Next week will be Google’s biggest week of the year. It’s Google I/O, the two-day event during which the company shows off new products and rallies developers to keep making software for its phones, home assistant, VR headset, web browser, and more.
No one can be totally certain what we’ll actually see next week, starting with the keynote on Tuesday, May 8, but it seems likely that Google will renew its focus on design and make its biggest announcements in that category since 2014–including introducing a successor to Material Design. Here’s what we’ll be watching for.
Material Design 2
Four years ago, Google launched a design standard called Material Design in which it reimagined ethereal user interfaces as real, physical objects. Even if the heady design philosophy isn’t your thing, Material Design has done wonders to visually and functionally unify Google’s services, from Android to Google Docs, and it’s offered a fantastic template for developers to build ultra-usable apps upon.
At I/O, it seems that Google will be introducing the successor to Material Design. According to 9to5Google, which rounded up a bunch of developer previews and leaks on the topic, Material Design will be getting aesthetic updates like more white space, new translucence, brighter icons, and rounded corners. But if it’s a true sequel to Google’s biggest design initiative in its corporate history, surely there will be more to it than just that.
Every I/O is timed a bit oddly. Google always shares a developer preview of its latest edition of Android a few weeks before–then, at the event, Google goes on record to talk about it.
In this case, that new edition of Android is Android P. Aside from some aesthetic updates (like the aforementioned rounded corners of Material Design 2), it’s got a bunch of mini features. None of them sound “OMG THE GAME HAS JUST CHANGED”-worthy, though. They include a moveable search bar, picture-in-picture functionality for every app, better support for Google Lens, improved indoor navigation, and options that allow the UI to accommodate the popular notch that’s making its way into Android phones since the iPhone X.
Android Things 1.0?
If Android P is iterative, perhaps another version of Android will be the more compelling launch at Google I/O. Ars Technica makes a convincing argument that Android Things–Google’s internet-of-things platform that’s been in development since 2016–is ripe for a full-fledged release. The schedule of talks alone features eight separate sessions, all on Android Things.
Android Things is, quite simply, a development platform for IoT devices–much like Android is a development platform for phones and tablets. It couldn’t come at a better time. Excitement around IoT seems to have plateaued–and it doesn’t help that these devices are security nightmares that hackers are exploiting all the time. Meanwhile, Google Home is gaining traction as a voice assistant, and it’s positioning itself as a hub to the smart home. Google’s next job is to actually make that home smarter. And that seems like something Android Things would be very good at helping along.
Developing an app for iOS and Android is still a total pain that often requires nearly twice the work. Flutter is what The Verge calls “a Frankenstein’s monster of various Google projects” which essentially allows you to code an app once, then export it to either Apple or Google’s software. Such a workflow could have major consequences for developers, who often design for iOS first and only then port over to Android. Flutter just entered beta, and I/O has several talks dedicated to it.
The other point to consider, though, is that Flutter is the default programming language for another exciting program within Google called Fuschia. Fuschia, which has been in development for years, will be the successor to Android, and it will run on both phones and laptops, seamlessly. Nobody thinks that Fuschia is going to launch this year at I/O, but with Flutter, Google seems to be positioning its chess pieces into place, transitioning its developers to support its next OS, today.
What About Hardware?
There have been some rumors that Google will show off an Android TV dongle. Okay. Sure. And I’ve personally heard from a major vehicle manufacturer that will be on site at I/O to talk about Google’s latest foray into cars. But generally, it seems like Google has shifted its hardware announcements from I/O to the fall, to better time the release of its phones and Home devices around when Apple is announcing its new iPhones.
How Can I Watch?
We’ll be following Google I/O all next week, with some of our own reporters from Fast Company on the ground, but many of I/O’s best talks are live- streamed, free, if you’d like to tune in yourself. You can find the whole schedule here.