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This article was published on May 15, 2021

What we’re expecting from Google I/O 2021

Google I/O will be fully livestreamed after getting canceled last year

What we’re expecting from Google I/O 2021
Napier Lopez
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Napier Lopez


Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.

Because we’re still in the midst of COVID19, Google I/O is going virtual this year, — it was canceled last year — livestreamed for free to all. The company’s developer conference begins on Tuesday, May 18, with the keynote event set to kick off at 10 AM PT/ 1PM ET.

With that date soon approaching, it’s time to speculate about what might make an appearance, and what we’re unlikely to see.

This year, there haven’t been that many leaks ahead of time, which makes me hope the company has something juicy that it’s kept tightly under wraps. Still, we can make some guesses.

Android 12

Well, this one isn’t a surprise. We hear about a new version of Android every year, and the company has already released several betas of its upcoming OS.

Though the company has teased some features, these have mainly been developer-oriented items. These include things like changes to the notification panel and improvements to the image compression. But we’ve also seen hints that Google is planning to introduce a bunch of useful new features, including a long-overdue one-handed mode and an integrated theme system.

We’re expecting to see one of the biggest design overhauls to Android in a while, so we’re looking forward to seeing what Google has to offer. The company also tends to release a public beta version of its OS soon after I/O, so stay tuned for that as well.

Wear OS updates and maybe the Pixel Watch

Google finally seems to be paying attention to Wear OS, its oft-neglected smartwatch software, which makes us think the company might be readying some sort of big update.

At this point, we’re pretty sure Google is working on a new smartwatch of its own, perhaps one that can finally offer a solid alternative to the Apple Watch. Leaker Jon Prosser claims to have seen images of the device already.

That said, we’re not totally sure it’ll make an appearance at I/O, though that’s as good a time as any. If Google plans to introduce major changes to Wear OS, it’s going to want developers to be aware. The fact that there are rumors Samsung is returning to Wear OS (and abandoning Tizen, thank goodness), adds more fuel to this fire.

Google Assistant news

Updates to Google Assistant have arguably been the most notable announcements at I/O the last few years. The Assistant is, after all, one of the bits of software Google is investing the most effort in as AI advancements arrive at a breakneck pace.

We haven’t heard too much about what to expect at I/O in terms of the Assistant, but one likely update is something codenamed ‘Guacamole.’ This feature will let you talk to the Assistant without needing to say ‘Hey Google’ for certain commands, such as answering or declining calls.

This one isn’t a rumor so much as a leak; many Android users, including yours truly, saw the Guacamole feature show up in their Assistant settings. The only question is whether it’ll make its debut at I/O, and my money is on ‘yes.’

Pixel 5a (maybe)

If you were holding out hope for Google’s latest budget smartphone, you’ll probably have to be patient a while longer. Google actually confirmed in April that the Pixel 5a is on the way, but at the time it said “it will be available later this year in the US and Japan and announced in line with when last year’s a-series phone was introduced.

Emphasis ours. Unfortunately, the Pixel 4a was announced in August of 2020, so it seems likely we’ll have to wait a fair bit longer for more news. The Pixel 3a was announced at 2019’s I/O, but coronavirus appears to have messed up the timing for future models.

Pixel Buds A-series (maybe)

This is another device that we know is on the way, considering Google itself already leaked it publicly. Twice. Rumors have suggested the device will be a budget alternative to the existing Pixel Buds and abandon swipe controls to hit that cheaper price point.

The Pixel buds A-series (right) was accidentally leaked in a Google Promo. It has a few differences from the standard Pixel Buds.

That said, we haven’t heard firm rumors it’ll appear at I/O, and the company doesn’t tend to announce hardware at the event without important software updates to accompany it.

The custom GS101 processor (maybe)

One of the most exciting rumors relating to the Pixel 6 is that Google is planning to introduce its own custom processor with the device, dubbed GS101. Taking a leaf out of Apple’s M1 book, GS101 could help the company optimize software and hardware integration on first-party devices as has never been possible on Android before.

While it’s unlikely Google will reveal much about the Pixel 6 at I/O, if the company really is working on a custom CPU, it might want to make developers aware of the new technology ahead of time to maximize optimization. That’d be much like how Apple announced its new ARM-based processors well before M1 made its official debut. But there haven’t been strong rumors that GS101 will make an appearance at I/O, so take that with a grain of salt.

How to watch

Google I/O begins Tuesday, May 18 at 10 AM PT/ 1PM ET. You can livestream it right from Google’s I/O hub, where you can also see the schedule for the 3-day event.

(By the way, there’s a minigame hidden in the I/O website.)

The fact that we don’t have many concrete rumors to tell you will hopefully mean Google is holdings its cards close to its chest this year. Stay tuned to TNW as we follow the announcements live starting Tuesday; hopefully we’ll see a few surprises.

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