In past years, Google's annual developer conference saw the unveiling of new software and hardware like Google Assistant, new Pixel phones, Android OS upgrades, and flashy, short-lived gadgets like Glass and Daydream. This year, we expect to see an Android 12 showcase, the Pixel 5a launch, and any other tricks Google has up its sleeves.
Google IO 2021 won't return to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, nor will you have to pay upwards of $1,000 to attend. Instead, you can register for free on Google's event page.
...and we're back:) Join us May 18-20 for #GoogleIO live, online, and free for everyone. https://t.co/763eVjWpYE pic.twitter.com/Sk3tUnLme0April 7, 2021
We won't know officially until the May 18 keynote what Google intends to show off, but we can already extrapolate based on the rumors and leaks coming from Google's camp. Below, we'll predict Google's hardware and software lineup for Google IO 2021, as well as explain how the virtual event will work.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? Google's yearly developer conference
- When is it? May 18–May 20, 2021
- Where is it? Online-only
- How can I register / how much does it cost? On the Google event page for free; all you need is a Google account
What are the Google IO 2021 dates?
Google revealed that its developer conference would take place from Tuesday, May 18 through Thursday, May 20. Google regularly schedules its annual three-day conference for mid-May, making these dates on-brand for the company.
Why is Google IO online-only?
Google canceled the May 2020 event in early March 2020, right at the advent of the pandemic when everyone had begun to shelter in place and live events felt increasingly unsafe. It seemed that redeveloping IO as a virtual event on short notice wasn't feasible at the time, though events held later in the year like Apple's WWDC 2020 were rapidly converted to online-only presentations.
Google normally holds the Google IO keynote and subsequent developer sessions in physical gatherings at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, where COVID-19 restrictions on large events (but not masks) will lift in mid-June.
Even if Google wanted to deal with a fully-masked event or checking attendees' vaccination cards, it wouldn't want to delay the event a month and potentially mess up release schedules for its hardware. Plus, the company has likely been planning it in an online-only format for months.
How Google IO 2021 will work
Most casual Google users associate Google IO with the keynote address, which streams online where anyone can watch it. But in past years you could also buy a pass to attend Google developer sessions, new product demos, codelabs, and other events for professionals or hobbyists.
This year, all of those events will be virtual and free. More people can attend without travel costs or a $1,000+ pass, but the benefits of in-person events – like making industry connections or testing out new Google hardware – will be difficult to replicate remotely.
Some Google IO 2021 events will be free to all and rewatchable on demand, like the keynote. Others will require you to reserve a slot and may have limited (virtual) capacity.
Google will reveal the official event schedule in late April. Until then, here's how Google describes the upcoming Google IO events:
- 'Consumer and Developer Keynotes focus on company and product news and can be re-watched on demand.'
- 'Technical Sessions focus on product announcements and how to adopt new features. Sessions will be scheduled throughout the three-day event and will be available on demand.'
- 'Workshops and Ask Me Anything Sessions (AMAs) are interactive and must be reserved to participate. Workshops are instructor-led with Q&A encouraged, while AMAs are an opportunity to ask Google product experts questions.'
- 'Meetups are casual, open, facilitated forums hosted by Google that enable attendees to connect with each other. Registration and reservation are required.'
- 'Interactive Sandboxes are available in I/O Adventure, enabling developers to try Google’s new products and features through a hands-on experience.'
- 'Codelabs and Learning Pathways are always-on, self-guided learning experiences that help you adopt Google technology.'
Interactive sandboxes appear to be Google's way of simulating in-person tests of new Google hardware. Of course, a virtual sandbox masks how devices would actually work in person, but it's likely the best Google can do without mailing prototype devices to attendees across the world.
What to expect at Google IO 2021
Based on Google's annual product and software calendar, plus all the leaks and rumors we've heard about, we have a general idea of what Sundar Pichai and the Google execs will discuss during the Google IO 2021 keynote. Here are the highlights:
The latest Android OS is already in beta on Pixel phones, but we're 100 percent certain that Google will spend time outlining the final version's coolest tricks. With Apple almost certainly introducing iOS 15 at WWDC in June, Google will want to jump ahead of that and show off its newest innovations first.
- Android 12 could add smarter auto-rotation between portrait and landscape
- The Android 12 beta 2 has some exciting improvements
- This new Android 12 feature is great for accessibility
Experts diving into the betas' nitty-gritty details have found some intriguing improvements: better privacy notifications if an app is using your mic or camera, more support for alternative app stores, redesigned App Pairs for easier split-screen multitasking, improved home screen widgets, and more.
We'll see what other flashy features Google is holding back for the big event.
A recent Pixel leak from Jon Prosser suggests that the Pixel 5a will launch on June 11, making a mid-May event the perfect time to reveal it. Google previously announced and launched the Pixel 3a at Google IO 2019, and might have done the same with the Pixel 4a at the 2020 event in different circumstances.
Source has confirmed and followed up:The Pixel device coming on June 11th is the Pixel 5a. https://t.co/vBWFomSjvWMarch 9, 2021
A leaked Pixel 5a render shows that the phone could look nearly identical to the Pixel 4a 5G, including identical colors, the same cameras and 6.2-inch display, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
We can hope that this leak is incorrect and that the Pixel 5a hardware will differentiate itself more. If not, we can only hope Google will have some exciting specs to share, so no one falls asleep during this part of the presentation.
Less likely: Pixel 6, Pixel Fold, or Pixel CPU upgrades
Google is actively developing the Pixel 6 and a Pixel foldable phone, potentially for a simultaneous October 2021 release. That's far enough out that Google may not want to show off their specs or hardware until it's closer to Fall.
For comparison, the Pixel 5 – which came out in late October – wasn't officially revealed until late September.
Instead, Google could avoid discussing its new phones and instead reveal its new GS101 Whitechapel chip, which will reportedly power both the Pixel 6 and rumored Pixel foldable phones.
Pixels have traditionally used Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs; however, we recently learned that Google is developing its own system-on-a-chip (SoC) hardware in tandem with Samsung.
What we don't know is how Google SoCs will outperform Snapdragon – or Apple's own Bionic SoC chips. Now that the cat's out of the bag, Google should fully outline how its Whitechapel chips will stack up against the competition – and get people excited to wait for its Fall 2021 phones.
New Fitbit hardware or Wear OS updates
If there's a perfect time for Google to explain its Fitbit plans, and potentially unveil a new Fitbit device with increased Google Assistant/ Wear OS synergy, it's during Google IO 2021.
Even if there isn't new hardware to show off, Google could and should try to make its Wear OS more exciting for consumers. The upcoming Galaxy Watch 4 is switching to Wear OS, but we argued that the switch doesn't make sense because Wear OS isn't particularly enjoyable to use.
Google needs to use its upcoming conference to sell us on how Wear OS watches will grow to become more worthy competitors to the Apple Watch Series.
A new Chromecast?
We recently spotted an FCC listing suggesting that Google is working on a new Chromecast with a rechargeable battery – or potentially a new Nest Audio.
While we're big fans of the Chromecast with Google TV, there's room in the market for an upgraded dongle to replace the now-unavailable Chromecast Ultra. One that can play Google Stadia games, has a built-in ethernet port without an adapter and can open and stream apps more quickly.
We're not positive this device will show up at Google IO 2021, because Google said the device must remain confidential until September 24. That would take it well past the expected conference date. However, this could just be extra padding, with the actual reveal due out in June.