What to Expect at Google I/O 2015: Android M, Brillo and More (Updated)

By Gerald Lynch on at

Want a little fact to cheer you up as you race towards (or, indeed, beyond) middle age? It's only been just a little over a year since Google launched its Android Wear smartwatch platform. Whoever said time flies? Google's timepieces were the big talking point of Google I/O 2014, and with Google I/O 2015 kicking off tomorrow, it's time to take a look at what the big G has in store for us this year.

From a new version of Android to a revamped Google Glass headset, it's looking set to be a busy couple of days for the Mountain View crew.

Android M

Marshmallow? Maltesers? Monster Munch (yeah yeah, it's a savoury snack, but we can dream)? Whatever the "M" in Android M eventually turns out to be, there's a good chance that we'll get our first look at the refreshed mobile operating system this week.

Expected to be released before the year is out, M is likely to bring enhanced security features (including system level fingerprint recognition that all manufacturers can take advantage of). The key update however will be improved performance in terms of both power preservation and app efficiency, no matter the level of RAM on a device. Parental controls may get an overhaul, as could Google Fit and Google Now (especially in relation to how the smartphone builds of these services work alongside Android Wear). There's unlikely to be much of a visual change to Android, given how the "Material" design refresh has been well received, and remains relatively new.

A messaging hub has long been hoped for too, and may also make an appearance, but the most interesting touted feature may be one called "Nearby" which lets your device interact with that other nearby Android users with ease. There's also a good chance that a new Photos application will be revealed, beaming your images to a cloud back-up automatically, without tethering them to a mandatory Google+ account.

Google Brillo

...which, unsurprisingly, has nothing to with household cleaners and everything to do with the Internet of Things. Google Brillo will likely break cover at Google I/O 2015, fully revealing itself as an operating system designed to run on home automation products. Based on Android (and probably set to drop the "Brillo" codename as it's rolled into the wider Android ecosystem), it's been optimised to run on hardware with as little as 32MB of RAM at its disposal. Essentially, the plan is to let you control every device in your house using and Android smartphone or tablet, a unified standard that has to far eluded the Internet of Things to its detriment. Whether there's any real consumer interest in IoT remains debatable, but any simplification of the standards would be beneficial to all involved.

Android Wear

With the first wave of Android Wear devices hovering around their first birthday's now, it's about time some near hardware was revealed. As the Android Wear posterboy, a new Moto 360 2 smartwatch could make an appearance, alongside a cheaper LG timepiece to offset the increasingly-premium wristables the Korean giants are focussing on. Samsung, turning its attentions to its own Tizen platform, probably won't pop up in any meaningful way this time around.

In terms of the software itself, the most interesting rumour surrounds Google's aim to have Android Wear become compatible with iOS devices. It's technically not impossible -- hackers have already basically achieved this. What will be difficult is getting Apple onboard with the idea, given that its Apple Watch is now on the wrists of the iPhone faithful.

Google Glass 2.0

Gone but not forgotten, Google's head mounted computer failed to really excite consumers. A £1,000 price tag for access to the Explorer beta version probably didn't help, nor did the fact that Google Glass makes all who wear it look like a knob.

However, a revised edition is almost certainly on the way, with Google said to have already shown off prototypes to important executives outside the company. Italian eyewear maker Luxottica — better known as the company behind Oakley and Ray-Ban — has confirmed that it’s working with Google to make version 2.0 of the company’s faceputer, so this time around it may not even look too bad, while prescription lens compatibility has also been touted.

Chromecast 2

It's been nearly two years since Google launched its cheap media beamer called the Chromecast. It's throughly impressed all who've tried it, though time marches onwards, and as Amazon and Roku's stick-based streamers continue to evolve, it's time for Google to refresh its wares too. Back in October Google executive Mario Queiroz mentioned that new Chromecast devices were on the way, so it's not out of the question that one would be shown off during the keynote.

More Mobile Payments

At I/O, Google may turn its attention to mobile payments — probably now dubbed Android Pay — in an effort stay ahead in our post-credit card world. Google gobbled up Softcard, a once-popular mobile payments app, and devoured the tech that powered it. Some of that could make its way into the new Android Pay platform, which will supposedly allow for third-party apps to build one-touch payment features and also have a more robust tap-to-pay architecture, similar to Apple Pay.

Android Pay is being built on a new API layer, according to Android big boss Sundar Pichai at Mobile World Congress this past March. He also said Google Wallet will still exist alongside this new payments platform. Exactly how are those two are going to work together? Well, Google’s got to leave some room for surprise, I guess.

Android Auto

Google launched Android Auto, its smartphone-based smart car OS, at the last I/O and now vehicles are finally starting to roll out with the software attached. There’s one rumour that Google is toying with untethering the car from your smartphone and shipping cars with their very own version of Android. I’m sure we’ll hear more on the future of Auto but any new features concerning Android’s car conquerer still remain a secret.

Android VR

Of course Android is going to get in on the VR game. Back in March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google had a small team toiling away on bringing Android to virtual reality. Evidence that Android VR is coming is supported by the fact that there’s an event on Friday titled “Designing for Virtual Reality,” which will be led by Google’s VR team. They’ll also most likely talk about the future of Cardboard, Google’s successful DiY VR experiment, and how it may be transitioning out of its awkward cardboard phase.

The Great Unbundling and Google+

Google+ is pretty much dead. This may be old news for those of use with a realistic worldview and earth-shattering information if you are one of the few people who figured out what the hell “circles” were, but that doesn’t mean that all its best features have to die.

In fact, it’s all but certain that Google will be launching a new photo-sharing app, born from the ashes of Google+, that will thankfully not require a social media account for you to use it. And so it was that Picasa became Google+, which became Google Photos, which will hopefully just stay that way.

Once again Sundar Pichai, who’s as leaky a ship as Tim Cook it seems, said back in February that Google was “actively working” on the photos application inside of Google+ and that you’d see Hangouts, Photos, and Google+ as three separate entities. Now it’s almost certain we’ll hear more about this app; Android Police even got an exclusive look at the software:

Everything We Know So Far About Google I/O 2015

The app will replace the current Photos shortcut on Android and will come with all the amenities of the Google+ feature with some updated design, especially in the editor. It should be an all-around improvement to the stock photo editing and storage experience on Android (and maybe the web, too.)

Into the Far Flung Future

What about Google’s more...ambitious projects? Like balloons that can deliver internet, smartphones that are actually hardware chameleons“look ma, no hands” cars, and the company’s Project Fi?

We probably won’t hear much about the modular Project Ara since the team held their own developers conference in January. Google Loon may be a potential talking point as lots of news reports state that the internet-delivering balloon project is about ready to go pro. At the very least, we’ll hear some data, statistics, and future planning for some — and hopefully all — of these projects.

How to Watch the Google I/O Keynote

Google's I/O webpage has all the details on how you can tune into a livestream of the conference's keynote (as well as other developer-orientated events being broadcast during the two-day conference). Sundar Pichai, one of Google's Senior Vice Presidents, will be kicking off the festivities, and with his expertise sitting in Chrome, Android and its apps ecosystem, expect those areas to be covered in depth.