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Google I/O 2016: What to expect

With the schedule under the microscope and our ears to the ground for rumors, here's everything we think we'll see at Google's developer conference.

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Google Cardboard version 2.0. Will we see 3.0 at I/O this year?

Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Google I/O is meant to educate developers about using Google's platforms, but the reason we all tune in is to see product updates and big, brand-new things from the Internet giant.

This year, Google is taking things back to the mothership. Instead of holding I/O 2016 at a convention center in San Francisco, it's hosting the event at the Shoreline Amphitheater outdoor concert venue in its Mountain View backyard (no, really).

I don't know for sure what Google will have to flaunt at I/O, but it's not too hard to guess, based on a close look at the official agenda and parsing rumors. Here's what I expect to see at Google I/O 2016 this week -- and be sure to tune into CNET's Google I/O live blog on Wednesday.

Virtual reality pushes forward

2016 is already the year of VR, and I/O is staking its claim with a session on the conference schedule called VR at Google. That's not a surprise, given that Google's been playing with virtual and augmented reality at I/O for years. The company has shown off Cardboard, its low-cost portable VR viewer initiative, for the last two years, and this year we're certain to see new developments.

Now Playing: Watch this: What to expect at Google I/O 2016: Android VR
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Indeed, the VR rumors abound. Tech guru Pete Rojas -- the founder of Gizmodo and Engadget -- tweeted on Wednesday that "Android VR will definitely be announced next week" and that it "will be a standalone headset." And just a day later, we got some possible corroboration: Android Police reported that the I/O developers' tool lists "Google VR" as a placeholder section.

For more VR insights, check out my colleague Scott Stein's wish list for what he hopes to see from VR at I/O.

Expect more from Project Tango

Google's Project Tango will be at I/O, as evidenced by a number of sessions on the agenda. That makes sense, because the motion-tracking and mapping tech ties directly in to Google's VR and augmented reality efforts (see above). As any owner of the HTC Vive will tell you, you need to "map the room" so you can avoid real-world obstacles while you have the goggles on.

We saw some enticing Tango action at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, and we know a phone Lenovo is developing will go on sale soon, too. (Lenovo is having its own developer confab in the Bay Area just a few weeks later.)

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Project Tango can show you things that aren't really there, like arrows to an exit or floating boxes.

Lynn La/CNET

Giving Android some love

Updates to Android are par for the course at I/O; two years ago, Google debuted Android L at I/O ahead of the official 5.0 Lollipop release in the fall. They did it again with Android M before 6.0 Marshmallow last year, too. This year is a bit different because Google decided to get a jump on Android N (official name forthcoming) by unveiling the developer preview back in March.

At I/O this year, Google has scheduled a "What's new in Android session," guaranteeing that we'll see at least some updates, if not the next developer preview of N.

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We'll find out what's next with Android at I/O.

Oscar Gutiérrez/CNET

How about Google's other big operating system, the browser-based Chrome OS? There was that big rumor back in October that Chrome and Android were on a merger path for 2017. We don't spot any Chrome-specific developer sessions on the schedule, so whether or not we hear any new Chrome OS news is anyone's guess.

'OK Google' at home

Google may be working on a home speaker you can talk to much like the Amazon Echo. Details are scarce, but reports say its internal name is "Chirp" and it will respond to "OK Google" commands to ask about the weather, search the Web and control your music. Rumors say it likely won't debut at Google I/O, but we could still see it anyway.

Stay tuned

This is the first I/O since Google restructured itself into Alphabet, segmenting other parts of the empire into separate companies. Whether any of those sister projects or companies make an appearance at the I/O keynote is also a mystery. We could see the next Nest-sponsored smart home device or a self-driving car demo from Google X. Or (more likely) they could stay close to home base, and only emphasize truly Google products and services like the ones outlined above -- plus perhaps YouTube, Maps and good ol' Google search.

But no matter what happens, we'll be there. Google I/O starts on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, with the big keynote kicking off at 10 a.m. PT (that's 1 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. UK and 3 a.m. Thursday AEST). Tune into CNET for all of the coverage -- we'll have editors on the ground, a live show back at HQ and people broadcasting on social media from the event.