Google Inc. executives are taking the stage this week to talk about a plethora of new technologies, including automobiles, home automation, digital TV, Web-connected devices and a new version of Android.
What will prove to be a breakout hit from Google’s annual developer’s conference, called I/O, has always been harder to predict.
“They are the kind of company that can push the boundaries in all directions -- what sticks is another story,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC. “They’re typically very experimental.”
Case in point: cardboard. Of all the gadgets Google unveiled at last year’s event, Google Cardboard was a surprise success, putting virtual reality into the hands of everyday users by turning smartphones into headsets. Now the Web company is seeking to maintain momentum for the gadget, and will probably give new hardware and software guidelines aimed at improving users’ experience.
Android, the key component of the company’s efforts to break into virtual-reality, cars and television, is due for an upgrade. As in past years, Google is expected to use the event to reveal updates for the mobile software. The new Android operating system could get updates around security, including fingerprint technology.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, declined to comment on its plans for the conference, which starts Thursday and will draw thousands of programmers who develop software, hardware and services that work with Google’s products.
For payments services, Google may unveil new products and services based on technology it acquired from Softcard, a mobile-wallet service, in February. That could help boost Google Wallet, which has less than 10 percent of the payments market.
For car automation, Android Auto may include navigation updates and other new features designed for drivers. Google will also be able to report some success in automobiles as well -- General Motors Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. said this week that they expect to roll out vehicles equipped with Android Auto later this year.
Google also could introduce upgrades to its software and services for the Internet of Things, such as Web-connected lightbulbs to refrigerators. Even though Google bought Nest Labs, the maker of digital thermostats, for $3.2 billion in February 2014, the company hasn’t announced a major new product since then. A key question will be whether ex-Apple Inc. executive Tony Fadell will take the stage to update developers on Google’s progress in home automation.
Google isn’t the only company investing more time and money in technology that blurs the line between virtual and real. Facebook Inc. spent $2 billion last year to buy Oculus VR, and Microsoft Corp. has been touting its own gadgets that let users interact with digital environments. At stake is a piece of a market that could be worth $150 billion by 2020, according to researcher Digi-Capital.
“When Google looked out at the market, they realized it was something serious and that they could actually turn it into something,” said Brain Blau, an analyst at Gartner Inc.
The Google gadgets, which typically cost less than $25, have attracted upstarts that have moved beyond cardboard and are using plastic, wood and metal to make headsets. The devices, about the size of a child’s shoebox, have a slot for Android-based smartphones, which are turned into virtual-reality displays using specialized applications. Users can then look through lenses on the boxes to experience an immersive digital environment.
Earlier this year, Google appointed Jon Wiley, lead designer for its main Web-search service, to lead design efforts for its cardboard and virtual reality initiative. The company announced in April “Works with Cardboard,” a program that certifies whether a device is compatible with the technology.
Apart from its cardboard-based efforts, Google has also invested in Magic Leap Inc., a startup specializing in computing and graphics that augment reality. The company, which raised $542 million in a funding round in October, is developing technology that superimposes digital images over real-life images.