Google I/O 2012 – What to expect

…and now begins round three: June 2012 has been a huge month for mobile tech announcements from all the major players. Apple went first with its World Wide Developer Conference on June 11, where it unveiled a new Macbook Pro with a Retina Display (2880 x 1800 resolution), iOS 6 (including Facebook integration and dropping Google Maps), and a new version of OS X, Mountain Lion, for desktops.

Microsoft followed last week, announcing its own tablets, the ARM based Microsoft Surface tablet, and the x86 based Surface Pro. It also announced its new mobile phone OS, Windows Phone 8 – which controversially cuts off current Windows Phone 7 customers, and puts hardware partner Nokia in a tight spot.

This evening it will be Google’s turn, and promises to be just as dramatic. Google I/O 2012, its developers conference, is expected to unveil a new Android tablet, a new Android OS (4.1 Jellybean), some announcements concerning the cloud (and GDrive) alongside other software updates.

Google CEO Larry Page is out ill (leading to silly rumours concerning his long term health). In addition to the high profile keynotes, there will be around 130 sessions covering the company’s entire product base. The event, like those of its rivals mentioned above, sold out in minutes.

The company is expected to unveil the newest version of its OS, Jellybean (Android version 4.1). This should be an incremental upgrade of its Ice Cream Sandwich OS (4.0), which effectively combined the previous tablet only Honeycomb (3.x) with the smart phone based Gingerbread (2.x). JB is expected to iron out a few more bugs, offer better GDrive implementation for customers to store music, movies and photos (to rival iCloud on iOS devices and SkyDrive on Windows Phone 7 devices) and a voice assistant of some kind.

Given Apple and Samsung have already pushed their rudimentary (and buggy) voice assistants onto their devices; it’s not a stretch to see it here – presumably named Google Assistant.

Google has already put the Jellybean statue on its front lawn (as they have for all OS updates), ensuring that this announcement is pretty much 100%.

Google will probably make some announcement concerning standardisation of Android; the roll out of ICS updates (led by mobile carriers) has been a disaster – only around 8% of devices capable of running it have it available currently – a huge market fragmentation problem for app developers.

It is no secret that Android has struggled with tablets, and it is expected to be more of a focus with Jellybean. No Android tablets have sold particularly well, and none have competed at all with the still dominant iPad series.

The Google Nexus Tablet is expected to be a relatively high powered device at a budget price point. It’s built by ASUS with a NVidia Tegra 3 processor (ARM, quad core) with 1GB of RAM, no 3G (Wi-Fi only) a 7-inch screen at 1280×800, and most impressive of all, a circa $199 price tag. This positions it in the market closer to the Amazon Kindle Fire (which holds around 50% of the non-iPad tablet market in the US – it has yet to launch here), rather than the high end iPad 3.

Google wants to give its hardware partners a wake up call and produce its own device, much as it did with the original Google Nexus mobile phone – a product that exists to demonstrate the functionality of its new OS.

It will also be interesting to see what Google makes of its recent purchase of Motorola Mobility, whether it will be announcing any new phones or tablets from that arm – which Google has been at pains to describe as an autonomous unit, separate from Google proper (in order to avoid upsetting hardware partners)

The main failure for tablets on Android has been a lack of tablet-specific apps – and this is expected to be the main focus of the dev conference. Yes, smartphone apps work on Android tablets, but dedicated tablet apps are what defines Apple’s iPads. Expect Google to make some big announcements here to boost excitement – not just around the tablet, but Jellybean and the eco-system as a whole. Google really does not want to fall any further behind.

Given both Apple and Microsoft made serious announcements concerning NFC and virtual wallet payment systems, expect Google Wallet, the originator, to make some kind of a splash here too. I would expect the Google Nexus Tablet to have NFC built in, and Google Wallet to be more formerly integrated into the OS. AllthingsD thinks Google will go down the Paypal route and skip NFC altogether, looking at a strictly virtual payments system.

An announcement concerning the company’s map product is also expected, especially since it has been dumped by Apple, and Microsoft is now pushing Nokia Maps. Google has been working with 3D mapping (such as visualising hills and ridges), which has already been used on the aforementioned Nokia and upcoming Apple maps.
Google hit a bit of a wall with Maps when it started demanding fees from licensors, and the open source alternatives such as Openstreet have gained in popularity as a result amongst app developers. An SDK kit to assist use of Google Maps within iOS apps would certainly be welcome, and help skip around the loss of support on iOS itself.

Google has also been working on a dedicated cloud services platform which would compete with Amazon’s EC2 ‘infrastructure as a service’ (IaaS) platform, with a focus on enterprise.

There may also be an update on Google’s ChromeOS, which has struggled after the flop of Chromebooks. Whether a touch screen version, compatible with tablets (or linked somehow to Jellybean), becomes a reality remains unknown.

Other looser rumours concern Google’s ongoing R&D on Google Goggles, which pitches augmented reality onto your spectacle frames, and Android@home, which was announced last year, but has seen little news since.

Android@home was demoed last year as a wireless music device, and is now expected to be a further integration of the ‘Internet of Things’ – such as using your mobile device to control air conditioning, changing Google TV channels etc.

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