With Google's I/O developer conference just a week away, all eyes are on the company's plans for the next version of Android.
For much of the last year we expected to see Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie. After all, leaked slides from a January Qualcomm presentation showed a midyear debut for this next build, but they were immediately pulled from the Web site.
But now, recent rumors suggest that we might actually see the debut of 4.3 Jelly Bean instead of Android 5.0. Details found in various server logs show that a JWR23B build has been making the rounds, with the "J" standing for Jelly Bean.
That means Android 5.0 could still be a few months off. Word around the campfire is that hardware partners are (still) struggling to keep pace with the various Android releases.
With Android 2.3 Gingerbread commanding the largest share of the platform, many users are still waiting on 4.1 and 4.2 updates. Announcing a brand-new 5.0 release full of new features and capabilities in mid-2013 could do potentially do more harm than good. With that in mind, a minor 4.3 update seems entirely plausible. I get the sense that we're in for an Android evolution next week, not a revolution.
Whether we see Android 4.3 Jelly Bean or Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie, here are some OS advancements I hope will be implemented by the time Android 5.0 does come around.
One feature that I would really like to see implemented in Android is something akin to Facebook Home's Chat Heads. By that, I mean a pervasive notification system that can sit atop other apps with user-defined preferences. It shouldn't replace the current notification bar -- I am quite fond of it, actually -- but could be an additional option.
This is, to me, a perfect way to introduce a unified messaging client across all Google services. For an example of what what could be achieved, I recommend checking out this video which shows Paranoid Android's Halo feature.
Supposedly operating under the code names of Babble and Babel, Google could condense Google Talk, Google Voice, SMS, Gmail, and the Google+ Messenger into one service that's easily accessible on Android.
Call it a hunch, but I imagine that Google will keep the Google Talk name and fold in other services under its umbrella. As a longtime Google Voice user, I am cautiously optimistic that I could one day have seamless picture messaging capabilities across my messenger (Google Voice doesn't currently support MMS.). Either way, I am not the only one who would love a centralized messaging client with Android, Chrome, and other platforms.
Assuming that the new messaging service shows up at Google I/O or at some future point, I would expect Google to integrate the app or client into the new release of Android. This sounds, to me, like the sort of incremental stuff you put in a minor platform release. That is not to say, however, that Google doesn't ultimately release a standalone app for Android.
Introduced at last year's Google I/O, Google Now has arguably become the chief reason for wanting Jelly Bean on an Android device. Among other things, the all-knowing service ties into calendar, e-mail, and user-defined preferences. While it's quite compelling in its form today, I wager that there is far more waiting for us.
According to Hugo Barra, director of Android product management, there are "hundreds" of potential cards in the pipeline.
Ideally, Google has been working with brands and partners on Google Now cards that touch on all facets of life. I'm just spitballing, but I would not be opposed to a card that reminds me that my favorite show is coming on TV in a half hour. Why not a card that prompts me to water my garden because it knows that we have not had rain in two weeks and that my tomatoes may be struggling? Or maybe I could opt into a Starbucks card that alerts me to half-off deals on Frappuccinos.
I would love to see Google open up some APIs and give developers the option to include Google Now card settings. Surely I am not alone in thinking developers could detail changelogs and app updates better with instant notifications. As long the end user gets to opt in and out of features, I see no reason why Google Now shouldn't be expanded to include more non-Google properties.
Recent findings suggest that we could soon see an even smarter Google Now experience. The team at Android Police tore apart the latest build of Google Now (the Search app) and found traces of time and location awareness (above).
If they're right, you may be able to tell it, "Remind me to buy groceries on the way home from work on Friday." Other details include the ability to set reminders as well as the option to dismiss them or mark them as complete.
Google Music subscriptions
According to recent reports, Google has been conducting talks with several record labels in an attempt to create a Spotify-like music service that would, of course, extend into Android.
Today, Google Play Music lets users upload their own music to Google's servers with streaming from Android devices and Web browsers. From the sound of it, Google will offer unlimited music access through Google Play and/or YouTube for a monthly fee. Google recently inked a deal with Warner Brothers and is reported to be working with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and other labels.
In a perfect world, the Google Play Music app stays the same and the subscription service only enhances the experience. Keep the price around $10 a month and I'm on board. Hopefully Google doesn't offer this as a separate application; too many properties could lead to confusion.
Google Play News
The Google Play experience may expand in its own right to include newspaper subscriptions, according to details unearthed by Android Police.
There are traces of code mentioning Google Play News within the Play Store, with references to "Subscriptions," "News Editions," and "News Issues." Based on Google's track record, I suspect that users may be able to purchase single editions and/or subscribe to newspapers from around the country. Much like we have with magazines and books, the service will presumably allow users to read on any device.
Google gaming center
Perhaps the freshest rumor of the bunch, Google is reportedly about to dip its toe in the Android gaming waters. Earlier this month, Google hired a chief game designer, and adding fuel to the fire, his title was initially listed as "Chief Game Designer at Android Play Studio."
Google could publish its own games, as we saw with Ingress, a location-based game that hails from Google's Niantic Labs. Going much broader, Google could also create a sturdier gaming hub that could connect friends and other players and provide leaderboards and achievements. Google+ seems to be the most logical way to tie users together; I also see potential for Google Now connections.
Imagine being prompted that your buddy just beat your high score in the racing game and he's throwing down a new challenge. Perhaps a daily notification of how you stack up against friends and players around the world. I would love to see something along these lines, just so long as developers play by the rules and we can opt in to the notifications.
What about you?
Is there something particular that you hope to see come with the next major Android version? I would love to hear your thoughts below.