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Google I/O 2019 preview: What to expect from Android Q, Pixel 3a, folding phones and more

It's almost time for Google's big annual launch event

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On May 7, Google will kick off its annual I/O developer event in California. The show will begin with a keynote address where we expect to see Google announce a range of new products from its various hardware and software divisions.

Google tends to save the reveal of its new Pixel smartphones for a hardware event each fall, but for I/O this year it looks like the tech giant will announce a new phone, and perhaps also a newer, larger version of the Home Hub, but instead offered as a product from the company's Nest smart home brand.

With the keynote address just a few days away, here is everything we know so far about Google I/O 2019.

Google does Google I/O start?

The Google I/O 2019 logo

The I/O 2019 logo gives little away about what we can expect

Google

The I/O event runs from May 7 until May 9 and is being held at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, not far from Google's company headquarters.

As always, I/O will begin with a keynote address led by Google chief executive Sundar Pichai. The presentation starts at 10am PDT and will likely run for between 90 minutes and two hours. We will see a mix of announcements, from new consumer-facing hardware and software, to developer-focused news about updated software for them to get to grips with.

The rest of the I/O conference is split into a large number of presentations and workshops spread across three days. Some of these sessions — and the main keynote — will be streamed on Google's YouTube channel and the I/O website.

Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL

Image of Google Pixel 3s marketing material

Leaked image of the Pixel 3a marking material

Droid Life

As we said above, it is unusual for Google to announce new smartphones at I/O. Instead, the event is usually headlined by the new version of Android, which this year is called Q and is expected to b available to the public in the fall.

However, there has been mounting speculation - and a fair few leaks, as always - that Google is about to announce a new handset. The noise being made by the rumor mill suggests this phone, called the Pixel 3a, will arrive some time before the usual Pixel event later in the year. As such, we expect to see the new phone, and a larger version called the Pixel 3a XL, debut on May 7.

Expected to have a lower cost, the Pixel 3a looks very similar to the Pixel 3 (according to leaked images, at least) and ti is said to pack a similar camera system, which is regarded as one of the very best available right now.

A less powerful processor is likely, to keep the price down, and other cost-saving measures may see the Pixel 3's glass back replaced by cheaper plastic. The phones will be seen as well-priced alternatives to supposedly affordable offerings from Apple and Samsung. But with a rumored price of $399, the Pixel 3a could dramatically undercut the iPhone XR and Galaxy S10e, which both cost from $749.

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Nest Hub Max

Photo of the Google Home Hub smart display

A larger version of the Home Hub, pictured, is expected from Google on May 7

GearBrain

Another hardware announcement expected from Google at I/O 2019 is a new, larger version of the Home Hub which debuted in 2018. While the original had a 7-inch display, it is expected that the new model will be 10 inches.

This will make it a more useful media consumption device, where the smaller original was best used as s digital photo frame and a way to control smart home devices like lights and a thermostat. Given it will likely have YouTube access, the larger display makes a lot of sense.

Another change on the cards is a rebranding of the Home Hub, moving it from Google's hardware division to Nest, the smart home company which also produces cameras, thermostats, alarm systems and smoke sensors.

It is alleged that the new Nest Home Hub will have an integrated Nest Cam security camera, although we wonder if Google will err on the side of caution here (as it did with the original Hub) and not include a camera on a device designed to be watched and used by all members of the family.

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Android Q

Logo for Android Q by Google

The logo for Android Q, which is yet to get its full name

Google

Google has already announced that this year's Android is called Q - or rather, its name will begin with that letter - and we know it will include features geared towards phones with folding displays. We expect to see a system-wide dark mode for Android this year, along with a facial recognition system similar to Apple's Face ID.

We will be interested to see what Google has to say on folding phones, like the Huawei Mate X and delayed Samsung Galaxy Fold. These form factors rely on Android working on a variety of devices with displays which fold in different ways, and which have different screen sizes on their insides and outsides.

What the shift to folding phones should hopefully do, is shine a light on how Android applications look on larger displays. For years, these apps have had bland and badly thought-out interfaces when running on tablets; hopefully the increasing popularity of folding phones with larger, tablet-like screens will encourage Google and Android app developers to overcome this pain point.

A beta of Android Q can be downloaded now, but only works on Pixel handsets and is only intended for application developers for now. A finished version should be made available to consumers in the fall, around the launch of the Pixel 4.

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Google Assistant and Duplex

Photo of the Google Assistant running on an Android smartphone

We hope to see some updates for the Google Assistant and Duplex at I/O

GearBrain

Last year, Google used I/O to show off its deeply impressive Duplex system, which uses a lifelike voice to help you make restaurant reservations by having Google Assistant call up for you. Google has steadily rolled out Duplex across the US in the 12 months since, and for I/O 2019 we'll be interested to see what's next for the human-like voice tool.

We also hope to see improvements and new features for the regular Google Assistant, especially when it comes to controlling smart home devices via the Home smart speaker.

As for a new Home, we think this will be held back until Google's Pixel event later in the year.

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Google Stadia

Image of Google Stadia announcement

Stadia is a video game streaming service due out later this year

Google

Google stepped into a whole new industry earlier this year when it announced Stadia, a video game streaming platform. But, despite the excitement this news caused, Google was very light on details. At I/O we hope Google pads out the initial Stadia announcement with more news, and give gamers a better understanding of how it works, what content will be available, and perhaps even how much it will cost.

There are several sessions planned at I/O to educate developers on how Stadia will work, but we hope to see the platform make an appearance during the main keynote too. If not, we suspect Google will have a presence at the E3 video game expo in Los Angeles in June.

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Pixel Watch

Photo of two smartwatches running Google's Wear OS

Google makes smartwatch software, but is yet to make a watch of its own

Google

Google was rumored to be working on a smartwatch in 2018, called the Pixel Watch and to be launched that fall. But, despite a lot of speculation, the device never arrived. There is a chance it could make an appearance at I/O this week, but we believe this is the kind of product Google will hold back until its annual hardware event in the fall.

There is a chance we might see some new Wear OS features at I/O, perhaps relating to the smartwatch technology Google bought from watch maker Fossil for $40 million in January.

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