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What the Google I/O schedule tells us about the future of Android

Derek Walter | April 27, 2016
Google will push Android into virtual and augmented reality while nudging developers to embrace Material Design and lightweight apps.

Google I/O may be a conference for developers, but what happens there will have a major impact on how you interact with Android and Google’s other services in the near future.

The conference covers all of Google's projects, but Android is definitely the star of this year’s show, which will be held in Mountain View from May 18 to 20. Some of the focus will be on better app performance and design, which is always in demand. Google will also have plenty to say about how Android will usher in a future of virtual reality and connectedness across your phone, car, television, and other devices that may not even be here yet.

After studying the schedule, there are four key themes that emerge, each illustrating how Android will move forward in the next year and what it will mean for putting your digital life in Google’s hands.

Virtual Reality is big

Google has big ambitions in virtual reality. Cardboard is just the start, as there have been rumors of the company building its own VR headset and indications from Android N about how the operating system will give more native support to VR. So set your eyes on the VR at Google session on May 19, which is hosted by Clay Bavor, Google’s vice president of virtual reality (who also has a fascinating photography blog). Right now Facebook-owned Oculus is leading the VR game and Google’s frenemy Samsung makes the most popular consumer device in the Gear VR.

So expect Google to invest heavily to ensure the company’s services are where the Internet is going. YouTube, as an example, recently added support for VR and 360-degree video. And the outdoor venue for Google I/O may not be a coincidence; it could be a showcase for all Google plans to do with digitizing the outside world.

youtube cardboard 
YouTube now supports videos shot specifically for VR. Credit: YouTube

We have more tangible evidence of the company’s plans for augmented reality with Project Tango. Two sessions are devoted to the technology, which empowers phones and tablets to see and sense the environment around them: one focused on gaming with Project Tango and another titled, “Introducing Project Tango Area Learning.”

Lenovo announced at CES that it would have a first phone with Project Tango technology by the end of this summer, so perhaps we’ll get to see a near-final version of this. Either way, Project Tango is inching out of the lab and into actual consumer products soon.

And let’s not forget about Android Auto. There’s a session titled “Android Auto for everyone,” which is all about helping developers extend their apps to the car dashboard. Android Auto has been gaining steam this year with expansions into new vehicles, which makes it a key piece of Google’s strategy to have Android and Google’s contextual information follow you wherever you are.

 

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