In 2020, we didn’t get a Google I/O. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Google canceled it outright. There were originally rumors that it could do an all-virtual event, but that didn’t come to pass.
Now, in 2021, Google is delivering the all-virtual I/O we were hoping for last year. The Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA, might not be filled to the brim with attendees as in years past, but the show will go on!
See also: Google buyer’s guide: Everything you need to know about Google hardware
In this article, we will give you the essential info you need related to Google I/O 2021. We’re also going to tell you about some things you should expect to see, which could include new Google-branded hardware. Be sure to bookmark this page, as we will update it with new details as the event gets closer!
Google I/O: The basics
Q: What is Google I/O?
A: It’s an annual developer conference where Google announces new hardware, software, and various updates for its existing apps and services.
Q: When is Google I/O 2021?
A: The event will take place from Tuesday, May 18 through Friday, May 21. The first part of the show will be a keynote from Sundar Pichai and other Google executives, delivered at 10:00 AM PT (1:00 PM ET). This is usually when the biggest news drops. You can view the full schedule of events here.
Q: How can you watch it?
A: As with every year, Google will live stream its keynote and various other events. However, due to the all-virtual nature of the show, every single event will be live-streamed for free. This differs from previous years in which parts of the show could only be experienced by paid attendees. You can register and find out how to watch the various events here.
What to expect at this year’s event
Before we get into what you can expect at Google I/O 2021, you should keep one thing in mind: I/O is primarily geared towards developers. Although there will be plenty of consumer-focused events — most specifically the keynote that starts everything off — a majority of the smaller events will be very technical in nature. Therefore, unless you are a developer, a bulk of the events won’t really mean much for you.
If you’re interested in seeing the full schedule, you can check it out here.
That all being said, Google always has some fun stuff for the general population at I/O. Here are a few things you can expect!
Android 12 news, plus the first beta
Without a doubt, a bulk of Google I/O will be devoted to Android 12. The world’s largest mobile operating system is constantly seeing tweaks and updates, but the newest numbered iteration of Android is always a big deal.
We’ve already seen a few developer previews of Android 12, but we expect Google to launch the first beta of the software at I/O 2021. The difference between a developer preview and a beta is that the latter is something the general public can safely install on their personal devices (for the most part). There will certainly still be bugs but not nearly as many as you would find on a developer preview.
Related: Android 12 developer preview hands-on: Lots of little changes
Years back, Google launched the first beta of Android 9 Pie at Google I/O and announced it would be available for multiple non-Pixel phones simultaneously. This happened again with Android 10 but did not happen with Android 11. With Android 11, the initial betas were limited to Pixel devices only. We’ll likely see a similar limitation this year, although OEMs will definitely start rolling out their own versions of Android 12 beta software soon.
If you want to find out what new stuff we might see in Android 12 at I/O, check out our ever-updating list of confirmed and rumored features.
Google Pixel 5a
We’ll be upfront: there’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see this phone launch at Google I/O. Google launched the original “a” series devices at I/O 2019 — the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL. It also likely would have launched the Pixel 4a at the 2020 event had it actually happened. Instead, the Pixel 4a landed in August.
Related: Google Pixel 5a: All the rumors so far
With the COVID-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc on the mobile industry — and the related global chip shortage making things even worse — there’s a high likelihood Google might not be ready to launch the Pixel 5a in May. That doesn’t mean Google won’t announce the phone for a later release. It’s also not totally out of the realm of possibility that it could launch the 5a at Google I/O.
Like we said: it’s a 50/50 shot.
Google Pixel Buds A
Google launched the second-gen version of its Pixel Buds in 2020, which acted as its first entry into the incredibly competitive true wireless earbuds space. Now, rumors suggest Google could launch a cheaper variant of the Buds that could land as the Google Pixel Buds A.
It is very likely Google would launch these new earbuds at I/O. In fact, the company already spilled the beans on the product with an errant listing within a publically accessible email. Of course, that doesn’t assure us that we’ll see them during Google I/O, but they are very likely coming quite soon.
It’s not yet clear which features of the $129 Pixel Buds Google might eliminate to bring down the cost of the Pixel Buds A. There will likely be a new green colorway for the earbuds, though.
Rumors abound that Google could launch its first-ever custom mobile processor this year, likely within the upcoming Google Pixel 6. Although we almost certainly won’t see a Pixel 6 announcement at Google I/O, it’s possible Google could take the wraps off the processor itself, codenamed “Whitechapel.”
Considering a mobile processor is pretty technical and will need attention from developers to be successful, it makes perfect sense for Google to announce it at I/O. However, this is Google’s first stab at something like this, so it might save the announcement for a dedicated event.
Related: Google Pixel 6: Everything we know so far, plus what we want to see
Whitechapel is expected to be a co-development from Google and Samsung, with Google providing designs and Samsung providing hardware. Rumors point to Whitechapel being a more capable chipset than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G within the Google Pixel 5. Don’t expect it to go toe-to-toe with the Snapdragon 888 or Apple’s A14 Bionic, though.
For more on Whitechapel, check out our explainer article here.
Google I/O 2021: Miscellaneous
- Smart home: Google confirmed that we will see new smart home product announcements at I/O 2021. Unfortunately, there aren’t any hints on what to expect, but at least we know there will be some new stuff.
- Google Stadia: Recently, Google announced it would shut down its Stadia-exclusive gaming studios less than a year after creating them. This signifies Google isn’t seeing too much success with its game-streaming platform as it currently stands. Stadia is still an active product, and there will likely be plenty of Stadia news at I/O. We might see the expansion of device support, new game partnerships, or even updates to the entire business model.
- Wear OS: There’s a prevalent rumor that Samsung could be creating a Wear OS-based smartwatch. This would be the first non-Tizen smartwatch from the brand since around 2014. Although Wear OS gets a lot of flak for its poor battery life and heavy hardware requirements, it still has very vocal supporters. With the wearables industry on a growth trajectory, it would make a lot of sense to see Wear OS news at Google I/O 2021.
- Fitbit: Speaking of wearables, Google’s acquisition of Fitbit is finished. It’s unlikely we’ll see any new Fitbit hardware at I/O, but Google could make some announcements related to the development of Fitbit OS, which it now owns. It could also announce plans related to Fitbit hardware and integration with the wider Google ecosystem.
- Google Assistant: Google’s voice assistant is the glue that holds all of its products together. At I/O events in the past, Google has shown off new tricks Assistant can do, such as making your dinner reservations over the phone. It wouldn’t be surprising to see new Google Assistant tricks revealed during the I/O keynote.
Don’t forget to bookmark this page, as we will add more Google I/O information as May 18 draws closer.