Why Google's developer conference I/O is such an important event

Developer conferences can sometimes be tedious affairs, as the executives on-stage dive into deep tech and lines of code that the average viewer may not be familiar with.

But it says a lot about the growth of technology as a sector and as a part of everyday life that the big names – including Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google – now all live-stream these events online. And this new audience needs to see and hear things they can relate to: products.

Google I/O then, just like Microsoft Build and Apple’s WWDC, is no longer just about the developers and the ways they can make use of a new software development kit. Now the event is a chance to show off what’s coming over the next year, and how the hosts are the company which can best meet your tech needs.

Google in particular is in need of some more upbeat news. The European Commission’s investigation into anti-competitive behaviour, as well as the first anniversary of the “right to be forgotten” ruling have both come in recent weeks, so I/O offers the chance to see Google in a different light.

Google therefore needs to hit a few home runs on Thursday evening during the keynote, and Android M needs to be the first of them. This is the next version of Android, and once again will be named after a sweet. Milkshake and Marshmallow are the favourites, but secretly we’re hoping for Mississippi Mud Pie. Think it sounds silly? Remember I was Ice Cream Sandwich.

Also expected the be on the agenda are driverless cars. Google recently announced that their own design bubble cars will be hitting public roads for trials this summer. This is a big step in what many see as a cornerstone in the tech market in the coming years. Google needs to deliver some interesting updates on the project as a whole. A consumer sale date is a bit of a stretch, but how about a beta program consumers can apply for?

Virtual reality will be high on the check list too. While Google has Cardboard, and this is rightly marketed as entry-level VR, some of the search engine provider’s rivals have taken serious strides forward in this area. Most notably HTC with the Vive and Microsoft and their HoloLens headset. Plus, Google has shelved Glass. Their VR reputation is in need of a serious boost, and I/O would be the ideal time to do it. A partnership with a games developer or similar would be a worthy statement, as well as some new hardware.

Wearables are another area that need some Google TLC. While the Moto 360 and LG Watch Urbane in particular are very good smartwatches, right now they are stuck behind the Apple Watch in fanfare and sales terms. Expect Google to push Android Wear then – encouraging developers to get more involved with the platform and create more apps.

Android TV, Android Auto and a new photo-sharing service working independently of Google+ are expected to be touched upon during the keynote.

On reflection then Google needs to do much like Microsoft did at their Windows 10 preview event in January and change the perspective they’re seen in. Microsoft made themselves relevant and exciting again with the Windows 10 they unveiled, and the HoloLens headset they surprised us with.

Some gems from the Google X lab, famed for working on “moon shot ideas” such as driverless cars and WiFi-carrying weather balloons, would be exactly the sort of thing that would do the same for Google.

To see how they get on, you can live-stream I/O here.

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