What to expect at Google I/O 2016, and where to watch the best sessions

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If you’re not lucky enough to attend, Google has made it easy to watch key live-streamed events at the convention through the official Google I/O app, which you can download for iOS or Android. This is the first time Google brought the I/O app to iOS. You can also watch these events through the interactive Google I/O website. If you’re attending, the app can be useful to schedule events and get reminders, and it also offers access to an interactive map to help you find where you need to go.

You can watch the keynote on May 18 at 10 a.m. P.T.

More on the oh-so-sweet Android N

Android N Developer

Will it be Android Nougat? Nutella? Nerds? Google typically unveils the name for the latest flavor of Android with a statue on the lawn of its headquarters in Mountain View, California. With Android N to be the big focus at I/O, it’s possible the company will announce the newest flavor on May 18 as well.

It’s also unclear what version number N will be, but most of the features of the upcoming update aren’t unexpected. That’s because for the first time, Google unveiled the developer preview for Android N two months before I/O. Google hopes doing so would speed the process for manufacturers and carriers to push the new update to consumer’s devices when it officially launches later this year.

Related: Hands on with Android N: Multitasking, new notifications, UI tuner, and more

The name drop for N could still happen closer to its launch date in the fall, but regardless, there’s plenty of screen time for diving into all the current features, with the possibility that Google will reveal some surprises along the way.

The most notable changes introduced in Android N are visible in the notification drawer — which has received a visual refresh as well as quicker access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other tools. Notifications themselves now come in bundles, if you have more than one for one specific app. This makes it easier to open these bundles and interact with individual notifications, like through Quick Reply for messaging apps.

Of course split-screen apps were finally been introduced into the new version, too, making it easier for people to multi-task between two apps. There are also references to a “Virtual Reality Mode” and “VR Listener,” which allow developers and users to add and enjoy VR experiences. A 3D Touch-like feature was spotted in the developer preview, but Google may be delaying the feature to another release.

Developer Preview 2 launched in the middle of April, and the third version is expected to drop on the first day of I/O. You’ll be able to grab it via an over-the-air update if you’re running on a supported device. You can read about more features in Android N here.Key Android N live-streamed events (in Pacific Time) to keep an eye on are listed below.

 “What’s New in Android” on May 18 at 1 p.m.

“Multi-Window Mode” on May 18 at 4 p.m

“Android Battery and Memory Optimizations” on May 18 at 5 p.m

There are a few more you can check out, too.

Read more about Android N here.

new google play

If you didn’t know, Google’s Play Store, the one you download all your apps from on Android devices, doesn’t exist in China. That’s mostly because Google didn’t want to filter and censor contents, after it famously left the country in 2010. But now, reports say Google is more open to complying with Chinese law to store Play Store app data in the country and filtering content. Android is the dominant operating system in China, but Google’s own services are either non-existent or severely limited. Bringing its own Play Store to the table could boost Android’s presence in the country incredibly.

“We Are Family,” on May 19 at 10 a.m. P.T.

Project Tango expands

Lenovo Project Tango

Google is hoping to push its indoor mapping tech to developers, game programmers, museums, and even grocery stores, thanks to Project Tango. Tango is a hardware device that uses cameras, infrared sensors, and specialized software to create detailed, 3-D recreations of the objects and spaces around it.

With Tango, Google wants to create a 3-D, indoor version of Google Maps. Reports say Google will unveil more tools for developers, companies, and organizations to capture indoor locations. This would offer unique capabilities like identifying where you can get a specific brand of cereal in a grocery store via an app, or a guided visual tour through an art gallery.

Related: Touring a museum with Project Tango is an empowering glimpse into the future

Through these new tools, Tango will make a push into virtual reality. For example, video game developers will be able to have characters walk through real life furniture. As Tango doesn’t need external hardware to recreate these indoor spaces, the technology already has a leg up on current virtual reality units such as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.

We’re also expecting to see a phablet-sized smartphone from Lenovo and Google with 3D imaging capabilities that utilizes Project Tango at the Lenovo Tech World conference on June 9. Take a gander at Tango’s possibilities and announcements at these live-streamed events (times in P.T.) listed below.

“Introducing Project Tango Area Learning” on May 18 at 4 p.m.

“What’s New with Project Tango” on May 19 at 3 p.m.

“6 Degrees of Freedom Gaming in Android with Project Tango” on May 20 at 10 a.m.

A VR headset?

google cardboard

2016 has seen an explosion in popularity for virtual reality, thanks to the launch of two virtual reality headsets — the Oculus Rift, and the HTC Vive. With all this talk of VR integrating with Project Tango, and a recently-added “Virtual Reality Mode” in Android N, it seems natural that Google will release its own virtual reality headset.

That may happen at I/O. A placeholder in the developer console of the Google Play Store showed the option to tag apps as compatible with something called, “Android VR.” Further reports showed that a hardware device was in the works, and it would be less powerful than the Vive and the Rift, which need computers. It will still be significantly more powerful than Samsung’s popular Gear VR.

Related: Get ready for Android VR: Google may unveil a stand-alone VR headset at I/O 2016

The headset will reportedly run an operating system named Android VR, and will contain chips, sensors, lenses, as well as motion-sensing positional cameras. Google I/O has plenty of VR-specific events, meaning the announcement of a new operating system solely for VR is definitely a possibility.Unfortunately, only two of the seven VR events are being live-streamed (in P.T.), but they’re listed below.

“VR at Google” on May 19 at 9 a.m.

“Enhancing Applications and Websites with Embeddable VR Views” on May 20 at 1 p.m.

Amazon Echo Dot

The popularity of Amazon’s Echo wasn’t expected. Now, we’re seeing Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, cropping up in various devices and services. Google may be stepping into the fray with its own voice assistant for the home, named Google Home.

The device, codenamed “Chirp,” will resemble Google’s OnHub wireless router, and you’ll essentially be able to command it to run tasks like Google searches, set reminders, ask for the weather, and more. It’s akin to what you’ll find in Google Now, and it uses the same phrase to trigger voice commands — “OK Google.”

Reports point to a launch in the fall, but we’ll probably learn more about the device at I/O.

Chatbots

facebook-chatbots

Facebook and Microsoft are about to get some serious competition. Google is expected to announce tools for developers to build chatbots into their messaging apps, following Facebook and Microsoft’s push. Chatbots are artificially intelligent micro-assistants that offer information within a messaging app. You can ask questions from a CNN chatbot in Facebook Messenger, for example, to glean the top stories of the day. One benefit is that you don’t need to then install a separate CNN app to receive its content — a boon to devices that don’t have the capability to install many power-hungry apps. Chatbots have received a mixed response, indicating a rocky start, but it will be interesting to see what Google has to offer.

Project Ara and other ATAP projects

project-ara-concept

Born out of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group like Project Tango, Project Ara is ambitious. The aim is to build a fully-modular phone — where you’ll be able to replace parts easily at a moment’s notice. For example, if an improved camera module is released, rather than upgrading your phone, you’ll only have to remove your old camera and add in the new block. This reduces the cost of buying a new phone for only slightly improved hardware.

It’s unclear what exactly the Project Ara team will bring this year, but a product launch was delayed to 2016, and Google I/O would be the perfect stage to unveil something new.

Related: Why smart clothes, not watches, are the future of wearables

Project Soli and Project Jacquard were announced at last year’s Google I/O, and not much has been in the spotlight since. The Soli team wants to make it possible to interact with technology through gestures based on radar technology. So for example, you’ll be able turn on a device with a specific figure gesture, rather than having to use a physical button.

Jacquard is a platform that moves tech into our clothes, so you can receive alerts through what you wear, as well as interact with your clothes. For example, play the next song with a simple swipe on your shirt. It’s likely we’ll get to see the progress on Soli and Jacquard at I/O.

“Bridging the physical and digital. Imagine the possibilities. ATAP” on May 20 at 10 a.m. P.T.

Will Xiaomi unveil a product?

Xiaomi will be partaking at Google I/O. Former Googler Hugo Barra, now Xiaomi’s global vice president, teased an image indicating Xiaomi’s presence, as well as what may be a launch of a new product. The first tweet says “A sneak peek of what you’ll see from Mi at #IO16.”  The image above was attached, and many speculate it could be a new version or a variant of the Nexus Player.

The next image alludes to a possible gaming controller or remote, as Barra says, “Guess what super combo we’ll be making,” with an image of arrows and the A and B symbol typically found in controllers.

But the rumors range from a camera to a smartwatch, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what Xiaomi is up to. Also, the company is known for its popular MIUI, Mi User Interface, for its Android devices — so the annoucement could very well be for any changes to the software as well.

Android Wear

android wear watch faces

Google’s software for smartwatches, Android Wear, was unveiled at I/O in 2014. But now two years later, it feels as though the Mountain View company has let the OS take a backseat to other projects.

In February, the company brought a new update that added support for calling and more gestures. You can also now dictate messages for specific apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. More recently, Google added a new like of watch bands — Mode — to further stylize your smartwatch. But Android Wear is in dire need of a better user experience, as well as a visual overhaul. Luckily, we may hear more at I/O this year.

“Android Wear live-streamed event” on May 19 at 11 a.m.

“Building rich fitness experiences with Google Fit platform and Android Wear” on May 19 at 1 p.m.

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