Five questions for Google to answer at its big I/O conference

What's next for Google?

Google’s I/O developer conference starts Wednesday and some big announcements are expected during the opening two-hour keynote, likely around virtual reality, Android and the Internet of Things.

In a change of pace, the show is being held outdoors at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, and Google has advised the press to pack sunscreen along with laptops and mobile devices. Here are five questions I want company executives to answer during the course of this year's keynote.

What’s the company’s plan for the Internet of Things?

Google has made some big bets on the Internet of Things, with its Brillo and Weave developer tools, along with its acquisition of Nest in 2014. Then, there’s the OnHub wireless router Google announced last year. It’s clear that the company is interested in playing a major role as part of the growing world of internet-connected devices, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard anything major from the company in the IoT realm.

There are also concerning signs out there. A recent profile of the Nest team showed a group consumed by infighting and plagued by missed deadlines. I/O would be a big stage for Google to show off something new and interesting from the Nest team, though it might be a bit out of place among the more developer-focused offerings.

One way or another, I’d expect the company to spend some time talking about the Internet of Things, considering how it unites a lot of Google’s interests, including cloud service backends and Android.

What cool new features can we expect from Android N?

Unlike in previous years, when Google would release its first developer preview for the next version of Android at I/O, the company has already made an alpha version of its next major update available for download.

With those bits has come some understanding of what to expect from the next version of Android, including mouse input, a floating window mode, and new emoji. But I’d still expect Google to reveal more about what’s coming in N later this year, especially if the company has more hardcore, developer-focused features up its sleeve.

Why should enterprises buy into Google’s digital workplace?

The company has been pushing even harder to try and get businesses to buy into its version of a workplace powered by Google services and hardware. I/O would be a good time to unveil developer tools aimed at business users, and make more of a pitch to people who might be on the fence about going all in on Google Apps for Work or Google Cloud Platform.

The latter likely won’t make much of an appearance, considering that the GCP Next conference just took place in San Francisco a couple of months ago. But last year’s I/O contained some GCP news, and it seems likely that would warrant at least a footnote at this conference.

What does it have planned for virtual reality?

Google has been making some serious moves in the virtual reality realm. Amit Singh, the company’s former head of Google for Work, announced last week that he was switching his focus to virtual reality. The company’s former head of Android PR has moved over to the virtual reality side of the house, too.

It’s clear that Google is planning to make some big moves in that space. The company just quietly added VR support to its YouTube app for iPhones, so Apple smartphone users can watch videos through a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer. It’s rumored to be working on an “Android VR” product, though exactly what that will do isn’t yet known.

VR is big business these days, with companies including Facebook, Samsung and HTC working on virtual reality hardware. Especially with its background in Android and YouTube, Google seems well-suited to become an even bigger player in the VR market than it is already.

Why in the world are we outside?

Google’s guide to the conference suggests that attendees bring both sunscreen and a light jacket, since we’ll be outside all day for the sessions. Unlike past years’ conferences that were set inside convention centers, the company is hosting this year’s I/O outdoors at the Shoreline Amphitheater.

It’s not yet clear why that’s the case, though. Observers have speculated that there might be some sort of aerial display with drones taking place, but the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t posted any advisories for the event.

Shoreline is also right by Google’s offices in Mountain View, so other people have guessed that there could be something afoot with the company’s self-driving cars. Or maybe Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin just want to work on their tans.

Whatever’s going on, we’ll find out on Tuesday. Stay tuned.

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Blair Hanley Frank

IDG News Service
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