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Tuesday May 10, 2011 11:48 am

What to expect at Google I/O

Google i/O

The Google faithful have converged at San Francisco's Moscone Center this morning to dive deep into the guts of the search giant's myriad services at Google I/O 2011. Sprinkled throughout the two-day blockbuster event will surely be some very important announcements (watch those keynotes closely) plus product and technology introductions. Here is some of what I expect.

Google TV
No discussion of what Google has up its sleeves is complete without a lengthy discussion about the fate of Google's converged TV and Web technology. Logitech, Sony and others have bought into it—big time. But consumers aren't buying and it's clear that Google has yet to arrive at a winning formula. I have an Apple TV device at home and I can guarantee you that at least one key ingredient is simplicity. No external keyboard, no large, hoary box, nothing above $150 dollars. That, for the most part, does not describe the current Google TV. Apple TV also has a super-easy—if you're an iTunes/AppStore member—way of purchasing new content. Google's focus on Web-based content and letting everyone handle commerce in their own way is not helping Google TV or any of its partners.

I expect Google to introduce a significant update to the Google TV platform. One that will shrink the hardware, swap out components, and introduce a wholly new commerce strategy.

Chrome OS
I've been using the Google Chrome Cr-48 laptop for a while and it's definitely not the best representation of what this new operating system could be. Part of the problem is the hardware. The laptop is nothing to look at, has a bunch of semi-functional USB ports, and the Wi-Fi chip is sub-par. I think the operating system is promising, though it looks so much like the Chrome Web browser that even I have trouble taking it seriously.

This Google I/O should mark a turning point for the nascent OS.

The hardware side is going to be a bit more confusing. I've heard whispers about a Chrome OS tablet, but that makes no sense to me. Google's tablet bet is with Android and Honeycomb. Perhaps we'll see some name-brand laptops and desktops running the Chrome OS. That would be kind of exciting. It would be a victory for Google and, for those that understand what's at the heart of all this, Linux.

Google re-named its search team "Knowledge" and it got me thinking that perhaps Google will use Google I/O as a launch platform for some important changes in its search algorithm and interface. What if the familiar Google search interface changes? Unlikely, but its search results could. They have before.

Time for a deep dive on "Ice Cream." It supposed to be a blend of Android 2.3 and Android 3.0: the tablet-friendly "Honeycomb." I'm just hoping that it clears up the Android interface confusion between phones that look like tiny tablets and tablets that are simply larger versions of the phones. Consumers want them to work the same way and this OS update could make that possible by somehow delivering a new Android with a wholly scalable interface (which is more or less what Apple has with iOS).

Google I/O has a whole track devoted to commerce and, as I see it, nothing could be more important for Google in its quest to stand toe-to-toe with Microsoft on the desktop and laptop side and Apple in the mobile space. Google will walk developers through everything from Google Checkout to in-app payments and a solution for paywalls. Again, this all speaks to Google's efforts to provide a comprehensive suite of solutions to all partners—partners who are in this business to make money.

Chrome Web Browser
Looking at the Google I/O schedule, I realized the Google has a problem that it needs to solve in a hurry: helping consumers differentiate between the Chrome browser and the Chrome OS. Google may think it's a good thing that they share the same name, but I don't. Android has a defined identity and part of it is the name. Chrome OS could use some of the same clarity that would come from a new label. I suggest "G-OS."

Google has more information about more people than any other online service in the world. Read up on Google Social Circle and you'll see what I mean. Google wants to leverage all that to make the most comprehensive social network ever, but that doesn't mean it'll introduce anything at Google I/O. Google's been burned by an overenthusiastic reaction to the muddled Wave and a general ignorance of Buzz—which a surprisingly large number of people do use. Google's taking small steps into social like +1. Eventually it'll knit all this together into something—but I don't know what and I don't know when. I don't think we'll hear much of anything about it at Google I/O.

Google Music
Google will follow Amazon and beat Apple to market with its own cloud-based music service. Leaked images of the rumored Google Music Beta are all over the Web, though no one knows for certain if they're real. The service purports to offer a mix of cloud and local music libraries and should have enough smarts to stream freely on Wi-Fi, but sip carefully on data networks, where costs for consumers could skyrocket.

Launching this platform for Android devices would seem like a no-brainer—and Google I/O may be the perfect stage since developers will quickly imagine other opportunities in Google's cloud-based offerings. The fly in the ointment, though, could be record companies. If they haven't already lined up to serve waves of stream-ready music to Google, Google Music may not be quite ready for its close-up this week.

There'll be other highlights and sidelights, like a chat on "Cloud Robotics," which sounds oxymoronic to me, and a raft of fireside chats on key Google technologies where we may learn some of the more interesting stuff.

This article, written by Lance Ulanoff, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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