- The Next Version Of Android
- Unified Messaging/Google Babel
- Google's Gaming Service
- Google Games
- Google Play News
- Google Wallet Card
- New Google Maps Features
- Lots Of Google Now/Search Improvements
- Quickoffice + Google Docs = A Better Drive App
- A Google TV Update
- A Mysterious Google X "Control System"
- A Google Music Subscription Service
- New Hardware?
Google I/O is coming! We'll know about all of Google's new projects in just 2
short agonizingly long weeks. While we desperately count the days until May 15th, we thought it would be a great idea to take stock all of the things we've caught wind of lately.
Calling this an "I/O Preview," sounds a little too certain. I'm not predicting everything here will come out at I/O, this is just a list of everything we know Google is working on - their "To-Do" list. Just like any to-do list, Google could cross something off and release it, or endlessly procrastinate, or completely cancel something. The only thing we have to go on is evidence, and we've got solid evidence for everything in this article.
If you follow this sort of thing, you'll know that Google likes to release a bunch of stuff around the same time as a new Android release, and we are already firmly into the "Android 4.3" wave. This year we've seen several services jump the gun and come out before I/O: There's the re-re-re-redesigned Play Store, Google Keep, and Google has even started shipping Google Glass! Speaking of 4.3, let's get started:
The Next Version Of Android
We really know nothing about the next version of Android. Because of Android's whole "alphabetical snacks" naming scheme (and because of a Qualcomm leak), we've been referring to the next version of Android as "Key Lime Pie," but now it sounds like that's not right. As reported exclusively here at AP, Google has been working on yet another version of Jelly Bean, and it will be called "Android 4.3."
Beyond that, we know nothing. Sure, there's all the extra stuff that will probably come along with 4.3 (see: this entire article) but we have no idea about the actual 4.3 stuff.
We can at least guess at the timing: 4.2 came out in November 2012, so we're right around Android's traditional 6 month release timing.
Unified Messaging/Google Babel
I covered a lot of the general backstory in my 2013 preview article, so you might want to go check that out, but basically, between Google Talk, Google Voice, SMS, and Google+ Messenger, Google has way too many texting products. The great hope of all Android kind is that, one day, Google will combine all of these into a single, unified chat program.
We don't actually know if that's happening. We do know that Google is building some kind of new chat service, and its code-name is "Babel." As mentioned in the 2013 article, Google previously purchased Meebo, a cross-platform instant messaging client in 2012, and they've no doubt been hard at work on trying to pare down Google's massive army of chat platforms.
The most substantial Babel info came from a Techradar leak of the Gmail Babel interface. It showed a redesigned chat window with profile pictures and a metric ton of emoji. The most interesting part of the leak is the picture all the way on the right, which mentions that not only can you share photos (and that it, of course, requires Google+) but that this service is called Google Talk. I don't think that's an accident, I'll bet the GTalk name is here to stay. It's perfect.
Besides the screenshots, we've been getting a torturously slow drip of Babel info. I found Babel references in the current Chat for Google Chrome extension, so it looks like that is sticking around. Google Operating System found some Babel code in Gmail and the screenshot on the right, and a few individuals have even had live, working error messages related to Babel show up in Gmail.
The big question is just what current chat services will Babel combine. Will it support SMS? Will it replace the Google Talk Android app? How about Google Voice?
Coincidentally, both the Google Voice Android app and Chrome extension were recently dusted off and actually touched by at least one engineer at Google. The Chrome extension added support for rich notifications, and the Android app added a permission that allows other apps to read GV's configuration data. None of this is really a concrete confirmation of Babel integration, but it is interesting that they would update it now, in the middle of this tizzy of chat program updates.
Ok, fine, you want a prediction? My expectation is that Babel will just be the new version of Google Talk, and still be branded "Google Talk." Besides taking over GTalk on Android, Gmail, and G+, it should handle G+ Messages, too, similarly to how there isn't a difference between a Facebook Message and a Facebook Chat session. I'm also expecting it to take over SMS duties, and seamlessly switch between GTalk messages and SMS a la iMessage. I'm not expecting Google Voice integration, because, well, Google hates Google Voice and it never works with anything. (Yes, I'm bitter about it.)
Google had better show this off at I/O, or at the very least have a solid escape plan once the torches and pitchforks come out.
Google's Gaming Service
As I recently discovered in an APK Teardown, Google is building a back-end gaming platform. It sounds like it will be a similar service to Xbox Live or iOS's Game Center: Google will handle all of the multiplayer aspects of a game, and developers just need to plug this gaming back end into their apps. The service should support real-time and turn-based multiplayer, in-game chat, achievements, leaderboards, invitations, and lobbies. Also, while I have absolutely no evidence of this, I give you my personal guarantee that Google+ will handle player identity.
I'm expecting this to show up at I/O this year. Currently, it's up to developers to work out all this stuff, and it's pretty much needed for every multiplayer game, so Google's service should save a lot of duplicate work. This is definitely something you would want to trumpet to a room full of developers.
The gaming service is far enough along that it was accidentally released in MyGlass, a completely unrelated app. In fact, after I discovered it, the Glass team removed it in the next update. So I would expect it to launch at I/O.
While we found evidence of a gaming service, Google has also been talking about a different kind of gaming revamp: unifying all of its various gaming platforms. Right now, Google has 4: Google+ Games, Chrome Games, Native Client Games, and Android Games.
This was featured in last year's Google I/O preview, so for the full story, I suggest you go read that section, nothing has really changed. Here's the quick recap version:
Punit Soni, a group product manager for Google+, went to the 2012 Game Developer Conference, and stated:
“By next year, we will not be here talking about Google+ Games, Chrome Web Store games, Games for Native Client and Android games,” he said. “We will be talking about Google games.”
That was on March 6th, 2012, so "next year" means "this year." Soni's statement makes it sound like they want to merge all the gaming stores into one. There are two ways you could go about that, one is to build one big multiplatform game store, and have separate sections for each gaming platform.
The other way is to unify all the game platforms and give developers tools to make their code run on G+, Chrome, and Android. While that might sound crazy, Google has a project in the works that aims to do just that. It's called "Native Client," and the goal is to create a universal binary that runs at "native speed" inside the Chrome web browser. Google has been working on porting Chrome and Native Client to everything, so that would mean a Native Client app could run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Chrome OS, Android, and (barring app store policies) iOS.
If that sounds like a lot of work; it is. I would actually be surprised to see unified gaming platforms at I/O this year. The desktop part of Native Client works, and there are a bunch of amazing examples here (even ports of Android games), but mobile is a different story. There are some documents detailing Native Client on ARM, but I've yet to see a Native Client app actually work on a mobile device.
If you are reading this and screaming "OH MY GOD CHROME AND ANDROID ARE MERGING!11," you might actually have a point. This is a project from the Chrome team, and the head of Chrome just took over the reins of Android as well. So while the OSes have, in my opinion, a 0% chance of merging into one product, they could both end up running Native Client apps from a unified app store someday.
Google Play News
Hidden in the depths of the Play Store desktop website are still a bunch of references to "Google Play News." There are hints of things like "News Editions," "News Issues," and "Subscriptions," so, it sounds like a newspaper service. Google Play News will be a new content section in the Play Store, alongside the current offerings of Music, Books, Magazines, Devices, Apps and TV Shows and Movies. Since it will have a spot in the Play Store it will have to be color coded, and, if you dig into the Play Store CSS, you'll see that everything is yellow - #ffd700, to be specific.
Google likes to announce new content services at I/O. Last year's keynote announced the launch of TV Shows, Magazines, and Movies for Google Play, so I'm guessing a Newspaper store is announced at I/O 2013.
Google Wallet Card
Remember this? About a million years ago, in November 2012, we got word of the physical Google Wallet Card. The Wallet Card is a "virtual" credit card. "One card to rule them all" is the basic idea here. You leave all your other cards at home, and swipe the Wallet Card. Then Google's system forwards the cost to one of the real credit cards that you have registered to them, which you can manage via the app. So instead of having to carrying around a million pieces of plastic, you have a single, unifying card.
Having an actual piece of plastic means Google Wallet would no longer be limited to NFC-equipped phones. The Wallet Card is expected to run on all Android phones, iOS, and "other." Perhaps that means there will be a web app.
We really have no idea what is taking so long with this project. NFC has pretty much been a consumer flop in the US, and I've always viewed this as Google's last-ditch effort to make Wallet relevant in the offline world - you'd think they'd hurry up and release it. The beta sign-up page for it went up in October 2012, and is still up and prominently visible on Google.com/wallet, so it doesn't sound canceled. We'll keep waiting.
New Google Maps Features
Maps is one of my favorite teardown victims, and over the last few months, we've caught wind of two really cool features being experimented with in the Maps APK:
3D, Textured Buildings
Google has 2 mapping applications, Google Maps, and Google Earth. Google Maps has more useful features, like Navigation and directions, but Google Earth has a ton of information that is not available in Google Maps, most notably in the form of 3D, textured buildings. In the past, they were separate for a reason. Google Earth with buildings turned on would crush an older phone and only run at a few frames per second, but today, with the advent of mobile quad core processors and faster GPUs, phones can whip through the more complex Google Earth geometry easily.
So, why are they still separate? Textured building in Google Maps would be cool, and very useful. Google seems to be asking itself this question, too. In September 2012, I discovered a “3D” button in Google Maps, and, to this day, it’s still there. Presumably, the 3D button would toggle the complex Google Earth buildings on and off.
Pictured: Tom Tom's lane guidance
The other big new Maps feature I've found evidence of is lane guidance. In an APK Teardown, I found feedback text relating to the number of lanes on a road, keeping track of turn-only arrows, and lane recommendations. This is one of the last things a standalone GPS unit can do that Google Maps Navigation can't. This feature would be a huge help for highway forks and navigating complex interchanges.
Just about every lane guidance system has a 3D presentation, so maybe these two features are related. As with all Google Maps features, coding it is the easy part; the hard part is getting the ridiculous amount of data required to make it work. Lane data for every road in the entire world? That could take a while.
Lots Of Google Now/Search Improvements
There's also been evidence of a few leaked-yet-unreleased Google Search improvements. Here's what we're currently tracking:
Google Now In Chrome
The Chrome team has been hard at work on a rich notification system for their browser and OS. Once it's completed, they'll have a spot for Google Now notifications. For a while now, there has been an option in chrome://flags to enable Google Now support (pictured, above). It has never actually worked, though.
The search app should soon be able to handle commands like "Remind me to buy milk when I leave work tomorrow." As I found an APK Teardown, Google is planning support for reminders by date, time, location, and arrival/departure, and you'll manage these reminders from the search app.
Packing this into Google Search, and not say, Calendar, or Google Keep, is pretty strange. If they actually do this, Google will be up to four competing task services: Calendar, Search, Keep, and Tasks. Maybe next year we'll all be screaming for a unification of task apps. At least Google keeps things interesting.
"Hundreds" Of Google Now Cards
Also, don't forget, according to Hugo Barra, Android's director of product management, Google Now has "a pipeline [...], possibly in the hundreds of cards.” So far, we're nowhere near "hundreds," so more are coming.
No, the inclusion of this is not wishful thinking, we have actual evidence that Android@Home, Google's home automation initiative announced at I/O twenty eleven, is not dead. We have actually had two sightings of Google's stillborn service in the last 4 months.
The first was in the Google Search app, which had a layout file called "at_home_card.xml." This referenced text for turning the lights on and off, so, presumably, if you have the requisite smart bulb, Google Now would pop up a light switch card. The second sighting is from the 4.2.2 developer change log, where a comment states a new permission is for an "Android@Home mesh network" device.
Remember Motorola? My 2013 preview article gave a good overview of what's happened so far: Google bought Moto for many billions of dollars, installed a new executive team, fired a bunch of people, closed a bunch of factories, canceled several projects, and sold an entire division. It's been a rebuilding year for Moto.
The good news is that we finally have a semi-official timeline for when all the sucking should stop: Motorola's CFO recently stated that upon buying Motorola, Google inherited "18 months of [product] pipeline." 18 months from the date of the Motorola deal closing is sometime around December 2013, so if Moto wanted to release something in time for Christmas, it sounds like they could.
As far as what Moto will actually release, we don't have much info. The Wall Street Journal has floated the idea of something called an "X Phone," but, beyond the name, they didn't provide a whole lot of concrete information. WSJ did say they were "experimenting" with crazy stuff like flexible displays, but who isn't?
We did get a few serious details from Moto's design chief, Jim Wicks, who stated that they've been hard at work for the last 8 months on the first Googlerola handset. Wicks said they're building a stock Android, bloat-free, cross carrier branded device with a "just right" (read: small) screen size. Moto is also interesting in keeping the bezels thin (duh) and extra features like drop and scratch resistance.
Google doesn't really like to brag about their Motorola ownership, so I wouldn't expect to hear anything at I/O.
Quickoffice + Google Docs = A Better Drive App
Google bought Quickoffice in June 2011, and we all hoped it would lead to a better Google Docs. So far, not all that much has happened. There've been free Quickoffice apps for Google Apps subscribers and a Microsoft Office viewer for Chrome, but nothing really groundbreaking.
Quickoffice has about a million features Google Docs could use, like line spacing, customizable tables, more bullet and number options, support for inserting pictures. It would be awesome if all this stuff would make it to Google Docs.
A Google TV Update
Haha, just kidding! Nothing important will happen with Google TV. I'll be shocked if they even mention it.
Update: As TJ Benson points out, the Google TV crew has actually promised some news at I/O on their G+ page! Cool.
Beyond a "stay tuned" promise, there's really no other info. Let's hope GTV turns into something good.
A Mysterious Google X "Control System"
Update: David Shellabarger just reminded me of this crazy bit of news from the Google X division. Thanks!
At a SXSW talk, Astro Teller (whose official title at Google X is, I kid you not, "Captain of Moonshots") announced that a new Google X project would be unveiled at this year's Google I/O. Teller only vaguely described the project as a "control system" and that it is "very fragile." None of that is particularly enlightening.
Teller's background is probably of some relevance. He has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, and co-founded a company called BodyMedia, a wearable technology company.
A Google Music Subscription Service
Update: Boy am I slipping. As Doesntgolf pointed out on reddit, I totally forgot about the rumored Music Subscription service. Thanks!
We've heard from several respected news sources (The Financial Times, the WSJ) that Google is hard at work on a Google Music subscription service. So think Spotify, but Googlier - you'd pay a flat rate monthly fee for an all-you-can-listen service.
Of course, the big problem with any music service is convincing the satanic copyright police to take your money in exchange for listening to music, so who knows if this will ever come out. Talks could easily fall apart and the whole thing could easily be canceled. Google is working on it though, so it's something to keep an eye on.
The last and probably least substantial thing you should be on the lookout for is new hardware. We've heard rumblings about an updated Nexus 7, or a storage bumped Nexus 4, but I'm not sure if those rumblings are any louder than usual.
It's also worth mentioning that the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q were announced at I/O 2012 so new gadgets wouldn't be unprecedented. They have to hand out something for free to the attendees.
Update: Sure enough, here's a Reuters article claiming a 2nd gen Nexus 7 should show up in "July," AKA "at Google I/O." Thanks xtop!
They may also want to mention what the deal is with the Nexus Q.
Whew, that's everything I can think of. It looks like we should be in for a wild Google I/O this year, and this is just the stuff we know about! Google could surprise us with any number of crazy updates or new projects. That's what makes it so exciting!
Of course, the best way to find out about all this stuff is to keep your browser locked right here at AP. We'll be doing our best to find everything during lead up to the show, and when it starts, we'll have guys on the ground and at home blogging away. Christmas this year runs starts on May 15th at 9am Pacific. We can't wait!