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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?