Google I/O no-shows: Three products curiously absent from the keynote

Google unleashed a lot of new features at I/O, but what was missing from the keynote tells a fascinating story

For all the cool things that Google introduced at this year's I/O keynote, several of the items that the tech press definitely, absolutely, positively thought would be included in the presentation were curiously absent. No Android update? No new Nexus tablet? Not more than a peep on that groundbreaking Internet-on-your-face technology that Sergey Brin quietly introduced last year?

To be sure, Google's three-plus-hour keynote shined a spotlight on a lot of awesome new Web toys we're dying to play with. But the silent treatment on certain key Google products proves just as intriguing.

No Android update?

There was a lot of speculation in the blogosphere as to whether Google would use its keynote presentation to announce the coming of Android 5.0 (dubbed "Key Lime Pie") or merely tweak-up Jelly Bean to version 4.3. We certainly expected it. But when it came time for the big reveal... crickets.

The timing for a new Android release was just about right. Just look back at the recent OS release history: Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") was introduced in February of 2011 and was supplanted only eight months later by Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich." Sandwich had a full nine months before 4.1 Jelly Bean debuted in July of 2012. While there have been some small updates to Jelly Bean, we haven't been introduced to a new sugary treat in more than 10 months, making Jelly Bean the longest surviving Android OS.

This doesn't mean that Key Lime Pie isn't right around the corner. It probably is. And at this point in Android's development, it does make sense that major new incarnations would begin to space out. Big infrastructure issues have been sorted out, and Google's development team can turn its attention to refinements--like we saw yesterday--rather than overhauls.

So, what's going on with Glass now?

Google Glass was the big thing to come out of last year's I/O. There certainly were plenty of dudes in the audience sporting them. At this year's keynote--aside from some cursory mentions about how new app features might be utilized--there wasn't much talk about how we'll all be Geordi La Forge-ing it. (Despite our most fervent recommendations on how to go about it.)

Since last year's keynote, Glass has made its way into the hands of developers, journalists, and a select class of consumers--and the reaction has been mostly meh, if not outright BLEH! It's still widely believed that Google will release Glass to the general public later this year (or possibly as late as the first quarter in 2014), which makes the relative silence to the development community a little suspect. This muteness may point to a massive refining effort on Google's part before the transformational technology can be released to the wider public.

While most of Google's speakers elected not to mention Glass directly, CEO Larry Page was directly asked about the future of the product during a postscript Q&A session. "Glass is a new category, it's quite different than existing computing devices, so I think it's great that we've started on it, but I think our main goal is to get happy users using Glass," he said, subtly acknowledging the initial negative reaction to the product.

"We want to make sure we're building experiences that really make people happy," he said. "So the team has tried to build the minimal set of things, just for practical sake, a minimal set of things that will provide a great experience and make happy users. And then we can get going and work on it for the next 10 years. And every successive one is going to be better."

While Google may have plans to invest in Glass for another 10 years, I'm starting to question if we will indeed see a wide release in this year. Page's response seemed to confirm that the brass believes the technology isn't ready and has no firm timeline for when it will be.

As far as we know, no other manufacturer is far along the stage of developing wearable internet-face tech, so Google can afford to take their time fixing their buggy, headache-inducing product.

Where's that Nexus 11 at?

Google's line of Nexus products could never be accused of being the subject of too much excitement. While the Nexus phone may be close to joining the Nexus Q in that big obsolete trash heap in the sky (further proofed by the fact that Google just announced it would be selling a version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 running on out-of-the-box Android software), Nexus tablets have been a tepid success.

In fact, combined with tablets from a variety of manufactures, Android has quietly managed to take the majority of the tablet market away from iOS. Android tablets have shown great success in the medium or mini category (and thus causing the birth of the iPad Mini), but less so in the full-sized tablet market. While Nexus 10 sales in particular have proven anemic, many in the press were still expecting the introduction of an 11-inch Nexus, with some outlets all but confirming it.

So why didn't it materialize? One possible reason is that the bigs at Google know that if they're going to release a tablet to compete with the full-sized iPad, it is going to have something special going for it. Perhaps the company and its manufacturing partners are refining a new take on gesture or hover control; better voice or gaming features; or just something weird and unknown. Unless Google is able to release some truly "phenomenal" mobile hardware as Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently promised, Apple will continue to rule the premium tablet market.

We will certainly see more full-sized Android tablets making a debut before the holiday rush. Whether any of them are branded Nexus remains to be seen. If we indeed do see a Nexus 11, it's going to have to be a lot better than a slightly larger Nexus 10.

What to expect soon

I don't think it would be wise to flesh out any larger hidden themes from what was left off the agenda. Rather, what did make it in was likely what was already ready to present. While there may be some disappointment about what was left out of the presentation, Google still did manage to unleash a lot of cool new features that should keep the media and consumers sated for now. Besides, the lack of updates on Android, Nexus, and Glass at I/O virtually guarantees that we will hear more on all three in the coming months before the holiday rush.

Stay tuned.

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Tags Android OSconsumer electronicsGooglesmartphonesGoogle I/OAndroidtabletsnexusGoogle Glass

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Evan Dashevsky

TechHive (US)
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