What to expect for Chrome and Android at Google I/O 2013

Wednesday of this week kicks off Google’s(s goog) annual I/O developer event in San Francisco, where we’ll have a team providing plenty of coverage. While the conference is aimed at developers, it has often been the stage for Google to show off the latest Android releases, new tablets, Chromebooks and even the occasional clunker product: Anyone remember last year’s Nexus Q orb?

Android on PixelAccording to Google’s Sundar Pichai — who is now in charge of Apps, Chrome and Android — this year’s I/O won’t focus on devices, but instead, feature tools for developers. Pichai’s comments come from a Monday morning Wired interview, where he also notes it’s not a problem, or out of the ordinary, to have both the Android and Chrome platforms co-existing. To that end, Pichai says “Very few people will ask you, ‘Hey, how come MacBooks are on Mac OS-X and iPhone and iPad are on iOS? Why is this?’ ” .

I agree with Pichai’s latter statement although I had previously thought we’d see more of a Chrome – Android merger this year. Now I see more shared components but not two platforms becoming one. And I think Pichai is setting up a bit of a smokescreen when it comes to devices. Here’s what I expect we’ll see for both Chrome and Android later this week:

  • An updated Nexus 7 tablet. Google introduced the Nexus 7 at last year’s I/O event to help spotlight its then-new Android 4.1 software. The current slate is still a nice device but it makes sense to see a refresh. Look for a faster chip — likely a switch from Nvidia’s(s nvda) Tegra 3 to a current Qualcomm(s qcom) Snapdragon — more memory, possible LTE integration in a higher priced model and the chance of a full HD display. That could come in the form of a Nexus 7 HD tablet that would likely start at $249 or more.
  • A new minor Android version. I could easily see the introduction of new Android software, but I’m not expecting Android 5.0. Instead, Google is more likely to provide a minor update with new features and developer APIs. Part of the issue is the pace of change: Google has iterated Android faster than handset makers and carriers want it to. They simply can’t (or choose not to) keep up. Android 4.0 arrived in October 2011, for example, and it took until last month before more than half of Android devices were running Android 4.0 or better.
  • Google Play Games for Android. Apple’s iOS has Game Center and it’s a very safe bet Android will get Google Play Games. Enthusiast site Android Police dissected early code and found support for synchronized game progress, multiplayer matchups — through Google+ of course — achievements and more.
  • Nexus 4 charging orbA new Nexus phone? Probably not. Google’s latest smartphone, the Nexus 4, isn’t that old of a device, having launched in October of last year. It does lack official LTE support, so Google could have a new version of the same phone that adds faster mobile broadband service. But a completely new Nexus isn’t likely. It’s possible that a new Motorola-branded phone arrives — the X Fon — at I/O, but I think odds are against it. Instead that device will likely have a carrier launch event since Google’s hardware partners might be slighted by a non-Nexus phone launch on the I/O stage.
  • A new Nexus tablet is a better bet. The Samsung-built Nexus 10 launched with the Nexus 4 phone in October, but there appears to be room for a larger model. A leaked Samsung road-map points to a Nexus 11 with upgraded internals, including Samsung’s latest chip that has two quad-core processors. I could see this device showcasing the latest version of Android; if not at Google I/O, then later this year. Or….
  • What about a Chrome tablet? It’s not likely an 11-inch tablet would run Chrome, but that’s my moonshot prediction. Samsung already makes a Chromebook with its own ARM(s armh) chip inside so it’s not a total stretch to see it make a Chrome tablet. Even if that’s not the case, I still expect to see some new Chromebook form-factors debut at Google I/O: If not a pure tablet, then a tablet with keyboard dock — something like Microsoft’s(s msft) Windows Surface, perhaps? — or a Chromebook with a swiveling screen for tablet-like use. Why else would Google have added an on-screen keyboard and support for screen rotation in its Chrome OS?
  • Pixel gamingA heavy dose of real apps for Chrome. Expect demonstrations of rich applications in Chrome and on Chrome OS, including those that run offline. Google has been building momentum for what it calls Packaged Apps and for Native Client apps of late. I used a Native Client game last week, written in C, on my Chromebook Pixel with an Xbox 360 controller and while offline. Now I see where Google is going with its Chrome OS vision and it’s not “just a browser”. Between the new support for app notifications, more offline app support and these two types of applications, Chrome OS will be shown off as a true desktop replacement later this week.
  • A mid-priced Chromebook could appear. It would be too early to sell, but Google could announced new Chromebooks coming soon that run on either Intel’s(s intc) next-generation Haswell chip or its new Atom processor called Silvermont. Neither of these chips are in devices yet. However, both will be used in laptops and tablets before year-end and I could see Google making a related announcement. Chromebooks with either of these would offer more performance and better battery life. They would also fit the bill for Chromebook priced between the current low-end offerings ($199 to $549) and the Chromebook Pixel ($1299 to $1449).

The main keynote starts at 9am PT on Wednesday and we’ll be live-blogging it. Come back to check and see how many of these predictions were right — and wrong, for that matter. In the meantime, what else are you expecting for Chrome and Android at this year’s big Google event?