Google IO 2021 dates, registration, and what to expect from Google's online show

Google IO 2021 is just a few days away. Like Apple's WWDC 2021, it's online-only, with the keynote kicking things off on May 18. Anyone interested in the new product and software reveals can safely stream them from home for free.

Google is playing close to the vest with what it will reveal, but likely appearances include new Android 12 features, the Pixel 5a, Pixel Watch, a new Home Hub, Wear OS updates, the Pixel Buds A and other products flying under the radar.

After Google canceled the 2020 event due to the pandemic, we weren't initially sure if Google IO would return. We're excited to see what Google has in store, and how it will compare to the leaks and rumors leading up to the event.

Sundar Pichai will kick off the main keynote on May 18, which will be free to stream. After that, you can check out several days of virtual developer conferences that normally cost upwards of $1,000 and a plane ticket to California to see. This year, if you want to 'attend', you can register for free on Google's event page.

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We won't know officially until the May 18 keynote what Google intends to show off, but we can already extrapolate based on the rumors and leaks coming from Google's camp. Below, we'll predict Google's hardware and software lineup for Google IO 2021, as well as explain how the virtual event will work.

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Cut to the chase

  • What is it? Google's yearly developer conference
  • When is it? May 18-May 20, 2021
  • Where is it? Online-only
  • How can I register / how much does it cost? On the Google event page for free; all you need is a Google account

Google IO 2021

(Image credit: Google)

What are the Google IO 2021 dates?

Google revealed that its developer conference would take place from Tuesday, May 18 through Thursday, May 20. Google regularly schedules its annual three-day conference for mid-May, making these dates on-brand for the company.

As for the Google IO 2021 keynote start time, it will begin on May 18 at 10a PT / 1p ET / 6p BT / 3a AET (May 19). A Developer Keynote will begin 15 minutes after the main keynote ends.

Why is Google IO online-only?

Google canceled the May 2020 event in early March 2020, right at the advent of the pandemic when everyone had begun to shelter in place and live events felt increasingly unsafe. It seemed that redeveloping IO as a virtual event on short notice wasn't feasible at the time, though events held later in the year like Apple's WWDC 2020 were rapidly converted to online-only presentations. 

Google normally holds the Google IO keynote and subsequent developer sessions in physical gatherings at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, where COVID-19 restrictions on large events (but not masks) will lift in mid-June. 

Even if Google wanted to deal with a fully-masked event or checking attendees' vaccination cards, it wouldn't want to delay the event a month and potentially mess up release schedules for its hardware. Plus, the company has likely been planning it in an online-only format for months.

How Google IO 2021 will work

Most casual Google users associate Google IO with the keynote address, which streams online where anyone can watch it. But in past years you could also buy a pass to attend Google developer sessions, new product demos, codelabs, and other events for professionals or hobbyists. 

This year, all of those events will be virtual and free. More people can attend without travel costs or a $1,000+ pass, but the benefits of in-person events – like making industry connections or testing out new Google hardware – will be difficult to replicate remotely.

Some Google IO 2021 events will be free to all and rewatchable on demand, like the keynote. Others will require you to reserve a slot and may have limited (virtual) capacity.

Google IO stage

(Image credit: Future)

You can view the official Google IO schedule now, where you'll find keynotes, AMAs, workshops, meetups and developer sessions. Many will be too technical for casual viewers, but you can filter the schedule to only view 'Beginner' events.

We can't predict what you'll find interesting, but we're already intrigued by some of the panels ourselves. One such workshop is 'Create your first tile in Wear', using the 'latest Tiles API release'. This suggests that a big update could be coming to Wear OS or its app store, with Google's team ready to walk developers through the transition.

That one's more for professionals than casual tech nerds. But we think Techradar readers would enjoy the series of 'What's New with X' keynotes at Google IO. Topics include updates to Android, Google Play, Google Assistant, Machine Learning (AI), Chrome OS, and smart homes. All of these could expand upon the big reveals of the keynote.

Plus, you can attend AMAs on specific topics and directly ask Google developers about new changes, or go to meetups themed around professional development in tech.

What to expect at Google IO 2021

Based on Google's annual product and software calendar, plus all the leaks and rumors we've heard about, we have a general idea of what Sundar Pichai and the Google execs will discuss during the Google IO 2021 keynote. Here are the highlights:

Android 12 color theme

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Android 12

The latest Android OS is already in a developer beta stage on Pixel phones, but we're 100 percent certain that Google will spend time outlining Android 12's undisclosed tricks on stage. 

With Apple almost certainly introducing iOS 15 at WWDC in June, Google will want to jump ahead of that and show off its newest innovations first. It could even announce the launch of the Android 12 public beta, though that isn't confirmed.

Experts diving into the developer betas' nitty-gritty details have found some intriguing improvements: better privacy notifications if an app is using your mic or camera, more support for alternative app stores, redesigned App Pairs for easier split-screen multitasking, improved home screen widgets, and more. 

As more developer previews appear, more features are emerging, such as an ultra-dim mode. We're hoping that we'll here more about a public Android 12 beta that we can all get involved in at Google IO 2021, and Google might be holding back some of the more flashy features of the OS for the big event.

Google Pixel 4a 5G

(Image credit: Future)

Pixel 5a

After some convincing rumors that the Pixel 5a might be canceled, we learned that Google does plan to release its new budget phone in the US and Japan, but possibly in limited quantities due to the recent chip shortage.

A recent Pixel leak from Jon Prosser suggests that the Pixel 5a will launch on June 11, making a mid-May event the perfect time to reveal it. Google previously announced and launched the Pixel 3a at Google IO 2019, and might have done the same with the Pixel 4a at the 2020 event in different circumstances.

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A leaked Pixel 5a render shows that the phone could look nearly identical to the Pixel 4a 5G, including identical colors, the same cameras and 6.2-inch display, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

A possible Pixel 5a camera sample looked pretty good, but used the same ultra-wide f/2.2 lens and HDR+ with exposure bracketing found on the Pixel 4a 5G.

We can only hope that Pixel 5a hardware will differentiate itself more than these leaks suggest. The Pixel 4a 5G wasn't a bad phone, but it wasn't a game-changer either.

Google Pixel 5

(Image credit: Future)

Less likely: Pixel 6, Pixel Fold, or Pixel CPU upgrades

Google is actively developing the Pixel 6 and a Pixel foldable phone, potentially for a simultaneous October 2021 release. That's far enough out that Google may not want to show off their specs or hardware until it's closer to Fall.

For comparison, the Pixel 5 – which came out in late October – wasn't officially revealed until late September.

That being said, we did see a recent Pixel 6 leak showing a serious (alleged) redesign of the phone, along with a possible Pixel 6 Pro. It's possible these prototypes could show up on stage, but given the timeline and the lack of leaked specs, we're inclined to doubt it.

Instead, Google could avoid discussing its new phones and instead reveal its new GS101 Whitechapel chip, which will reportedly power both the Pixel 6 and rumored Pixel foldable phones. Its arrival would mean the Pixel 6 and Android 12 would be perfectly tuned to work together.

Pixels have traditionally used Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs; however, we recently learned that Google is developing its own system-on-a-chip (SoC) hardware in tandem with Samsung.

What we don't know is how Google SoCs will outperform Snapdragon – or Apple's own Bionic SoC chips. Now that the cat's out of the bag, Google should fully outline how its Whitechapel chips will stack up against the competition – and get people excited to wait for its Fall 2021 phones. 

But if the Pixel 5a just has a Snapdragon processor and the Pixel 6 is a no-show, then Google might save Whitechapel for later in the year.

Fitbit Versa 2

(Image credit: Future)

New Fitbit hardware or Wear OS updates

Ever since Google bought Fitbit despite antitrust concerns, we've been curious how Google will put its personal spin on the best Fitbits of the future. 

If there's a perfect time for Google to explain its Fitbit plans, and potentially unveil a WearOS-powered Fitbit smartwatch, it's during Google IO 2021.

A recent Gboard update for Wear OS mentioned more to come for the smartwatch operating system later this year, so we might well hear about additional upgrades at this developer event – the event schedule certainly suggests that.

Even if there isn't new hardware to show off, Google could and should try to make its Wear OS more exciting for consumers. The upcoming Galaxy Watch 4 is switching to Wear OS, but we argued that the switch doesn't make sense because Wear OS isn't particularly enjoyable to use. 

Google needs to use its upcoming conference to sell us on how Wear OS watches will grow to become more worthy competitors to the Apple Watch Series.

A new Chromecast?

We recently spotted an FCC listing suggesting that Google is working on a new Chromecast with a rechargeable battery – or potentially a new Nest Audio. 

While we're big fans of the Chromecast with Google TV, there's room in the market for an upgraded dongle to replace the now-unavailable Chromecast Ultra. One that can play Google Stadia games, has a built-in ethernet port without an adapter and can open and stream apps more quickly.

We're not positive this device will show up at Google IO 2021, because Google said the device must remain confidential until September 24. That would take it well past the expected conference date. However, this could just be extra padding, with the actual reveal due out in June.

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