What to expect at Google I/O 2014: Android 5.0 Lollipop, new Nexus, and smartwatches

Update: Android L is now official! Take a look at our post-Google I/O coverage here.

Google I/O is right around the corner: this year’s biggest Google developer event kicks off in San Francisco on June 25th with a keynote featuring Android head Sundar Pichai, and hopes are that we’ll see a brand new version of the operating system, as well as some hardware to show its capabilities off.

Google I/O, however, has a much larger scope than before. In the past year, Google has acquired robot makers from Boston Dynamics (you probably did not know, but Google went on a shopping spree last December, acquiring a total of 7 robotics companies), thermostat and home automation experts from Nest, and multiple others. So in addition to the usual Android and (hopefully) Nexus news, we could see the first announcements regarding Google’s robotics plans.

Our focus here, however, will stay on mobile, as the big story of Google I/O 2014 will almost certainly be about the next version of Android. Will it be the long anticipated Android 5.0 ‘L’ release (and is it ‘L’ for Lollipop?)? We don’t know, but what seems certain is that Apple has picked up the pace with iOS 7 and 8 recently, and all eyes will be on Google for an appropriate response.

The ‘L’ release: Android 5.0 Lollipop

I/O 2014 starts nearly 9 months after Google presented Android 4.4 KitKat to the world. With no big Android events that we know of, this seems like a perfect occasion for the next major version of the world’s most popular operating system to get unwrapped.

We've been hearing rumors about Android 5.0 Lollipop for quite a while now, but what will it be about?

A massive Android redesign (codename: ‘Quantum Paper’)

The biggest upcoming change in the next Android version seems to be in its looks. Android Police uncovered plans for an all-encompassing (web, desktop and mobile) redesign of Google products to a new language referred to as ‘Quantum Paper’. A flat interface with dominant whites and contrasty visuals, we've seen it leak for future revisions of apps like Calendar and Gmail, but it’s only logical to assume that it will affect all native Android apps.

These new ‘Quantum Paper’ visuals are linked to the upcoming Android ‘L’ release, but expectations are for a gradual launch, with the new visual style appearing in updated apps one by one, rather than in one sweep.

Chances for Android redesign news at I/O 2014: 80%

Google Fit: Android's health and fitness hub

After Apple debuted its Health hub at WWDC, with SDKs already available to users, Google would now have to play catch up in the health and fitness game, and that’s exactly what we expect it to do at I/O. This will allegedly happen via Google Fit, an interface that will gather health and fitness data from wearable devices using open APIs.

Google should announce partnerships with wearable makers (think Jawbone and FitBit). It’s also likely that Google Fit will be integrated into Android Wear (see below), Google’s platform tailored for smartwatches and smart wearables.

Chances for GoogleFit news at I/O 2014: 90%

Google set to unveil a rival to Apple's CarPlay OS at Google I/O

It looks as if Google will unveil its own in-car interface at I/O as well. The new interface is said to carry the codename Google Auto Link, and to be developed by the Open Automotive Alliance, a group of companies consisting of Google, Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA. Needless to say, cars from those brands are likely to be the first to support this new interface.

So what will this Google Auto Link do? First, it will allow users to control their Android smartphones straight from the dashboard, without having to reach for the phone and be distracted from the road. It will not have the full Android functionality, of course, but the essentials will be there: you should be able to make calls, browse Google Maps, send messages, and play music, and Google Now could also be integrated.

Chances for Android CarPlay news at I/O 2014: 80%

The first Android Wear smartwatches: LG G Watch, Moto 360, Samsung Gear Live

While all the planned changes to Android are massive, nothing excites more than new hardware, real devices that you can touch and play around with. Luckily, multiple source indicate that there will be some freebies for all Google I/O attendants in the form of the first Android Wear smartwatch - the LG G Watch.

Google’s idea of the smartwatch is not of an independent device, but rather as a companion to your smartphone that can listen to your voice, and display quick and relevant information in one glance. It will also have an always-on display, so you would not need to worry about turning it on just to glance the time.

The biggest concern about this new Android Wear smartwatch? Battery life, of course. Having a color display on at all times comes with a big battery drain, making the smartwatch just another device you’d have to recharge very often.

Chances for Android Wear and smartwatch news at I/O 2014: 90%

Nexus at crossroads: Nexus 8, or the end of the Nexus line?

The Nexus smartphone program has brought us some great devices at extremely affordable prices - the Nexus 5 for instance in selling for around half the price of other flagships, yet offers nearly the same performance and functionality. While we all hope for a new Nexus (a Nexus 6, as some call it), it’s not very likely that we’ll see it at I/O 2014. This is not even all that surprising - Google has made it a tradition to unveil new Nexus smartphones at a late-fall event, at least that’s when it brought the last two in the line.

For starters, LG, the company that made the last two Nexus smartphones nigh confirmed that it is not making this year’s one. Moreover, rumors about a new program called Android Silver persist in saying that the Nexus line will go the way of the dodo this year, and there will never be a 2015 Nexus phone.

If that new Android Silver line is indeed real, though, we could hear something about Google’s plans for it at I/O, even though, we would not bet on seeing actual devices.

Chance for Nexus 6 news at I/O 2014: 20%
Chance for Nexus 8 news at I/O 2014: 40%

Google Glass: again, a no-show

Google’s futuristic Glass, the wearable computer with a camera on, has undergone extensive beta testing by thousands of ‘Explorers’ in the United States, but it’s launch is put off time and time again. Early rumors speculated that it could arrive iat the beginning of 2014, but Google X head Sergey Brin has last confirmed that it’s more likely to arrive early next year. Brace yourselves.

Chance of Google Glass news at I/O 2014: 50% (but much lower for an actual launch)

News on Project Ara

Finally, Project Ara. The idea of a modular smartphone that you build and customize yourself, piece by piece, could have massive implications for the whole phone industry. Imagine it taking off - you won’t need to rely on companies like Samsung, or HTC, to put parts together in an attractive (or not so much) design, that you buy every two years or so - instead, you’d have the option to ship directly from chip and camera makers.

Not bad, considering that you can thus upgrade just the feature you need and use your phone for a much longer time without needing to shell out cash for upgrades every now and then.

Project Ara, however, did not make it in the news around Google I/O at all, so either it’s in stealth mode, or there will be no major news at this developer conference.

Chance of Project Ara news at I/O 2014: 20%


All in all, it's clear that Google I/O 2014 will be one of the biggest events of the year. Don't get mistaken: it's mostly about the software and developers, and not so much about hardware, but Google has established a tradition of having at least some hardware to show, so we do expect to see a few devices. I/O attendants always get some freebies, and this time we've heard that the LG G Watch will be given away, and we would not be surprised if developers got a new Nexus tablet (if it exists).

What about the rest of you? You can, of course, stay tuned to PhoneArena on Wednesday, at 9 am PT | 12 noon ET when we'll start with our extensive coverage of the opening keynote and all the news it brings us, and keep refreshing the page all throughout the week for the latest news in the world of Android. What are you looking forward to at Google's biggest show this year? Let us know in the comments right below.


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