Google I/O 2021: How to watch and what developers can expect

Android 12, Chrome OS, and TensorFlow are all getting sessions at Google I/O 2021. Here are a few themes to ponder.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google's I/O 2021 conference kicks off this week and the focus will be on Android 12, machine learning, and perhaps some hardware but there are a few broad developer themes and opportunities worth tracking.

How to watch Google I/O 2021

Google I/O is entirely virtual this year and free to attend. The opening keynote kicks off at 10am PT/1pm ET on May 18. You can watch it via the video embedded above. Google has also published an official schedule for keynotes and breakout sessions. 

To sign up for Google I/O, you'll need to sign in to your Google account and register for the event

What to expect from Google I/O 2021

While Google's opening keynote is likely to cover a lot of ground including AI advances, a bevy of interface changes with Android 12 and system on a chip development, rest assured that the conference is all about developers. Here are the themes to watch:

Android 12

For developers, there will be a lot of sessions on Jetpack Compose, Android new UI toolkit. Google is also likely to push more development tools to enable voice shortcuts in apps including one session on how to voicify your Android app. Other odds and ends will include machine learning tools in Android, addressing multiple screen sizes and integrating augmented reality.

Updates for Android 12 include a new app launch experience, improved web linking, rich haptic experiences, video encoding improvements, faster machine leaning and camera enhancements. Add it up and Android 12 is getting a big makeover according to Pixel 6 leaks

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The developer monetization model and privacy

While Google Play takes a 15% revenue cut, half what it used to be, there's an opportunity for Google to up the ante. With Apple's iOS 14.5 launch, users have to opt into data tracking. This change has caused quite the skirmish with Facebook but may also impact how much money developers can make with advertising. According to Flurry data, the data opt-in rate for apps is low single digits--anywhere from 3% to 5%. Developers have historically favored iOS because they make more money there, Android could close the monetization gap by a) cutting the revenue cut to 5% or lower and b) finding a way to address privacy and maintain ad targeting. Google outlined data and privacy transparency practices for developers.

Chrome bloat

The Chrome OS track in the Google I/O schedule is fairly thin, but it would be wonderful to hear about some code streamlining in Chrome, the browser. In my experience, it's clear Chrome's code base is becoming a problem. The browser over time has become a memory hog and is seeing stability issues. Google may not address the Chrome browser issues directly but needs to.

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TensorFlow and machine learning

Google's previous I/O conferences featured a heavy dose of machine learning and 2021 won't be any different. Expect Google to roll out a bevy of TensorFlow advances as well as how machine learning will be integrated into Android and throughout the platform. Machine learning tracks include ethics, accessibility and solving everyday problems. Android Machine Learning also has a few sessions.

Material Design advances

Android is getting more than its share of UI tweaks and the track on Google's approach to design (Material Design) has a decent amount of sessions.

Is that it?

Google typically also showcases new products or technologies for consumers, including new hardware. This year, a Google Whitechapel chip is rumored, as is the Google Pixel 5a smartphone, Pixel Buds A wireless earbuds, and perhaps even new third-party smartwatches to go alongside a major Wear OS update that Google recently teased

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