Google I/O 2021 is really happening this year. But due to some global pandemic, it will all be online rather than out in the Mountain View sun. Google skipped the 2020 edition entirely, but the company is finally ready to deliver its first-ever virtual Google I/O. For us spectators, that means we are officially entering uncharted territory.
Google I/O begins Tuesday, May 18 at 1 p.m. EDT, when Google/Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai will take the stage and presumably show what Google has been working on all year. We self-prepared for the show and the shift to a completely virtual event hasn’t reduced the amount of tea leaves to read. We expect to see a lot in the coming week.
First, let’s talk about what we probably won’t see: the Pixel 5a. At Google I/O 2019, we saw the launch of the Pixel 3a in May of that year. But when I/O 2020 was cancelled, the Pixel 4a didn’t hit the market until much later the following year, on August 20, 2020. Normally we’d call the launch time frame for the 5a a toss-up between mirroring the 3a or 4a launch dates. , but Google has already made it clear to us. In April, the company said the Pixel 5a would be announced “in line with last year’s a-series phone launch”. So that’s August, not May, and not at Google I/O.
New Android 12 stuff, hopefully including the major redesign
We are now working on several releases of the Android 12 Developer Preview, but Google I/O marks the release of the first “beta” version. Android 12 certainly has a major redesign on the way – we’ve already seen leaks of the new design and it looks like a significant departure from previous versions. There’s a wild new color-changing UI that shifts to match your wallpaper. All buttons, sliders and all other UI widgets have been redesigned and rearranged. It has a new scrolling list design that, like a Samsung phone, works better on larger screens by initially starting with a large title and pushing the list content further down the screen where it can be reached easily. . There’s a new privacy user interface that alerts you when your camera, microphone, or location is in use. There’s also a new look for widgets, reflecting the recent refresh of iOS widgets.
There’s so much “Android redesign” evidence that we don’t really know what Android 12 looks like out of the box. We just keep seeing screenshot after screenshot of wildly different UI bits, and having features that change color based on user settings doesn’t really help visualize the whole package either.
We know everything that’s to come. The question is, will it be officially unveiled at Google I/O? The previous developer previews were fine at providing new functionality while removing all the interesting UI changes. Google may want to blow the new design out of the I/O virtual stage, or it may want to save it for closer to launch. One good sign we got recently was a leak of what appears to be a Material Design sizzle reel from YouTuber Jon Prosser. It’s still not very enlightening about what Android 12 will look like, but it looks like the kick-off video for the reveal of the next version of Material Design.
The Google I/O schedule says at least a few things will be discussed. The new widgets are something developers need to pick up, so they’ll be unveiled at Google I/O during the “Innovative Widgets” lecture. The talk promises to show off “useful, discoverable and beautiful widgets on Android and Assistant”. There’s an interesting curve at the end: what do Android home screen widgets have to do with the Google Assistant?
Sharing code between Android home screen widgets and the Google Assistant is something Google started working on before – it was called the “Slices” API. However, for some reason it never got off the ground. In one of our many interviews with Dave Burke, head of engineering at Android, we asked him plainly, “What happened to the Slices API?” Showing remote app content in multiple places seemed like a good idea to us.
“I still think it’s a great idea, but I don’t think we’ve found the right solution for it yet,” Burke said. “We’ve really built it out and right now we’re working with the Google Assistant team to see if we can come up with something that makes sense.” The Google Assistant team, you say? That sounds suspiciously like the new widget API. So we’ll be looking for displaying widget content in other, out-of-the-way places.