In 2020, we didn’t get a Google I/O. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Google canceled it outright. There were originally rumors that it could do an all-virtual event, but that didn’t come to pass.
Now, in 2021, Google is delivering the all-virtual I/O we were hoping for last year. The Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA, might not be filled to the brim with attendees as in years past, but the show will go on!
In this article, we will give you the essential info you need related to Google I/O 2021. We’re also going to tell you about all of the things Google launched at its keynote, which turned out not to include new Google-branded hardware. Be sure to bookmark this page, as we will update it with new details if anything else emerges following the keynote.
Google I/O: The basics
Q: What is Google I/O?
A: It’s an annual developer conference where Google announces new hardware, software, and various updates for its existing apps and services.
Q: When is Google I/O 2021?
A: The event is taking place from Tuesday, May 18, through Friday, May 21. Tuesday’s main attraction was the keynote from Sundar Pichai and other Google executives, delivered at 10:00 AM PT (1:00 PM ET). You can view the remaining schedule of events here.
Q: How can you watch it?
A: As with every year, Google live streamed its keynote and will for the rest of the various other events. Due to the all-virtual nature of the show, every single event will be live-streamed for free. This differs from previous years in which parts of the show could only be experienced by paid attendees. You can register and find out how to watch the various events here.
What Google announced at this year’s event
Before we get into what Google unveiled at I/O 2021, you should keep one thing in mind: I/O is primarily geared towards developers. Although there are plenty of consumer-focused events — most specifically the keynote that starts everything off — a majority of the smaller events will be very technical in nature. Therefore, unless you are a developer, a bulk of the events won’t really mean much for you.
If you’re interested in seeing the full schedule, you can check it out here.
That all being said, Google always has some fun stuff for the general population at I/O. Here’s what we got so far!
Android 12 reveal and the first public beta
Here it is, right off the bat, the announcement most people were waiting for — the full reveal of Android 12. We finally have a much better idea of what the future of Android holds, especially the new Material You design language. It offers far more color and customization options, and your phone can even update its color scheme to match your chosen wallpaper.
We’ve already seen a few developer previews of Android 12, but we finally have the first public beta available as of I/O 2021. The difference between a developer preview and a beta is that the latter is something the general public can safely install on their personal devices (for the most part). There will certainly still be bugs but not nearly as many as you would find on a developer preview. We’ll be sure to test it thoroughly and provide you with bugs and fun new features that we find.
The public Android 12 beta also marks the widest adoption so far at this stage. While most Android previews are limited to Pixel devices, the first Android 12 beta is already available for devices from a whopping 12 OEMs. That means there’s a good chance you can get out there and try it yourself. Check out more information here.
If you want to find out what new stuff we might see in Android 12 at I/O, check out our ever-updating list of confirmed and rumored features.
Smart Canvas for a more connected workspace
We’ve all had plenty of practice working remotely over the past year, and now Google has decided to give us another boost. Its new Smart Canvas platform makes it easier to work between different Google apps like Docs and Sheets with greater flexibility. If you need to, you can bring a Google Meets call right into your team Doc and just keep working.
While this all sounds pretty great, especially if you have a presentation coming up, Google won’t make Smart Canvas widely available quite yet. We can expect integrations coming this fall, but who knows how quickly they will arrive.
Wear OS and Tizen are becoming one
If we had to sum up the Google I/O keynote without mentioning Android 12, we’d have to say that it’s the presentation Wear OS users have been waiting for. Google’s Wear OS platform and Samsung’s Tizen are merging to form one super platform, aptly named “Wear.” It should lead to solid boosts in battery life, smoother application start-ups, and up to 30% faster app load times.
Samsung (and other OEMs) will continue to launch their own wearables, but the days of pure Tizen products are done. We’ve also heard other updates like a standalone version of Google Maps, offline Spotify downloads, and some of Fitbit’s best features are on their way to join in the fun.
New updates to Google’s camera software
We all know and love Google’s powerful camera software, and now the rich are getting richer. For starters, developers are working on making their cameras more accurate for people of color. Historically, cameras have struggled with their auto white balance features and losing darker skin tones in shadowed areas. The goal with these improvements is to make a more inclusive camera experience for everyone.
Google is also giving its selfie algorithm a boost thanks to better mapping for curly and wavy hair types. This should allow users to see more accurate results as opposed to a vague outline around their hair.
Users can also hide sensitive images in a fingerprint or password-protected folder for some extra peace of mind. In the future, Google will also let you remove entire time periods or specific people from your camera storage.
As if those excellent inclusivity additions weren’t enough, Google is also developing a way to craft animations from your still images. It calls the update “cinematic moments,” and it’s made for those scenes where you capture a whole set of images hoping for one perfect shot. Think of those moments where you just want your little one to sit still, for example. Google can now take that entire sequence of stills and transform it into a short animation on iOS and Android.
Starline brings far-away family members to you
We all know just how hard it’s been to spend time apart from loved ones over the past year. Google’s new Starline platform takes a new step in the video conferencing game, creating a 3D model of your family member while you talk to them. It can’t replace a true in-person conversation, but it certainly goes a long way in bridging the gap.
Right now, the Starline system is rather large. It looks more like a photo booth that you have to sit in while talking to friends or family. It’s also currently only available in a few select Google offices, though hopefully, it will spread far and wide as the technology matures.
We don’t necessarily know when we’ll see an update to Starline, but it sure beats a grainy Zoom call.
Better security and digital car keys
Have you ever misplaced your car keys in your backpack in the middle of a rainstorm? Trust us, it’s not fun. Android 12 finally brings about a solution. Google has announced that select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy devices will double as a car key using NFC. Essentially, you can unlock your car exactly as you would with a key — provided your car is compatible.
The whole idea is to ditch your key fob eventually, something that Apple has slowly started working towards already in partnership with BMW. We’ll have to wait and see which other automakers jump on board, but we can only hope that BMW isn’t the only one.
Google also announced new password management features. The ability to change all of your passwords at one time is chief among them, thanks to a new Change Password button. You can allow Google to create complex passwords for you or always take back manual control.
While it’s best to stay on top of your passwords, to begin with, the new functionality just might help to make that dictionary of passwords a little more manageable.
What we have yet to see from Google:
Google Pixel 5a
We’ll be upfront: we didn’t get a Pixel 5a launch at Google I/O, and we weren’t really expecting to. Google launched the original “a” series devices at I/O 2019 — the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL. It also likely would have launched the Pixel 4a at the 2020 event had it actually happened. Instead, the Pixel 4a landed in August.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc on the mobile industry — and the related global chip shortage making things even worse — it’s no surprise that Google wasn’t quite ready to launch Pixel 5a in May.
Google Pixel Buds A
Google launched the second-gen version of its Pixel Buds in 2020, which acted as its first entry into the incredibly competitive true wireless earbuds space. Then, rumors suggested that Google could launch a cheaper variant of the Buds that could land as the Google Pixel Buds A.
Unfortunately, it came to pass that Google hasn’t launched these new earbuds at I/O. However, the company already spilled the beans on the product with an errant listing within a publically accessible email.
It’s not yet clear which features of the $129 Pixel Buds Google might eliminate to bring down the cost of the Pixel Buds A. There will likely be a new green colorway for the earbuds, though.
Rumors abound that Google could launch its first-ever custom mobile processor this year, likely within the upcoming Google Pixel 6. We didn’t see a Pixel 6 announcement at Google I/O, and Google stayed tight-lipped about the processor itself, codenamed “Whitechapel.”
Considering a mobile processor is pretty technical and will need attention from developers to be successful, it would have made perfect sense for Google to announce it at I/O. However, this is Google’s first stab at something like this, so it might save the announcement for a dedicated event.
Whitechapel is expected to be a co-development from Google and Samsung, with Google providing designs and Samsung providing hardware. Rumors point to Whitechapel being a more capable chipset than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G within the Google Pixel 5. Don’t expect it to go toe-to-toe with the Snapdragon 888 or Apple’s A14 Bionic, though.
For more on Whitechapel, check out our explainer article here.