What to expect at this year's Google I/O developer conference

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA - Google's annual developer conference, Google I/O, will kick off in the early morning hours of Thursday (Singapore time), and the Straits Times Digital is on scene to provide a wrap of the announcements unveiled there.

Google I/O is traditionally the event where the tech giant announces new products or updates to existing products - from software like the Android operating system to wearables like Android watches.

This year's I/O is held for the first time at the Shoreline Amphitheater at Mountain View, right next to the main Google campus.

You can catch the live stream of the keynote address on Thursday (May 19) morning from 1am. The opening keynote will be available in 360-degree live stream that you can rotate and immerse yourself in as though you are right here at Mountain View.

Here are five things we are predicting and hoping will be announced at the three-day conference:

1. Android N

More details of the latest version of Android should be revealed, given that the developer preview was released in March. New features of Android N include split-screen, multi-window mode and changes to the notification shade. More changes, features and updates to the operating system - and perhaps also a name to it - should be announced then.

2. Google Self-Driving Car

With I/O being held right at the heart of Google this year, speculation arose about how it was the perfect opportunity and location for Google to reveal updates and demonstrations about their fleet of autonomous vehicles. A Google-made car with integrated Google Maps support for navigation and voice commands could change the game for transport worldwide.

3. Virtual Reality

Google may throw more weight behind virtual reality this year, on top of what it's already doing with Google Cupboard. Rumours have it that Google may release a standalone virtual reality headset, similar to that of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but one that is considerably less powerful in order to keep cost low and to make it more widely accessible.

There are several presentations lined up for virtual reality at I/O, including one tantalisingly titled "VR and Cinema", which could pave the way for a whole new way to experience virtual reality and movies.

4. Android Wear

Wearables may soon be getting exciting new updates, as there is a panel on 'What's New in Android Wear?' on Day 2 of the conference. New updates may be rolling out to Android wearables soon this year - anything from better voice controls to gesture commands.

5. Smart Home Voice System - Project Chirp

Google has been working internally on a project codenamed Chirp, which is a voice-command system that aims to be a robot butler for your home. It seems similar to the Amazon Echo, a device which sits at your home and which you can vocally command to perform actions, such as turn on the lights, update you on the weather, do a Google search, and even order you a Uber ride.

Given Google's advances in voice recognition technology, thanks to its machine learning algorithms, it may not be too far-fetched to see a similar home-assistant product that you can use as your personal robot butler.

lesterh@sph.com.sg