talk a lot about Material Design 2. One session is titled “How to incorporate what’s new with Material Design in your code base.” Another session will cover “how UX researchers helped test, refine, and evolve the latest Material Design guidance.” I’m going to interpret mentions of “what’s new” and “evolution” as hints of Material Design 2 news.
In Android P Preview 1, there was a pretty clear clash between newly redesigned screens and old interfaces that haven’t been touched yet. In Preview 2, hopefully we’ll see more parts of Android redesigned so we have something approaching a cohesive OS.
Android borrows a lot from iOS in this round of updates. In addition to iPhone X-style notch support, Android is apparently getting gesture support. This feature was seemingly leaked by Google itself, which accidentally posted a picture to the official Android Developer blog showing a navigation bar we haven’t seen before. The home button was a pill shape instead of a circle, the back button used an older design, and the recent apps button was missing. This was Android’s in-development gesture UI.
There’s a ton we don’t know about gesture navigation, and it’s clearly still in-development from the screenshot. While it seems inevitable it will come to Android, we can’t guarantee it will be ready in time for Android P Preview 2. It certainly seems like a major change for Google, and it’s something the company may want to release in beta so people can wrap their heads around it and offer feedback.
Google Assistant “Slices”
The first Android P Developer Preview contained a new “Slices” API, and we’re still not sure exactly what it will do. The Android P developer docs say a slice is “a piece of app content and actions that can be surfaced outside of the app,” but that’s pretty vague.
Sebastiano Poggi from the app development house Novoda has been diving into the Slices API since release, and he thinks the most obvious use for slices is for apps to display their own content inside the Google Assistant search results. The UI with slice renders currently looks very unfinished, but the layout is similar to a Google Assistant reply. Poggi has built a whole slices demo app showing how a Google Assistant interface might work. One app would be a primary “Slice Host” (a slices-aware version of the Google Assistant) and many other apps would be “Slice Providers” and offer up information to display inside the host app. So imagine asking the Google Assistant (the slice host app) for movie times, and instead of displaying search result info, users with the Fandango app installed (a slice provider) could provide custom UI for the Google Assistant that would let users quickly buy a movie ticket.
Since Google will need app developers to build a slice capability into their apps for this to work, the company needs to come clean about what the Slices API is and how developers should use it. Google’s largest developer show seems like a good place to do just that. Again, the I/O schedule is very vague before the keynote, but the talk “Integrate your Android apps with the Google Assistant” might have something to do with slices.
An Android TV dongle
When Google ended support for the Nexus Player this March, it suddenly found itself without a first-party device for Android TV. This is very unhealthy for the Android TV developer ecosystem since, as usual with Android, third-party OEMs take their sweet time when updating any device. If Google released a new version of Android TV today, exactly zero people would have access to it on real hardware. Until Google fixes Android’s update situation, any good Android form factor needs a Google-made developer device with day-one updates.
For Android TV, it seems like a new developer device is coming in a Chromecast-like dongle form factor. A Google-branded dongle with remote showed up at the FCC in April, which would make it a prime candidate for a Google I/O launch. The dongle has similar hardware to the $69 2017 Amazon Fire TV, which would make for a good developer freebie for those that attend the show. Android TV seems to be primarily focusing on a form factor that is built right into televisions, but there are also set top boxes like the Nvidia Shield and Xiaomi Mi Box. There’s really nothing in a dongle form factor for Android TV, though. A souped up Chromecast-style device with the full Android TV interface on it would be great for wall-mounted televisions and people that don’t want to buy a whole new TV.
Nothing in the I/O schedule shouts “We’re making new Android TV hardware!” but Google’s TV OS has not been forgotten at I/O. There’s a “What’s new with Android TV” session that could end with a hardware freebie being given out.