Gears & Gadgets

What to expect from Google I/O 2019

Shoreline Amphitheatre, as seen at Google I/O 2017.
Enlarge / Shoreline Amphitheatre, as seen at Google I/O 2017.
Ron Amadeo

Google I/O kicks off May 7 in Mountain View, California, where Google will be hosting a keynote and a million other sessions at the Shoreline Amphitheater. The keynote starts at 10am PT, and we’ll be there to cover everything announced at the show. But before we hop on a plane and fly down to Google HQ, we’ve prepared a likely list of things we anticipate Google will announce. If you want to know where the larger Google-verse is about to go, here are the rumors, expected updates on previously announced things, and notable schedule tidbits to keep an eye on at I/O 2019.

Table of Contents

The mid-range Pixel

When it comes to entry-level smartphone pricing, Google gets the title of “Most Expensive Smartphone Lineup on Earth.” Google wants to be a smartphone manufacturer, but its cheapest phone, the Pixel 3, starts at $ 800. Most other manufacturers have a range of smartphones starting as low as $ 100 and going up from there. You can even enter the iOS ecosystem for just $ 449, where Apple will still sell you a new iPhone 7.

At Google I/O 2019, Google will take a baby step toward offering a real smartphone lineup by launching something other than a premium smartphone: a mid-range Pixel is coming, and supposedly there will be two devices, called the “Pixel 3a” and “Pixel 3a XL,” with identical designs. Hardware has been absent from Google I/O for several years, but these devices are pretty much a lock to debut at Google I/O—Google has already sent out a teaser for May 7.

So, what exactly is a mid-range Pixel? Well, we’ve already seen both real life pictures and official press renders of the Pixel 3a, and it looks like we’re getting a device that closely resembles the smaller Pixel 3 design, just in a cheaper, plastic shell with a cheaper SoC. The smaller Pixel 3a has been thoroughly leaked, with prototypes spotted in the wild dating back to November 2018.

The rumored sales pitch is that the Pixel 3a has the same industry-leading camera technology that’s available in the more expensive Pixel 3, and, of course, it’ll have Google’s day-one Android updates for three years. You’re also getting a headphone jack, which famously has been absent from the Pixel line after the Pixel 1.

The mid-ranginess comes from the plastic body (changed from glass on the Pixel 3) and the Snapdragon 670 SoC (downgraded from the Snapdragon 845 in the Pixel 3). The other rumored Pixel 3a specs are nearly identical to the regular Pixel 3, with a 5.6-inch, 2220×1080 display, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 12MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, and a 3000mAh battery. The Pixel 3a XL is rumored to pack a 6-inch, 2160×1080 OLED display—a downgrade from the 6.3-inch, 2960×1440 OLED panel in the 3XL—and a 3700mAh battery—an upgrade from the 3 XL’s 3430mAh battery.

Can the Pixel 3a survive in the cutthroat value market?

We still don’t know the price of the Pixel 3a, but Google’s pricing scheme will be a major factor in the phone’s success. The value market is a cutthroat business, and the Pixel 3a will have to slot in under devices like the OnePlus 6T. OnePlus’ flagship has a faster SoC (a Snapdragon 845), more RAM (6GB), a bigger screen (6.4-inches), a bigger battery (3700mAh), and more storage (128GB), which all combine to allow the 6T to monopolize the $ 549 price range. And this isn’t even OnePlus’ final form! The OnePlus 7 will be announced days after the Pixel 3a on May 14, and it will be packing an even faster SoC, the Snapdragon 855, and possibly other upgrades, hopefully for a similar price.

If Google is building the Pixel 3a with an eye toward emerging markets like India—Google’s second favorite country—then it has to deal with even more brutal competition from the likes of Xiaomi. India gets sweetheart country-specific devices like Xiaomi’s Poco F1, again with a Snapdragon 845 and 6GB of RAM but this time for an astounding $ 300. India is for major players only, and I doubt Google can compete.

If you’re looking for a spec-for-spec comparison, the closest is probably the Vivo Z3, which has a Snapdragon 670, a bigger 6.3-inch, 2220×1080 LCD, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 3310mAh battery, all similar or better than the Pixel 3a, and Vivo’s phone is $ 240. The Xiaomi Mi A2 is in a similar spec bracket with the Pixel 3a (although it has a year older SoC, the Snapdragon 660) and even has stock Android through the Android One program. This is one of Xiaomi’s most widely distributed phones, and it can be grabbed from Amazon with two-day shipping in the US with an MSRP of $ 290. It would not surprise us to hear of a Xiaomi Mi A3 soon with an upgraded SoC.

The fear is that Google will continue the Pixel tradition of being too expensive for what it is offering. If the Pixel 3a comes in at around $ 500, would anyone really want to pay that much for a mid-range device when flagship-class OnePlus hardware can be had for $ 50 more, and similar hardware can be had for hundreds less? Will Google really price the 3a lower than that? How much would you pay for a Pixel 3a with the above specs?

Seriously, “Google Nest” products?

Remember Nest? Google bought the smart home company in 2014, then spun it off as one of the first Alphabet companies in 2015. After it stagnated under Alphabet, founder Tony Fadell left in 2016, and Nest was folded into Google’s hardware division by 2018. Now what?

The Google Store has been dropping hints at what might become of what’s left of Nest—it could serve as a brand for Google’s smart home products called “Google Nest.” In early April, the Google Store Web page accidentally posted a navigation menu listing “Google Home Hub/Google Nest Hub” and “Google Nest Hub Max” as products. The Google Home Hub is an existing product: it’s a Google Home smart speaker with a display, and apparently it’s going to be rebranded as the “Google Nest Hub” in the future.

There is no “Google Home Hub Max,” but a Google Home Max is a bigger version of the Google Home speaker. So then the Nest Hub Max would presumably be a larger version of the Google Home Hub, with a bigger display and better speakers. It always seemed odd that Google only shipped a 7-inch smart display, while partners like Lenovo ship 8- and 10-inch Google Smart Displays. A bigger Google Nest Home Hub would just be keeping up with Google’s frenemies.

There is no reason to believe “Google Nest” products will be announced at Google I/O, other than the fact that the Google Store leaks also mentioned the Pixel 3a, which definitely is being mentioned at I/O. Since Google has everyone’s attention during the big show, it makes sense to toss the Nest news in with the other announcements. We’re going to pencil this one in for the keynote.

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Tech – Ars Technica

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