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Google I/O 2019 What to expect: Pixel 3a, Android Q, Stadia, smart home updates and more

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Google I/O kicks off on 7 May in Mountain View, California, where Google will be hosting a keynote and a million other sessions at its Shoreline Amphitheater. The opening keynote is set to begin at 10 am Pacific Time (10.30 pm IST), and we’ll have a live blog in place to cover everything announced at the show. But here’s a likely list of things we anticipate Google will announce.

To begin with, Google I/O is essentially a software focussed event but the tech giant is all but guaranteed to announce two new Pixel smartphones at the event as well, this time around. We’re also expected to see Google unveil the Next Hub Max — a smart display that works in tandem with the Google Assistant. While that mostly covers the hardware bit of what we know, I/O’s all about software — this year, apart from more details on Android Q, we’re also expected to hear more about Stadia, which is Google’s new cloud gaming service. There are also a bunch of improvements expected for the Google Assistant, Google Lens and Google Photos. Here’s a more detailed breakdown.

File image of Sundar Pichai. Reuters

Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL launches

Google generally launches its smartphones in October after the Apple iPhones are launched. After three generations of trying with the Pixel line though, Google seems to have realised that the high-end Android smartphone segment is quite difficult to break into. It’s no wonder then that Google is expected to release an affordable variant of the Pixel 3 series called the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.

The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are quite likely going to be announced on 8 May in India, as is apparent from Google’s latest teaser which says that “Something big is coming to the Pixel Universe”. We are quite likely going to see the launch of the Pixel 3a/3a XL at Google’s annual developer conference I/O which happens on 7 May.

Google Pixel 3A. Image: DroidLife

Rumoured specifications point out that Pixel 3a will sport a 5.6-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2,160 x 1,080 pixels and it will be powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 SoC whereas the 6-inch Google Pixel 3a XL is expected to come with Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 SoC. Both these phones are expected to sport the same camera that is seen on the Pixel 3/3XL and it will also come with ‘Night Sight’ and Pixel Visual Core.

Here’s a complete lowdown on all the specifications and speculations of the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.

Android Q

The next version of Android, called Android Q, will most likely be announced at Google I/O. But considering Google hasn’t released Android OS distribution numbers in the last six months, it is hard to say what’s the penetration of Android 9 Pie OS. We’ll be quite surprised if it’s even in the double digits. Also, this year the build-up to Android Q has been rather tepid. There hasn’t even been much speculation about which dessert Android Q will be named after, which has been something of a tradition with previous versions of the OS. It’s not that a name is announced at the Google I/O either, but there is always a healthy Twitter battle around the naming convention, which wasn’t to be seen this year.

Some of the features of Android Q have been seen in beta releases. The major ones among them include a better Files app, improvements in Privacy settings and permissions, an improved sharing menu, a system-wide dark mode wasn’t mentioned in the first beta so there is still no clarity on that. In terms of design, things don’t look very different from Android 9 Pie. Of course, we’re expecting to see on-stage demos of all these features.

What does the ‘Q’ in Android Q stand for?

The public rollout of Android Q should begin by August-September. Hopefully this year too, Google will have increased the number of non-Pixel partners who will get early access to Android Q.

We wouldn’t be surprised if there are some announcements about how Android OS will scale on foldable devices. We have seen Samsung and Huawei showcase their foldable smartphones and speculation is rife that more Android smartphone makers will be jumping on that bandwagon. Right now, each smartphone maker is doing its own customisation with regards to the user experience. A standard Android UX structure should be of help to many OEMs planning to put out foldable devices this year.

Stadia related announcements

This year at the Game Developers Conference, Google made announced a game-streaming platform called Stadia.

Google Stadia will let you play high-end games without the need to purchase expensive gaming consoles or high-end gaming PCs. According to Google, Stadia will be a gaming platform for everyone. All of the rendering of the games will be done in Google Cloud using specialised AMD graphics.

Spectators look on during a Google keynote address announcing a new video gaming streaming service named Stadia that attempts to capitalize on the company’s cloud technology and global network of data centres, at the Gaming Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Not much is known about Stadia, at GDC only a few demoes were shown and there were no pricing details announced. Google I/O should hopefully offer some more clarity on that front. There are a lot of sessions planned with developers around the Stadia platform, but would that translate to on-stage announcements? We don’t know for sure, yet.

Google apps and services upgrade

Google I/O is a time when all its major apps and services also get new feature announcements. So expect to see the updates to Google Maps, Assistant, Photos, Gmail, Play Store, Drive and more. A lot of features will be announced with regards to these apps and services, but don’t expect them to start rolling out immediately.

Smart home devices

Google had announced its entry into the smart display market segment at last year’s Google I/O. Expect more action on that front. Now with the Google and Amazon cold war behind them, Google’s smart displays could also be used to stream Amazon Prime content. Expect to see new announcements to the Google Home series of voice-enabled smart speakers as well.

Lenovo Smart Display. Image: Lenovo

If Google’s booth at the Consumer Electronics Show is any indication, we can expect a lot of announcements on the smart home front with new features for Google Assistant which will be powering all these smart devices. Google is also expected to release a new hardware device called the Nest Hub Max, a 10-inch smart display which will act as a centralised smart home panel.

WearOS

The smartwatch OS of Android, which was earlier called Android Wear and now simply WearOS, really needs an upgrade. When it comes to the smartwatch segment, Apple is ruling it with WearOS barely making any dent. Samsung has also decided to go with its own Tizen OS on its smartwatches. After Apple, Samsung indeed does make the better smartwatches.

WearOS by Google.Twitter/WearOSbyGoogle

The Android smartwatch segment is so splintered that there hasn’t been a single hero product in the WearOS space. One wouldn’t be surprised to see Google announcing new partnerships on this front. But so far, there hasn’t been much noise online about WearOS and it’s best if you don’t have your expectations set very high on that front either. Will there be a Pixel Watch? Your guess is as good as ours.

In addition to these announcements, we can expect updates on ChromeOS, Android Auto, Android TV, more innovative uses of Artificial Intelligence and much more.

We will be on ground to cover the Google I/O 2019, so do mark your calendar dates from 7 to 9 May for all the latest updates from the event.

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