Google I/O looks to be about more than Android

Wednesday's keynote and several sessions will be shared via live video streams

Google's annual I/O conference kicks off tomorrow amid widespread speculation that it will feature an announcement of a new version of the Android operating system, perhaps one that marries Android with Google's Chrome OS.

Google and other companies such as LG are also expected to talk up smartwatches based on the Android Wear platform, which was introduced in March.

The opening keynote begins at 9 a.m. Pacific time (12 noon Eastern time) in San Francisco with a live video stream online. Google has packed a variety of breakout sessions into the two-day event. Many of those sessions, built around the conference theme of "design, develop and distribute," will also be live-streamed.

That overall theme indicates a strong focus on cross-platform functionality, although the conference agenda also promises discussion of plenty of cutting-edge technologies.

Five Google designers will take part in a panel discussion on the topic of cross-platform design at 2 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday. And at 10 a.m. Pacific time on Thursday there will be a panel discussion on cross-platform interaction design. Both will be live-streamed. Various reports quoting unnamed sources have described a design framework called Quantum Paper that works across a variety of smartphones, tablets, Chrome devices, browsers and even Google apps.

One of the more unusual live-streamed sessions is set for Thursday at 9 a.m. Pacific time, when Google engineers will talk about several initiatives, including Project Tango, to build smartphones and tablets that incorporate 3D motion and depth-sensing capabilities.

According to the program notes for the session, Google plans to launch an Android smartphone-like device into space this summer to construct a 3D map of the International Space Station to "enable autonomous navigation of a floating robotic platform" that will turn into a robotic assistant for astronauts. Tango will also help enable augmented reality technologies in mobile devices on earth.

Google announced its work with NASA on the Tango technology in April.

Android update likely

As for Android, the timing is right for an update. Android 4.4, KitKat, was launched last October, and many analysts expect an Android 5.0 release (to be called Lollipop, or possibly Licorice). In the past, new flavors of the Android line have been announced every five to eight months.

Other reports, however, indicate that Google will launch Android 4.5, not 5.0.

The timing is also right for some kind of Chrome-Android integration.

In early 2013, Google put its Chrome division head, Sundar Pichai, in charge of both Chrome and Android. And in May of that year Pichai said that Google would continue to support both operating systems separately, but added, "The picture may look different a year or two from now." As this year's Google I/O gets under way, 14 months have passed since Pichai made that prediction.

On the other hand, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said in March 2013 that the two operating systems would remain separate "for a very, very long time."

One way that Android and Chrome could move closer together would be through the use of HTML5 in building Web-based apps to run on both platforms.

In one example of how Android could be improved, CiteWorld's Chris Nerney noted in April that Google's voice-activated digital assistant, Google Now, doesn't yet function inside of an app (although it can be used to find apps on a mobile device). Allowing that capability would be a valuable update for the next version of Android.

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