Google’s I/O developer conference finally returns as a (limited) personal keynote for 2022, but that’s not the biggest story likely to emerge from the event. This year, in addition to the usual Android update, it will likely be accompanied by some of the company’s major hardware releases in recent memory, including the first Pixel smartwatch. Here’s what to expect when Sundar Pichai and the crew take the stage.
It will be easy to tune in, we would add. Google will stream the presentation live through his YouTube channel on May 11 at 1 p.m. Eastern, also in a version with interpretation of American sign language. You can expect coverage and commentary from Engadget during and after the keynote.
Pixel Watch and Wear OS 3
The real star of I/O may have already been revealed, despite Google’s attempts to keep it a secret. Having rumors of an official Google smartwatch been around for years, but the company now looks set to introduce one in the form of the Pixel Watch. A prototype of the device was apparently found in a restaurant at a Android Central source, but Google also has registered for a Pixel Watch trademark the past weeks. It may just be a matter of when the timepiece arrives, not “if”.
The prototype may speak volumes about Google’s plans. True to previous rumors, the Pixel Watch appears to have a slim round case, a rotating crown and virtually no bezels. Think of it as Android’s answer to the Apple Watch’s elegant design, just with a round screen. Like its rival, the smartwatch is said to use proprietary but easily interchangeable bands to help you customize its look. Photos also suggest there will at least be some form of heart rate monitoring, while an earlier one code leak by 9to5Google hinted at an Exynos processor inside.
However, the real centerpiece may be the software. The Pixel Watch is supposed to serve as a showcase for: Wear OS 3, a major smartwatch interface developed with help from Samsung. It’s expected to include easier navigation, Tiles support (read: widgets) for third-party apps, improved performance, and more customization for watchmakers. Fitbit activity tracking will be key to the experience, and code discovered in the new operating system’s emulator hinted that the fitness app could be. integrated in some watch faces† While Wear OS has long included some exercise-friendly functionality, the Pixel smartwatch may not need aftermarket apps to deliver truly robust tracking.
There’s no guarantee that Google will debut the Pixel Watch at I/O, and details like pricing remain a mystery. However, reporter Jon Prosser, who generally has a strong track record with leaks, has claimed the watch could arrive on May 26, just a few weeks after I/O. If so, we expect Wear OS 3 to roll out to: compatible third-party watches (such as recent examples from Fossil, Mobvoi, and Samsung) in the coming weeks.
Google hasn’t introduced a meaningful new mid-range phone since 2020 Pixel 4a 5G (the Pixel 5a was almost identical), so we’re overdue for new hardware. Fortunately, that may be in the pipeline. Murmurs have been going on for months Pixel 6a that would bring the Pixel 6 aesthetic and key features for a more affordable handset.
Where previous budget pixels typically kept the camera technology of high-end models while using slower processors, Google could reverse its strategy with the 6a. The 6.2-inch phone will reportedly use the same speed Tensor chip like in the Pixel 6, but rely on the 12MP main camera on the back of the 5a rather than the Pixel 6’s more advanced 50MP unit.
There would also be an OLED screen with a (hopefully improved) fingerprint reader under the screen, and fast millimeter wave 5G could be available with at least one variant. However, you may have to say goodbye to the headphone jack on cheaper Google phones.
As with the Pixel Watch, there are hints that Google could unveil the Pixel 6a at I/O and launch it shortly after. FCC filings for the 6a appeared last month, suggesting the company could ship the phone sometime in May. The biggest unknown at this stage is price: Google sold the 5a for $449, but it’s not clear if the follow-up will be just as affordable.
It’s no secret that Google will reveal more about Android 13 at I/O 2022. The company is testing developer previews of the new OS since February, and it historically uses I/O to share many of the user-centric features of a future Android revision for the first time, such as those of Android 12 Material Your interface† All the little developer-focused tweaks you’ve seen so far probably won’t represent everything you’ll get when the OS is finally ready (probably late summer).
There’s not a lot of clues as to what those bigger changes will entail, but Google has focused so far on minor interface revisions and under-the-hood technology upgrades. The Android 13 beta already includes expanded Material You themes, an improved media playback box, a faster QR code reader, and (at least for some users) smart home controls while the device is locked.
Behind the scenes you will also see more conveniences and more respect for both your privacy and your free time. Android 13 introduces Bluetooth LE audio support and Fast Pair should be built in to help you quickly set up earbuds and other accessories. A form of spatial audio maybe also available, too. In the meantime, apps will not have that much free play. Software built for the new platform must request permission for media access and notifications. Even Google’s photo picker is now more restrictive. You should see fewer apps that overstep their limits, not to mention the nagging of unwanted alerts and promos.
It won’t be at all surprising if more substantial changes are in store. However, from all the evidence to date, Android 13 is more of a repeat of Android 12 than a radical rethink. And that’s okay — Google now has a better chance of polishing its code and addressing complaints about last year’s overhaul.
Wildcards: Pixel Buds Pro, Nest Hub tablet and a foldable
While there are only a few hardware reveals at I/O this year, we’re not ruling out some out-of-left-field teasers. Recently Jon Prosser brought up the possibility to Pixel Buds Pro earbuds that would come in a range of colors. While he didn’t provide any details or images, the “Pro” badging could indicate active noise cancellation and other features that didn’t make their way to existing Pixel Buds† While they may not show up at I/O (if ever), they would make sense given Android 13’s support for spatial audio and Bluetooth LE music.
We wouldn’t completely rule out the often rumor either Pixel foldable† Google designed Android 12L with foldable devices and tablets in mind, and the company’s leaked “Pipit” could show what that software could do. Don’t count on it arriving at the event this month, though. although 9to5Google unearthed camera code implying a 2022 release, there are no real signs of an I/O appearance. If Pipit is still on schedule, he may not arrive until late in the year.
We wouldn’t hope for a rumor detachable Nest Hub where the screen can be removed and used as a tablet. The first discussions about this convertible Nest model only surfaced in March, and Google has regularly reserved its Nest announcements for autumn†
Instead, the most likely surprises are the ones you see most often at I/O. You may see Google Android TV update (plus its Google TV front-end), and it’s easy to see upgrades coming for services like Maps and Photos. AI-based products use duplex and similar technologies could appear at the conference. And then there are the more daring experiments – few expected the Project Starline AR video chat booth, even in the throes of a pandemic.
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