Listen up, Android fans: The time has come. We're officially in the final countdown to Google I/O 2013.
Google I/O, if you didn't already know, is Google's giant annual developers' conference -- and the place where the biggest Android news of the year is usually announced. Last year's I/O saw the launch of Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, along with the debut of the Nexus 7, Google Glass, and the short-lived Nexus Q media streaming device.
So what can we expect to see at this year's event? As usual, Google's keeping tight-lipped about its plans, but we can make some educated guesses.
First, seven safe bets:
1. A new version of Android.
While Google did release Android 4.2 in October, it'd be quite the shocker if we didn't see some sort of significant new update to the operating system this week. Typically, we'd expect to see a major letter-jumping upgrade at I/O -- the "K" release, in this case -- but most of the leaks and chatter suggest another more incremental Jelly Bean-level upgrade could be on deck instead.
Regardless of what it's called, most every release packs in its share of new features, UI enhancements, and performance improvements -- and anything announced at I/O will likely make its way to those of us with Nexus devices in no time.
2. An updated Nexus 7.
Google's first-generation Nexus 7 has been a big hit -- and for good reason: The tablet offers solid performance, pure Google Android software, ongoing instant OS upgrades, and an appealing form factor at an affordable price.
But a year later, the tablet is starting to show its age. It doesn't need much to stay relevant in 2013; a new processor, some extra RAM, and a higher-resolution screen would go a long way. I'd be shocked if Google didn't give us a refreshed model that packed in those sorts of improvements while keeping the price tag near that all-important $200 mark.
3. Something Google TV-related.
It hasn't gotten as much attention as all the other stuff, but Google has dropped subtle hints that we'll see something related to its Google TV platform at this year's I/O event. With the relative quiet in that department over the past year and the odd emergence and subsequent disappearance of the Nexus Q, now sure seems like a logical time for Google to step things up in the living room and convince consumers to put its platform on their televisions.
Whether that means Google TV itself will get an update or that the Nexus Q will make its triumphant return with deeper GTV integration is something we'll have to wait to see.
4. Glass -- lots of Glass.
It may still be a pre-release project, but Google Glass is clearly going to be a major focus for the coming year. I'll be quite surprised if El Goog hands out Glass units to all I/O attendees -- we might see that happen in 2014 -- but you can count on this week packing in plenty of talk about Glass and the various ways it'll mature over the months ahead.
5. A unified Google chat service.
With the amount of smoke we've seen surrounding this topic, there's got to be some sort of fire a-burnin'. At this point, it seems all but certain that Google's gearing up to launch a unified chat service that'll bring its various communications services -- things like Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and maybe eventually Google Voice -- together. The latest rumors point to the service launching under the name Google Hangouts.
6. A centralized Google Play gaming service.
The gang at Android Police found some pretty solid evidence showing development of a centralized gaming service connected to both Google Play and Google+. From the looks of it, the service will include everything from synced game saving to multiplayer invites, in-game chat, and the always popular leaderboards.
Anything's possible, of course, but that definitely seems like something primed for an I/O introduction.
7. Lots of talk about Chrome Packaged Apps.
Just days ago, Google launched a developer-level preview of its new Chrome Web Store Packaged Apps section. The section showcases browser-centric apps that act like traditional PC programs, with robust functionality and full offline support.
With Google's renewed focus on its cloud-centric Chrome OS operating system, a push for browser-based apps with more desktop-like functionality makes perfect sense. I suspect we'll hear a lot more about upcoming developments in this realm on Wednesday.
NEXT PAGE: 3 things that could happen at I/O but seem less likely
Beyond those seven safe bets, there are a few things that could happen at I/O but seem far less likely:
1. A new Nexus phone.
Google's current Nexus 4 flagship phone just launched last November and -- with all of its unfortunate supply issues -- didn't actually become available to most consumers until late January of this year. Pushing out a new Nexus phone this soon would be a surprising and uncharacteristic move for Google to make.
Now, an updated Nexus 4 with LTE connectivity? Maybe. But after the Verizon Galaxy Nexus fiasco, I wouldn't automatically assume such a move would include Big Red, even if it were to happen.
2. A new Motorola device.
We've been hearing about the mythical Motorola "X" phone for months, and some folks suspect we might get our first glimpse at Moto's next-gen hardware at I/O this week. Stranger things have happened, but me? I'll be surprised if Google gives Motorola a major presence at the event. Though the company is now Google-owned, Google's walking a tricky line with how it handles all things Moto in relation to Android.
Remember: At the time of the Moto acquisition, Google made a big deal about how it would operate Motorola as a "separate business," with a firm firewall in place between it and the Android division. The goal, of course, is to avoid any perception of Motorola having an advantage over other manufacturers when it comes to Android development.
Presenting new Motorola devices on the same stage as Nexus devices and Android releases seems rather counter to that goal -- don't you think? We'll see what happens, but standalone Motorola launch events down the road certainly seem like a far more sensible approach.
3. A new high-end Chrome OS device.
In late February, Google launched its high-end Chromebook Pixel computer with the objective of creating the ultimate Chrome OS vehicle -- one that'd "push the experience forward" and "inspire the next generation of Chromebooks." Turning around and launching another high-end Chrome OS device less than three months later would be an odd move for the company to make.
That said, the Chromebook Pixel, with its $1300+ price tag, isn't going to appeal to most typical consumers. So we could conceivably see a new mid-end Chrome OS device -- something more advanced than the mainstream $249 Samsung Chromebook but not quite at the level of the Pixel. Maybe it'd even be something that incorporates touchscreen technology at a more affordable price. Maybe. That could at least make sense, in a way.
But another top-of-the-line flagship system? I wouldn't count on it.
So there you have it: some educated guesses on what we might see at this year's Google I/O event. One way or another, it's safe to say some pretty exciting stuff is headed our way -- and odds are, there'll be more than a few surprises. We'll know the full scoop soon enough.
Google I/O kicks off with a single keynote this Wednesday at 9 a.m. PT at San Francisco's Moscone Center. I'll be there taking it all in; check back Wednesday morning for streaming video, live play-by-play commentary, and -- later in the day -- a hands-on look at whatever's announced.