What to expect from Google I/O 2021

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Google I/O, the company’s big developer conference, is back after being canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The keynote kicks off on Tuesday, May 18th, at 1PM ET / 10AM PT, and it will likely be packed with news about Google products.

In the keynote’s official description, Google is unsurprisingly coy about what might be announced: “Tune in to find out about how we’re furthering our mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But we can make a few educated guesses about what could be shown off at the event. Read on to find out what to expect from the big show.

We’ll likely learn a lot more about Android 12

Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

Google often uses its Google I/O keynotes to exhaustively detail its next major version of Android, and we expect the same for this year’s release, Android 12.

Google has already released a few developer previews of Android 12, which have mostly brought a lot of small tweaks and developer-focused features. But at I/O, Google will likely reveal some of Android 12’s biggest user-facing features — including some significant UI changes that are rumored to be in the works, like stacked widgets and a new lock screen with larger clock text.

Android 12 seems poised to be a big upgrade, and Google will likely share a whole lot about it.

Major Google services should get some spotlight, too

Google also likes to use I/O to showcase major updates to its services and software, and this year’s event will likely be no different. In previous years, we’ve seen Google use I/O to announce things like Google Maps’ incognito mode, new Assistant voices, and the Google Duplex demo, where the Google Assistant called a hair salon to book an appointment. Google could plan to take the wraps off some similarly exciting new features.

Maybe Google will announce the Pixel Buds A-Series for real this time

We already know the company is working on a new model of its Pixel Buds true wireless headphones — thanks in large part to a couple of huge leaks from Google itself — and perhaps they’ll make their debut (again) at I/O.

Here’s the timeline of what’s been revealed so far:

Google’s official tweet about the “Pixel Buds A-Series,” before it was deleted.
Image: 9to5Google

These leaks don’t tell us all that much about the buds, but the “A-Series” moniker seems to indicate they’ll be a more affordable model of the company’s true wireless headphones, similar to how the lower-cost Pixel models are identified with “A” names like the Pixel 4A. And speaking of “A” phones…

We likely won’t see the Pixel 5A, even though it has already been announced

Google officially announced the Pixel 5A 5G in April in reaction to a rumor that the phone had been canceled, but we probably won’t see more of it at Google I/O this year.

When Google announced the upcoming phone, the company said “it will be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan and announced in line with when last year’s a-series phone was introduced.” The Pixel 4A, 4A 5G, and Pixel 5 were all announced in early August last year, so it seems like we might be waiting until some time around then to see an official reveal of Google’s next midrange phone.

Google could share details about its custom processor for Pixels

Google is rumored to be developing a custom-designed system on a chip (SoC) for upcoming Pixel phones, the company’s first, and perhaps Google will discuss some of what that sea change could mean for Android developers and prospective Pixel buyers at I/O.

The so-called “GS101” chip may have a “3 cluster setup with a TPU (Tensor Processing Unit),” which could improve performance for machine learning applications and might also include an integrated Titan M security chip, according to XDA-Developers. And we might first see the chip on board two new Pixel phones that debut this fall, 9to5Google reported.

A Google-designed SoC could bring some major performance benefits to the company’s Pixel lineup, like what Apple sees with its custom A-series chips in iPhones. But there’s also a good chance that Google keeps this rumored chip under wraps until it unveils devices that actually have it on board, so don’t set your expectations too high.

And Google could always surprise us

Although Google has a reputation for being unable to keep its biggest products secret, there’s always the possibility that the company has some totally new and surprising things in store for this year’s I/O. Keep it locked to The Verge during the event to stay up to date on the latest.

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