This week, Google demonstrated how it has raised its hardware game by showing off the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, the improved Chromecast Ultra, a high performance Google WiFi router and the Daydream View virtual reality headset. Rather than delve into the reception, specification, pricing and availability of these devices, which has polarised opinion especially in the case of the Pixel smartphone family, let's take a look at what Google didn't showcase. You see, in the weeks if not months before the announcement, there were a number of rumors doing the rounds about products - hardware and software - that we would be seeing at the San Francisco Google event.
So what didn't we see at the event? In short, anything with a display larger than 5.5-inch. Google didn't announce a new tablet or Chromebook. We'd seen rumours around the industry that Huawei had been contracted into building a new Nexus 7. We had even seen leaked specifications. The original Google Nexus 7 was released in 2012 and whilst not a perfect device, offered a comfortable to handle, reasonably powerful, fluid experience. A year later, Google released a revised, more powerful and slimmer Nexus 7, which has only relatively recently stopped receiving software updates from Google after the update to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. A 2016 Nexus 7 could be a powerful, compact tablet that might pick up exactly where the 2013 model left off: and there are plenty of both the original and second version Nexus 7s still in daily use out there, so Google could have a ripe market to explore. We even had talk that the new Nexus 7 would run a new operating system called "Andromeda," which was to be a blend of the Android and Chrome OS platforms and was being tested on the HTC-built Google Nexus 9.
From many perspectives, neither the 2016 Nexus 7 or the Andromeda rumors made sense. Elsewhere, Google were moving away from the Nexus branding to the Pixel branding - last year we saw the Pixel C tablet and of course the rumors of the Pixel smartphone, now confirmed. We also saw that Huawei reportedly declined the opportunity to build another Google smartphone for 2016 but no mention that they were willing to build a small tablet with a 7.0-inch screen. Yes; the first two Nexus devices popularized the concept of the small (Android) tablet, sold strongly and almost certainly helped Apple change their mind about selling an iPad Mini product, but this rumor had too many holes in it: it makes no sense for Google to switch from Nexus to Pixel branding apart from a surprise Nexus-branded tablet.
Google has repeatedly said that Android and Chrome OS would remain separate platforms but would be integrated more closely. Chrome OS' support for Android apps downloaded via the Google Play Store essentially involves running both platforms on top of the one Linux base. This will become a universal feature for compatible Chromebooks, but it is still under testing. The reports of Andromeda remain interesting but it's been made apparent that Google is working on another operating system platform called Fuchsia. In the space of a few months, Google would be moving from two consumer operating systems (Android, Chrome OS) to four (including Andromeda and Fuchsia). Perhaps Andromeda is a Chrome OS-like front end to Android and will be demonstrated at some point in the future?
There was also no new Chromebook seen. This is less surprising: Google released the original Chromebook Pixel in April 2013 and the follow up model around two years later. If it is to release a new Chromebook, we might expect it to arrive next spring. Furthermore, Google are still working on building in the ability for the Chrome OS platform to run Android applications downloaded from the Google Play Store but this is still a beta function available from a pre-release version of the platform. It is more likely that Google will unveil that the feature is ready and will be rolling out to compatible Chromebook models in the spring and at the same time, announce a new Chromebook Pixel model.
The final possible new product missing from Google's announcement is the final release version of Android Wear 2.0, which had been previewed at Google I/O earlier in the year. Android Wear 2.0 builds upon the experience of customers of the first main version of Android Wear and is coming to a number of Android Wear devices. It was originally expected in the fall but Google have now pushed it back to 2017. This is disappointing without a doubt, but given the sweeping changes taking place between Android Wear 1.4 and 2.0, it was always a risk of the new platform. Wrapping things up, Google's 2016 portfolio of new hardware products are exciting and interesting. We'd already seen the switch from Nexus to Pixel start and for 2016, Google appear to have completed this. Android Wear 2.0, the changes to Chrome OS and a new Chromebook Pixel should also follow in 2017.