As Google’s biggest show of the year, every I/O brings a ton of news. However, the stakes for I/O 2023 seem bigger, with announcements that could more thoroughly change how people use Google’s biggest products.
Gmail, Docs, and Workspace
Artificial intelligence is, of course, responsible for this. Google has already shown generative AI features in Gmail and Google Docs, with testing already underway. Meanwhile, Google has briefly previewed bringing image generators into Google Slides and having Google Meet automatically create notes from a video call.
At I/O 2023, Google needs to provide a fuller picture of how AI will integrate into its Workspace apps beyond individual features. Equally important are details on a public launch and how they will be available to the (non-Workspace) public. The latter might be where Google One comes into play. For initial testing, it makes sense for features like those that have already been announced in Gmail and Google Docs to be free.
However, since generative AI is computationally expensive, it makes sense for Google to eventually put them behind a paid subscription. Today, 2TB or higher Google One tiers ($9.99+/month) provide premium Google Meet features like 1080p streaming and longer calls, and it would make sense for some (if not most) generative AI features to be locked behind that.
As Google’s crown jewel, many stakeholders will want an update on how AI is coming to Search. There’s, of course, the Wall Street crowd, while end users have shown that chatbot-style queries and answers are something they’re at least interested in. The company has already previewed AI Insights in Search when it announced Bard, but we need a fuller look at the end-to-end experience.
Having a chatbot in Chrome that lets you ask questions about the page you’re currently viewing has been rumored and does indeed sound useful. As a significant entry point for how people use Google, a generative AI presence needs to exist in Chrome.
Generative AI and its conversational nature seem ripe for voice assistants. As we’ve talked about in the past, Google Assistant is at an impasse, with its feature set shrinking. The team behind it is currently tasked with Bard development, so it’s unclear whether Google is at a point where it’s ready to announce upgrades. If it did, Google could position Assistant as being more capable than Siri or Alexa, while Microsoft expressly does not currently have a voice assistant.
For the sake of end users, I think Google needs to publicly recommit to Assistant at this I/O to assure them their devices still have a long future. It would be nice if the company provided an upgrade roadmap, but even assurances would be a start at this point after months of no real developments.
I/O’s roots are as a developer conference, and there will undoubtedly be AI stuff for that crowd. Of particular interest will be assistive tools in Android Studio to aid app development.
We will obviously be getting the major tentpoles for Google’s upcoming mobile release at I/O 2023, followed by Android 14 Beta 2 to hopefully test some of them out. So far, Android 14 feels like an iterative update that continues to build on Material You. For example, we spotted that bolder Dynamic Color theming is coming.
Samsung teased an XR device (headset) running Android in February. We’ve yet to hear anything about the OS, and I/O would be the time to announce it (which also has the benefit of preempting Apple’s realityOS announcement this June). This starts the long road to third-party developer buy-in.
Google needs to share its vision for this form factor, both short and long-term. In the near term, bulkier headsets could allow for productivity and entertainment use cases. Glasses are the future, but until then, we need devices and an OS that will let developers start experimenting with these experiences. It was recently rumored that Apple’s upcoming headset will run iPad apps. Does Google have the same idea, thus providing another reason for Android pushing into large-screen development?
Wear OS 3 was announced in 2021, and we quietly got version 3.5 last year. The timing would be about right for Wear OS 4, which will in all likelihood coincide with an underlying upgrade to Android 13, which brings Material You.
Better Together: ChromeOS, Wear OS, Google TV
As of late, the Android team has been very big on cross-device experiences that emphasize the benefit of going all-in with the ecosystem. Earlier this month, Google released a Cross-Device Services app to power ChromeOS app streaming. We’ll presumably get a demo and launch date for that at I/O. We’re also waiting for the ability to unlock your Android phone with a paired Wear OS watch.
On the entertainment front, we’re waiting for more entertainment-focused Better Together initiatives. Previously, rumors have mentioned connecting Nest and third-party speakers to Google/Android TV devices, while easier-to-access smart home controls and other integrations are on the roadmap (for 2024). We’re also waiting for Fast Pair to arrive for Google TV and Android TV.
Find My Device
Somewhat related to Better Together and the Android ecosystem is Find My Device becoming a broader network that includes third-party accessories. Google has been laying the groundwork for this by saying it would be “encrypting and storing your device’s most recent location with Google.” Meanwhile, there have been persistent rumors of a Google-made tracker.
Made by Google
Pixel 7a, Tablet, and Fold
It seems like we’re back to immediate availability with the Pixel 7a. This was the case for Pixel 3a at I/O 2019 and seemed to be what Google was aiming for in subsequent years, but the world had other ideas.
We should finally get launch details about the Pixel Tablet a year after it was first teased, while Google will be entering a new hardware category with the Pixel Fold.
Any other Pixel hardware
In the case of the phone, it allowed Google to really get ahead of leaks. Before I/O, there were only a pair of leaked renders that got some things about the design right. It was somewhat less successful for the Pixel Watch, which leaked in full (left at a restaurant) and even had an AMA, while the Pixel Tablet reveal dovetailed nicely with the large-screen Android app push.
Ahead of I/O 2023, the company could certainly replicate the strategy for the same reasons. These previews are meant to provide only a high-level overview. For the Pixel 7, it was the design and how the language introduced the year prior would continue but with a modified camera bar, as well as how a second-generation Tensor chip was coming.
The design of the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro have more thoroughly leaked via renders at this point, so Google would be covering the same ground and would get a chance to reveal the colors itself. It would be nice if a “Tensor G3” mention touched upon what the improvements actually are, while the thing everyone really wants to known is what the camera improvements will be, especially given that new sensor on 8 Pro.
The case for a Pixel Watch 2 teaser is somewhat more mixed. As a first-generation product, we don’t know what the update cadence will be. An annual cycle would make a great deal of sense if we look at the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch, but the Fitbit Sense and Versa lines were refreshed every two years. The improvements for a Pixel Watch 2 would be obvious, with a newer chip, more activated sensors (SpO2 and skin temperature changes estimation), and a bigger battery.
I don’t expect the domed design to drastically change beyond maybe thinner bezels, with the band system at least staying for another generation to ensure accessory capability. A Pixel Watch 2 teaser would have to touch on some new hardware features, but I’m not sure Google would want to do that and break the high-level overview nature of these previews.
As always, another factor in doing teasers is possibly cannibalizing sales of the existing Pixel Watch and Pixel 7 series. Google doesn’t seem to mind or at least has different priorities, but it does seem wild to make the effective life span as the latest and greatest product be only 7-8 months.
I think a teaser would more significantly impact sales of the first-generation wearable. As a prospective buyer of the mid-cycle Pixel Watch, knowing that a second-gen was coming in the fall would give me pause if I wanted a more future-proofed purchase. Today’s version is fine and has a battery that can last you a full day, but it’s unknown how it will continue to perform, especially once major OS updates arrive.
After major removals with the promise of new capabilities on the horizon, Fitbit needs to start sharing the second part of its plan, from a redesigned app to new capabilities. I/O would be the time to do that. Meanwhile, Fitbit integration to show live exercise stats on Google TV has already been rumored to continue the Better Together tentpole.
Besides the Google Home app currently being in Public Preview, the company teased a number of other features last year. This includes the web-based Script Editor and more grouping options with Custom Spaces. We’ll hopefully get more updates on that.