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What’s In Store for Google Chrome at I/O 2014?

io pngIt’s June which means that the collective attention of the internet is now deeply focused on trying to predict what Google will reveal at the annual I/O developer conference.

This year, more than any before it, has seen speculation reach intense levels.

Tech pundits, enthusiasts and developers alike have been speculating on what the search giant will do, with many hoping to see its various strands — from home automation with Nest to wearable technologies like Android Wear and Google Glass, search, apps and Android OS — pulled together.

As a conference from a web company, I/O also sees plenty of discussions had on Chrome, web apps and associated technologies.

But what might see a reveal? The keynote is where most of the ‘big’ stuff drops — a lot of it likely to be centred around Mountain View’s plans for Android — but as part of a re-emphasis on making web a platform no longer distinct from native OSes, this could be a big year for Chrome.

What follows are four questions we’ve been asked, with a probability rating and some reasoning and speculation to back it up.

Will We See Brand New Chromebooks at Google I/O?

Probability: Unlikely

acer chromebookLast week saw the unexpected leak of an all-new Chromebook from Acer powered by an Nvidia Tegra K1 CPU.  New ARM Chromebooks were expected but so soon and based on the Nvidia Tegra K1? Few saw that coming.

But is I/O a likely reveal venue for a new crop of Chrome portables? Based on past history, no.

The only Chromebooks to formally be unveiled at an I/O event have been the Samsung Series 5 and Acer AC700, both shown off on stage in 2011. Furthermore, as we saw with the Intel presser earlier in the year, Google likes to give new Chrome devices some primetime love. A brief stint as part of a larger, Android and web-focused keynote may not be ideal.

Will we see any new Chrome Apps?

Probability: Sort of

appsThis is the first Google I/O summit to have such a strong focus on design. This makes sense in light of recent rumours that Google will launch redesigned versions of its core services, like Gmail and Google Docs, to bring together its presence on mobile, web and desktop OSes.

Circumstantially at least, this does seem to be backed up by the session schedule for I/O. There are a swathe of design talks referencing ‘visual design across multiple platforms’, and a bevy of sessions on Polymer – a ‘revolutionary’ set of reusable web components Google says will power ‘the next generation of web apps’.

We’re unlikely to see a rollout of new interface designs and apps on June 25 itself, but the design sessions should at least give a glimpse at what Google has in store.

Will we finally learn what the Athena and Hera Projects are?

Probability: Discussion, demos and hints likely

project hera

Google’s Project Hera, based on what we know of it, seems to tie into the multi-screen, multi-device design ethic being promoted at this year’s I/O.

We know from leaks that Hera is designed to be a bridge between Android, Chrome and Search, and that it will focus on ‘instances’ shown in a card-style layout. But how the feature will work on Android, apps and the web – that information remains obtuse at present.

The I/O session schedule is also stuffed with discussions on Polymer (see above), creating unified designs across platforms and screens, and demos of as-yet-unnamed APIs that seek to bridge web and mobile. Take this session description for instance:

‘The web is getting new capabilities! In this tech talk we’ll discuss some of the changes that are already available, such as background processing with Service Worker, and also give you a sneak peek at some new APIs we’re testing out. Which APIs? You’ll have to attend to find out. :)’

Pretty suggestive, right? All of the items referenced above could, in one way or another, relate to the pantheon of projects we’ve come to know as ‘Athena’ and ‘Hera’ (perhaps even ‘Ares’, a new app launcher project for Chrome OS).

Development on Project Athena — potentially some sort of new Chrome workspace or shell in which the new ‘Hera’/Google Now workflow is accessed — has only recently kicked off, making a centre-stage reveal highly unlikely, and expectations for it a little premature.

That said, we may learn about its intention, and may see some early demos and prototypes in some of the sessions planned — assuming it turns out to be related!

What about a new Chromecast?

Probability: Unlikely

chromecast tileWhile there are sessions on working with Google Cast and improving discoverability of Cast-ready apps, I think we’re unlikely to see anything approach a ‘new’ or ‘next-gen’ Chromecast at I/O. The current dongle does what it needs to with capabilities expanded on the ‘casting’ device side.

We will learn more about Cast as a technology. A session entitled ‘Casting to the future‘ promises to give ‘insight about the making of Chromecast, the vision for multi-screen devices, and the future of the Google Cast ecosystem.’

With Android TV rumoured to be taking centre stage at I/O we may see some Cast-related demos — just not, we think, of the Chrome variety.

Summary

Don’t expect: 

  • to see new Chromebooks, or a Chromecast update, revealed
  • Project Athena to be demoed onstage in the keynote
  • to see a Chrome OS tablet

Do expect: 

  • to hear the word ‘Polymer’ again and again
  • to see plans for new unified designs across platforms
  • to learn about the infamous ‘Project Hera’
  • to find Google Cast technology showing up in Android TV
  • to see plenty of demos of web technology in development

Over to You

Google I/O 2014 kicks off tomorrow evening at 4 PM (UTC) with the keynote. But before then why not make some educated guesses of your own: what are you expecting to see announced, unveiled or introduced at this year’s event?

  • Kenny Strawn

    I’m surprised the possibility of new Nexus or (at the very least) GPE smartphones being released at I/O hasn’t been discussed at all in this post…

    • http://twitter.com/d0od Joey-Elijah Sneddon

      I don’t doubt that stuff is planned, but I wanted to keep this rundown strictly Chrome-relayed, as per the headline.

      • Kenny Strawn

        Okay, yup, now it makes sense… As for the Athena and/or Hera projects, well, I probably would expect merely demos for Hera (and I’d really want Google to start offering developer beta releases of Android the way Apple does for iOS, to give not only developers but also carriers and manufacturers ample time to get their apps and forks ready in time for the public release and thus ensure a much faster roll-out for a wider range of devices when the release date arrives, but the chances of that happening are rather slim).

        For Athena, however, if the releases of Chrome OS Canary 36.0.x.x on April 1 and 37.0.x.x on May 15 are any guide, the Canary build of 38, which could very likely enable the Athena changes by default (though I’ll know for sure whether it does or doesn’t), should hit my Chromebook sometime this week, perhaps even while the I/O keynote is in session…

  • Sean Lumly

    I hope to see support for ASM.js in addition to PNaCl as a high performance execution language. I would also love to hear some movement on WebCL and WebGL2 (eg. OpenGL 3.1), though this would likely be more dependant upon the state of Khronos.

    It’s time for ChromeOS to take the fight directly to traditional OSs. Not only can apps have unrivalled convenience, they can also perform just as well as their native counterparts with these high-performance technologies.

    I hope that Chromebooks also start to see a new mid-tier. I would gladly pay $500 for a device without as many performance/display compromises as is common with the $300 devices.

  • Antreas Arkoudi

    waiting

  • http://about.me/CalebLee Caleb Lee

    What do you rate the chances of seeing an updated Pixel?

    • http://twitter.com/d0od Joey-Elijah Sneddon

      I was going to touch on that in the article. I actually think it’s fairly slim: the Pixel was (and remains) a great reference device. There’s little that could be improved on at present (maybe a more power efficient CPU). It’s still capable and, given the price, stands outside of the usual consumer product churn.

      • http://about.me/CalebLee Caleb Lee

        well, that’s about what I thought. I just wish the battery life could be improved upon.

  • Laborin_HK

    Just recently caught onto ChromeOS. But I’d like to see some ChromeOS/Android link, this would boost interest in ChromeOS and add to the appeal of Android. Something like Yosemite continuity would be incredible.

  • Chensong Li

    I really hope there would a new Nexus 8/9/10 tablet announced.

  • Mr Torch

    I posted this on OMG Ubuntu yesterday, and since it concerns the future of Linux and computers it should fit nicely here.

    The future will be something like the proposed Ubuntu edge, a smartphone that turns into a desktop pc, when you dock it to a screen and keyboard. So that’s desktop pc’s demise. Right as for Laptops lots of people will use tablets as a laptop replacement. What do smartphones and tablets have in common? The most popular OS in the world, which is Android, which is a Linux distro.

    Take your smartphone/tablet and add a screen that is paper thin and can be rolled up, which will be available in the next few years, and add a roll up keyboard or a projection keyboard, both already on sale, and that’s your laptop. One smartphone three uses. That’s what Google is aiming for and that’s why Chrome OS, which is also a Linux distro, will start to merge with Android. So who on earth is going to buy a separate desktop or laptop, when a smartphone can do the job. Even businesses will follow suit, they’ll issue each member of staff a smartphone that is their work desktop, phone and portable computer.

    • Boothy

      That’s certainly one version of the future, the move to convergence.

      Ubiquitous computing being the other vision.

      It depends what you want, and how many devices you use/places you work and play from.

      • Mr Torch

        Absolutely, the Internet of things will happen. My post was an answer to someone who couldn’t see laptops going obsolete because any replacement would have to resemble what it was replacing, so there wouldn’t be a change. I was just pointing out how they can be replaced and replaced very soon by hardware with Linux based software, and Google of course. Though I’m sure other linux distros will live on, just in a smartphone etc. And we’ll be having debates on which is the best Linux smartphone computer distro. That will never change as long as it’s possible to change the stock rom of the device or dual boot from ext sd cards.

        • Mr Torch

          In fact it already happens to smartphones with Android based roms like cyanogenmod, which I happen to run.

    • http://www.netsolinc.com/ David

      This is definitely something I’ve thought Google would be looking to do before the Ubuntu convergence idea was put out there. Even if you still had a laptop type shell that you slid your phone in to. Another thing I always thought would be a good idea is for you to be able to slide your smart phone in to your car kind of the same way you used to slide a cassette tape in to the tape player. Then the phone could be used for all types of things. You could even use it to power up your brand new self driving Google car.

      • Mr Torch

        The possibilities are endless, and goodbye Microsoft, unless you reinvent yourself as a Android/Linux software designer.

  • moe

    I really want to see more change in Chrome Os itself more than Android, something like allowing users to customize more color, themes etc and please change the one bar for all. Have a google now + a notifications widget thats customizable or something new.

  • Ian

    One of the sessions is about the band new Chrome Dev Editor – a Google response to Mozilla WebIDE. Actually, you can check it out now: ow.ly/yqMXZ

  • Boothy

    Who had android apps on chrome (sort of) as a prediction?