Google I/O is back after the company canceled its developer conference in 2020 due to COVID-19. The event is entirely online this year and free for anyone to attend.
While the nitty-gritty details in the software sessions may not be of interest to everyone, the event will kick off on Tuesday, May 18 with a keynote that may include some hardware announcements along with a closer look at what Google has in store in 2021 involving Android 12, Chrome OS, Chrome, smart home and more.
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While Google itself leaked the Pixel Buds A-Series and confirmed the Pixel 5a, a series of leaks has given us a pretty thorough look at the Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel Watch. While the phones and watch aren't expected until this fall, it's possible that Google at least gives some teasers on its new devices.
Here's a look at how you can watch Google I/O 2021 along with some of the highlights we could see at the event.
How to watch Google I/O 2021
We clued you into some of the highlight sessions to look out for when the Google I/O 2021 schedule was released. You can still register for the event if you want to attend specific sessions, but for most people, the keynote will be enough and you don't need to register for it.
You can watch live on YouTube starting at 1 pm Eastern (10 am Pacific) time on Tuesday, May 18. You can bookmark this page if you want as the video is embedded below.
Android 12 announcements at Google I/O 2021
One guarantee for Google I/O 2021 is a substantial amount of Android 12 coverage. While it has already been in Developer Preview for a couple of months, this even is when Google officially takes the wraps off the Android update and clues us into what will be coming this fall.
Back in February, we got our first look at a possible revamped user experience of Android 12 and over the weekend, a new leak from Jon Prosser seemed to both confirm the earlier Android 12 leak while offering some new details with renders and a brief video.
According to the leaks and the Developer Previews that have been released so far, we can expect revisions to the notification shade with a stacked grouping of notifications. A new conversation widget will display recent messages, missed calls or activity status updates. Features like a new "extra-dim" mode will make your display go even darker than before to protect your eyes and others when using your phone in a dark environment.
That's just a taste of some of the features coming to Android 12, but the bigger news is the new look of the operating system which features more aggressively rounded edges to widgets and buttons. The operating system will also include a theming system that will allow you to carry a style throughout the operating system beyond light and dark mode.
Despite everything we know about Android 12 already, the details on these implementations will be interesting to learn. Also, there's little doubt that we haven't seen everything Google is bringing to Android 12. And for those with Pixel devices, the first public beta should be available sometime during Google I/O.
Wear OS announcements at Google I/O 2021
It would be great to get an actual Pixel Watch announcement, but that feels a bit aggressive with almost half a year until the anticipated launch of the device. What we do know is coming is a brand new version of Wear OS.
This could be a minor update involving the rollout of the Tiles for third-party developers that we already know is coming. But there's certainly potential for more. Wear OS is presently still running on a version of Android 9 (Pie), but last fall, the company hinted at a move to Android 11.
We don't know what this means for Wear OS yet, but the team has made it clear that it should be part of the keynote, so that suggests it's something more than a minor feature bump.
Pixel announcements at Google I/O 2021
Turning to potential hardware announcements, the most likely is the Pixel Buds A-Series which Google accidentally leaked back in March. Not much is known about the true wireless earbuds other than a projected lower price closer to $100, compared to the $179 asking price for the Pixel Buds (2020).
Considering Google has already confirmed the existence of the Pixel 5a, it is certainly possible that we get a bit more about the phone, but a full reveal feels unlikely. Google indicated it would be coming around the same August timeframe as the previous model, so pre-announcing that early for a budget device wouldn't make much sense.
The Pixel Watch is a similar story; it's possible that, in order to spike some renewed interest in Wear OS, Google would take the wraps off its own wearable. However, with most rumors putting its launch at around the same time as the Pixel 6 in September or October, it would be odd to reveal it so early.
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro seem like an extreme outside chance for being announced at Google I/O 2021. The phones certainly won't be arriving until the fall, so there's no reason to give its competitors this much forewarning about whatever it is Google has in store. The one possible exception would be showing off Google's rumored Whitechapel processor aid to be powering these phones. If there's something about that architecture that will enable new capabilities for developers, then I/O would be the time to tell them that so they can optimize their apps in advance.
As a final wildcard entry, there is a Pixelbook Go 2 or Pixelbook refresh. The latter was removed from Google's store back in September of last year and the former was released in October of 2019, so it could use a spec bump refresh with Intel 11th Gen or AMD Ryzen 5000-series components.
Everything else announced at Google I/O 2021
Of course, this is just skimming the surface of what we could see at Google I/O 2021. We've had no specific rumors regarding improvements to Google Assistant, but it is at the core of so many of Google's hardware and software efforts that the company surely has something to announce.
In a similar vein, Google's smart home efforts with the recently refreshed Nest Hub and numerous other Nest products are sure to be featured heavily in some sessions over the course of the week.
We touched on potential Chromebook hardware, but Chrome OS and Chrome itself are less tied to a specific release schedule than Android.
It's sure to be a jam-packed week from Google I/O and we'll bring you all of the highlights as they happen.
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Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.