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Get ready for Android N, VR and more at Google I/O 2016

Engadget Engadget 17/05/2016 Chris Velazco

© Provided by Engadget

It's that time of year again. Google's about to give developers a serious show at I/O 2016, which this year is at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View (also known as Google's backyard). We'll be there throughout the week bringing you thoughtful, up-to-the-moment coverage of Google's future looks like, but until then, here's what we expect (and hope) to see starting tomorrow morning.

Android N

Let's start with an easy one. Google usually reveals a developer preview of the newest version of Android at I/O, but that's, uh, clearly not what happened this year. Our first taste of Android N -- complete with a tighter design and split-screen multitasking -- came months ago. Expect to see Google's first set of N tweaks get the spotlight during the tomorrow's keynote. Are we in for a smattering of stability changes meant to make the preview a better daily driver? Or are we getting new features that expand the scope of Android's ambitions? We won't have to wait much longer to find out. And if we're really lucky, we'll get a sense of what the next batch of Nexus phones will be like too.

The future of Chrome OS

A solid chunk of Google-related chatter last year centered on the idea that Android was set to become the operating system for just about all of the company's devices. Part of that plan, prognosticators argued, involved folding Google's existing Chrome OS into Android proper. The Wall Street Journal reported that the final shift would take place sometime in 2017, with early previews expected to surface this year. Hell, at least a few people can apparently access the Google Play Store from inside Chrome OS already. And really, what better place is there for Google to clarify its software plans than Google I/O? Don't expect Chromebooks or Chrome OS to die out anytime soon, though -- if reports hold true, Chrome OS will go open-source for continued use on third-party devices.

Android Wear

The first Android Wear watches made their debut at I/O two years ago but, despite regular updates, the platform is starting to feel a little stagnant. Hopefully that changes this year -- there's a session on the books called "What's new in Android Wear," which gives us hope that we'll finally get our hands (or wrists) on Android Wear 2.0. Alas, we haven't heard a thing about Wear since Google showed off its curious Mode wristbands, so you'll have to stay tuned for the show.

Android VR

Make no mistake: Android VR is going to make headlines at the show. Now, if only we knew what it was. Or, at the very least, how ambitious Google's plans are. Reports that Android would itself become a sort of VR platform have been making the rounds for about a year. Still others suggested Google is working on a new, Cardboard-style VR headset that relies on phone screens rather than bulky, built-in ones.

There's no telling what we'll actually see at the show (headsets from partners, or maybe some kind of Magic Leap tie-in), but the potential upside for VR adoption is huge. While Samsung, LG and even Alcatel have made headsets for their own phones, a VR-friendly version of Android paired with cheap, Google-approved headgear could be a potent introduction to the potential of virtual worlds.

Project Tango

Lenovo is probably going to unveil the first consumer Project Tango phone at its own event in June, but that doesn't mean Google's space-sensing plans won't get any attention at I/O. With a hardware launch still set for the summer, this is going to be developers' big chance to get a feel for how Tango devices will work. (And, more importantly, how to optimize their apps for it.) We took some of those demo apps for a spin back at Mobile World Congress, and after just a few moments, one takeaway was clear -- once the novelty wears off, masterful software execution is what will make or break Project Tango. Good thing there are four Project Tango developer sessions on this week's schedule.

Rise of the bots

Over the last two years, the idea of talking to chatbots to get things done instead of using a purpose-built app went from idiotic fantasy to honest-to-goodness reality. A Wall Street Journal report from the end of last year suggested Google is working on a messaging app that -- in addition to letting you talk to people -- puts you in touch with chatbots that can deliver certain services or perform actions. Nothing in Google's schedule suggests this will get much spotlight, but considering recent news about Google Brain's ability to recognize proper syntax and piece together weird poetry, we wouldn't be shocked to get a quick earful about this.

Not-so-surprise hardware

Google's latest stab at a consumer gadget could be an Amazon Echo-like device code-named "Chirp," according to Recode. While the report goes on to say it isn't expected to launch at I/O this year, there's at least a thematic argument that Google could unveil its work. After all, Google took the opportunity to lay out its early plans for Project Brillo -- a lightweight software platform for the Internet of Things -- at I/O 2015. It's not hard to see how Chirp could fit into Google's vision of the Internet of Things, and it's about time for an update on Brillo's progress anyway.

Meanwhile, Xiaomi VP of International (and former Googler) Hugo Barra tweeted a teaser about the Chinese company's involvement with I/O. The image shows the letters "i" and "o" made out of what appear to be media controls -- if we had to guess, we'd say it looks like Xiaomi is taking a stab at its own Android TV console. Since most of those Android TV boxes also double as gaming machines, yet another teaser from earlier today adds even more fuel to the fire. Whether anyone actually bites is another story, but if nothing else, it's a clear example of the sort of big partnerships we'll see this year.

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