History of Google I/O: Where Successes and Failures Debuted

May 4, 2017 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Google I/O kicked off for the very first time on May 28th, 2008, and for those wondering what the “I/O” stands for, it actually is pretty simple, it stands for “input/output.” It started out as a two-day developer conference, and has changed quite a bit since. Moving to a three-day event in 2012, then back to a two-day conference in 2014 and 2015, before returning to a three-day event. It all started at the Moscone West conference center in San Francisco, where most developer conferences take place (including Apple’s WWDC and Microsoft’s BUILD conference). It has since moved over to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, to accommodate the steadily growing crowd that attends each year. Tickets for Google I/O always sell out in record time, with many years, tickets selling out in mere seconds. In recent years, Google has changed the way tickets are sold. Allowing those developers that are interested in attending, a way to register their interest, and then they select people at random to attend the event. It’s worked out a bit better but, it’s still not perfect.

The majority of Google’s major announcements have taken place at Google I/O, including the announcement of Android at the very first edition of Google I/O in 2008. In the years since, there have been plenty of new products announced, some of which are no longer around, or have morphed into something bigger and better – like Google TV and Google+ Photos. Google I/O has always been, and likely always will be a developer’s conference, so while there are plenty of great new products announced at Google I/O, they are mostly geared towards developers. This is important because developers are what make services succeed, like Android. So sit back, and let’s take a trip down memory lane and see what some of the bigger announcements were from past Google I/O’s before we begin to speculate what we might see in 2017.

Google I/O 2008

Google I/O took place on May 28th and 29th in 2008, at the Moscone West convention center in the heart of San Francisco. It was the first developers conference for Google, who at the time was still mostly a search engine. Now obviously the biggest announcement in this developers conference was definitely Android. Google announced Android at Google I/O 2008, and it remains their biggest venture ever. Google also debuted the Google Apps Engine, OpenSocial and Google Gears. Google Gears was short-lived, but it was an API that was shut down in 2011 and replaced by HTML5 standards.

As for the Google Apps Engine, it was a platform for startups and/or businesses to build scalable web and mobile apps in the cloud. Remember, in 2008, neither Android nor iOS was a big deal (in fact the first iPhone launched in 2007, and used web apps only), so the Google Apps Engine wasn’t a huge announcement like it would be in 2017. OpenSocial was an API that was made to build social or mobile apps. OpenSocial was shut down in 2015 when it merged with W3C. So theoretically, the only announcement from Google I/O 2008 that is still working today, is Android.

Google I/O 2009

May 27th and 28th were the dates for the second annual Google I/O conference, and there weren’t many major announcements here. Of course, Google did make some announcements regarding Android and OpenSocial, but the big new service was Google Wave. Which was a pretty short-lived service as well. After being announced in May 2009, it stopped development in August of 2010 and it was officially shut down in 2012.

When it came to Android, Donut was announced. Which was Android 1.6. This was also the year that Google showcased Gmail running on an Android phone. Pretty impressive to think that Android was available for an entire year without Gmail being available. In 2009, Google gave out the myTouch 3G to all that attended. That was an HTC-made smartphone that was branded by T-Mobile in the US.

Google I/O 2010

Their third developers conference brought about a few more announcements that are actually still active products today. Taking place a bit earlier in 2010, Google I/O was held on May 19th and 20th, again at Moscone West in San Francisco. Announced at that year’s edition was Google TV, the Chrome Web Store and Android 2.2 Froyo. Google TV was discontinued in 2014, but it did have some big aspirations, especially from the team working on it at Google. They eventually relaunched it as Android TV in 2014. The Chrome Web Store is still here today, and it’s how you find all of the apps and extensions available for the Chrome web browser. Of course, at that time it was only extensions, as Chrome apps didn’t come until a bit later on.

Android 2.2 Froyo was announced in 2010, and it was a pretty big update. Between Google I/O in 2009 and 2010, Google had jumped from Android 1.6 Donut to Android 2.0/2.1 Eclair to Android 2.2 Froyo. Which was expected, since it was a brand new operating system, it did need frequent updates to bring in new features, fix bugs and such. At Google I/O 2010, there were actually two days of keynotes, and Android wasn’t even mentioned until day 2. But there were some big changes coming to Froyo. And a lot of them had to do with Google TV as well. Some of the big (although in hindsight, they don’t seem that big) changes here included the ability to update all your apps with the touch of a button in the Android Market. As well as being able to move apps and games over to the SD card.

It was at Google I/O 2010 that the company unveiled the HTC EVO 4G. The first “4G” device for Sprint. We say 4G in quotes because it was actually a WiMAX device and not an LTE device, so it was technically not 4G. It was also the first smartphone to launch with a 4.3-inch display, which at the time was pretty large. And finally, it was first to run on Android 2.2 Froyo, which is a big deal, as it it always is, to launch with the newest version of Android first. All attendees did get to go home with one.

Google I/O 2011

In 2011, Google had a lot of big announcements at their annual developers conference, but they still kept it to just two days – May 10th and 11th. When it came to Android, Google unveiled Ice Cream Sandwich. Well, sort of. They actually were touting Honeycomb, which was Android 3.0 and Android 3.1 and made specifically for tablets (it was never made for smartphones). Google’s Hugo Barra (before he left for Xiaomi and now Oculus) name-dropped Ice Cream Sandwich a few times, but Ice Cream Sandwich wouldn’t be officially unveiled until later that year when the Galaxy Nexus debuted. Google launched Android 3.1 for the Motorola Xoom tablets at Google I/O 2011, and also showed it off on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition during the keynote.

There were a few other Android-related announcements at Google I/O 2011, including [email protected] and the Android Upgrade Alliance. Both are services that are still a problem for Google and Android. Let’s start with the Android Upgrade Alliance. Google’s intent here was to get updates pushed out to Android smartphones sooner. That’s an issue that has plagued Android since the beginning. But after the announcement at Google I/O 2011, no one heard anything else about the Android Upgrade Alliance, it essentially disappeared. Then there was [email protected] This was Google’s attempt at the smart home. Perhaps a bit too early. It was announced, demoed at Google I/O 2011, but after that, it basically vanished into thin air.

Now there were a couple of big announcements from Google I/O in 2011 that were not Android-related. One of those was Google Music. They launched the beta version of Google Music at Google I/O 2011. At the time, it was essentially a locker where users could store up to 20,000 songs in the cloud and then stream them on their smartphones, tablets or the desktop. It has since been rebranded to Google Play Music, and is actually also a subscription based service. Where users can store their library, but also opt to stream music that they don’t own. Giving them the best of both worlds. Finally, the Chromebook was born at Google I/O 2011. It was the beginning of Netbooks dying and reincarnating as Chromebooks, running the Chrome web browser. At this year’s Google I/O, Google gave out the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, a Verizon MiFi Hotspot and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition – so that developers could get started with Chrome OS, and with Honeycomb.

Google I/O 2012

In 2012, Google expanded their developers conference to three days full of excitement. At Google I/O 2012, the company announced quite a few things, including Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and some Android hardware in the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q. Leading up to the conference, there had been plenty of rumblings about a 7-inch tablet from ASUS and NVIDIA, which was first rumored back at CES in January. It was officially announced as the Nexus 7, and it cost $199, which was an impressive price point for Google. The other piece of hardware, the Nexus Q, was cancelled before it even hit store shelves. The only people with the Nexus Q, are those that attended Google I/O in 2012, sadly. With Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google debuted Google Now, which has now morphed into Google Now on Tap and then Google Assistant.

Project Glass was really the big announcement at this year’s Google I/O. And perhaps even bigger than the announcement was the demo and entrance by Google and Alphabet co-founder, Sergey Brin. They used skydivers, and BMX bikers to bring glass from a plane onto the ground at Moscone, really showing what the camera on Glass can do, as well as showing off what Google Hangouts and Hangouts on Air is capable of – also announced at Google I/O 2012. Brin announced that they were putting together a waiting list for Project Glass (later changed to simply ‘Google Glass’), which came out about a year later with the Explorer Edition for $1500. Unfortunately, that was about the last we heard about Google Glass. There hasn’t been any new hardware, although there has been plenty of rumors about new hardware since then.

Finally and perhaps the smallest announcements at this year’s conference, was Chrome and Google Drive for iOS. This was the start of Google really bringing their services to the iPhone. Google decided that no matter which platform you used, they wanted you to use their services, and making it more widely available was a big part of that. Google also announced Google+ in 2012, their social media platform, which has struggled ever since it debuted, but as of right now, it is still active and Google is still developing it. As far as giveaways in 2012, Google gave out the Nexus 7, Nexus Q and a Chromebox.

Google I/O 2013

In 2013, Google didn’t announce a new version of Android at their conference. Android 4.3 was announced two months later with the refreshed Nexus 7 tablet and Chromecast, which was a huge surprise to everyone actually. At Google I/O 2013, the company mostly focused on other platforms, and launched the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition. Which was essentially a Galaxy S4, but running stock Android, and updated by Google. It was the beginning of the Google Play Edition experiment, which didn’t last terribly long. But Google did, at one point, have a Google Play Edition smartphone from a few major manufacturers. These included Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Sony. It was in 2013 that Android hit the 900 million mark, which now seems a bit small.

Google did redesign Google+ in 2013, and the redesign emphasized the photo sharing capabilities of Google+. Since so many photographers were using the social media network for sharing photos, Google decided to take advantage of that. Google Maps also got a huge redesign, for both the web and Android, making it more immersive than it was before.

Now when it comes to Google Play, there were tons of announcements this year. Google Play Games was announced, and so was Google Play Music Unlimited. Although, at the time, it was simply known as “Google Play Music All Access”, and it allowed you to stream and download just about any song in Google’s massive catalog. This was the start of them really competing with the likes of Spotify and Pandora. It has since morphed to include YouTube Red, for $9.99/month and Google does offer a family plan for $14.99/month. Google Play for Education was also announced, and it was a way for teachers to keep track of what apps students were able to download and use. Google gave all attendees a Chromebook Pixel to take home in 2013.

Google I/O 2014

While 2013 was a bit of an Android-free year for Google I/O, the company made up for it in 2014. Announcing a slew of Android products. They announced Android L and this was the first version of Android that they did an early developer preview for, which later launched in the fall with the Nexus 6. Google also unveiled Android Auto, Android TV, Android One and gave more details on Android Wear, which was announced a few months earlier.

Android One was rumored quite a bit leading up to the conference, although it turned out to be not quite what everyone was hoping. Android One was a way for Google to reach emerging markets. By working with manufacturers to release cheaper smartphones, but with Google handling the software – of course it was running on stock Android. The program hasn’t done as well as Google had hoped, so far, but they haven’t given up just yet. Android Wear was, as you’d expect, for wearables. They launched the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and the Moto 360 with this platform. Again, like Android One, Android Wear has struggled, but it did just get a huge Android Wear 2.0 update a few months ago, so that should help bring in more users.

Android TV was the replacement for Google TV. It runs on Android, and there still aren’t many choices for Android TV at this time, unfortunately. It included Chromecast functionality, but also had plenty of apps and games available. Android Auto was Google’s attempt at getting into your car. It might be the most successful of these three programs. It was made out to be a way for you to plug in your smartphone when you get in the car, and use Google Maps for navigation, stream music, and make phone calls and such. Right now, it is available in hundreds of different car models around the world.

Material Design launched at Google I/O 2014. This was the baby of Matias Duarte, and something he had been working on for nearly 3 years at Google. It brought about a much cleaner look to Android, a look that has now started to make its way across all of Google’s products, even on the web. Google had begun adding design standards that apps and games needed to adhere to, in 2014. To make the entire platform a bit nicer looking. Before Ice Cream Sandwich, Android wasn’t that great looking, it was functional, but that was it, basically. Google Fit was also announced, another product that Google announced, but has done very little for since. Given away in 2014 was the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and Google Cardboard. Now Google Cardboard was a complete surprise. It was basically a piece of cardboard that folded out to be a virtual reality viewer. It was a very bare-bones VR headset, which was the predecessor to Daydream, that Google launched in 2016.

Google I/O 2015

In 2015, Google continued the trend of doing a developer preview of the next version of Android, releasing Android M at Google I/O. It was later confirmed to be Android 6.0 Marshmallow in the fall, when it launched with the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. Android M wasn’t a huge upgrade over Android L, but mostly refining the huge new redesign that came with Lollipop. Google revamped Google Wallet and rebranded it as Android Pay in 2015. Allowing users with a device running Android 4.4 KitKat and later to use their smartphone to pay for things at various retailers. Like Google Wallet, it still hasn’t taken over as much as Google hoped it would.

One of the bigger announcements at Google I/O 2015 was definitely the Google Photos app. It took Google+ out of their Photos service and relaunched the app as Google Photos. They brought in all of the goodies like turning your burst shots into GIFs, doing different animations and much more. But Google made it easier to find things like pictures of a person, or pictures in a certain location. It’s also easier to go back a few years and find pictures you took. With Google Photos, you can upload all of your photos in “high resolution” for free, there’s unlimited space. But if you want the original resolution, it’ll use your Google Drive storage.

Project Brillo and Project Tango were also announced in 2015. Well, Project Tango was announced slightly before Google I/O, but it was shown off a bit more at the conference. Project Tango is their AR platform, which has now morphed into a smartphone and dropped the “Project” from its name. It’s not as big of a platform as Google likely would like, but it is getting there. Right now, Lowe’s is really excited about what this augmented reality platform can do for them and their customers. Project Brillo was a platform made for the Internet of Things. This we haven’t heard much about either, but as a platform behind other products, you shouldn’t expect to hear much about it anyways.

Google gave out the Nexus 9 – hoping to get developers making tablet-specific apps again – and the newest version of Google Cardboard. Speaking of Cardboard, Google announced Jump VR, which was a 360-degree camera rig that Google had made with GoPro. It was a pretty large rig, but it offered up some incredible 360-degree video. It consisted of 16 GoPro cameras, and only recently launched in 2017.

Google I/O 2016

2016 appeared to be the year of the “beta,” it was also their first year leaving San Francisco and holding Google I/O at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View (Google’s home). Google announced a slew of products and services that were coming later that year, and one in particular didn’t launch until 2017. Yes, we’re talking about Android Wear 2.0. Google had planned a huge upgrade to the Android Wear platform, drastically redesigning it and making it easier to use. They had hoped to launch it in the fall, but it was pushed back until the first quarter of 2017. Android Wear 2.0 brought in Android Pay and Google Assistant, along with some other features. Speaking of Google Assistant, that was also announced in 2016, and later made available in the fall. Google Assistant is basically the evolution of Google Now. Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, Google made an assistant that is pretty impressive, and even baked it into the Google Home to compete with Amazon’s Alexa.

Google Home was made fun of for looking like an air freshener, but when it also launched later in 2016, it became popular for how good of a speaker it was, and how good the Google Assistant was at launch. Since Google Assistant is software, it has been getting better over time, adding new features and integrations. Currently, you can ask Google Assistant many questions, but you can also ask it to change the temperature on your Nest thermostat and much more.

Google debuted two new apps in 2016, Google Allo and Duo. Allo is their newest messaging app, after announcing Hangouts as their newest messaging app back in 2012. Allo does have Google Assistant baked in, allowing you to talk with the Google Assistant to get answers to questions, and even book a table at a restaurant. Duo is their video calling app, because Google believes people want more apps and not less. Both launched in the fall, and many still haven’t switched from Hangouts or even Skype to using them. Daydream was another new “app” announced in 2016. It is the successor to Google Cardboard. It’s a new virtual reality platform that is a bit more premium, and it isn’t compatible with most Android devices, as Google is a bit more restrictive with what devices work with Daydream. They didn’t announce any hardware for Daydream until the fall, when Daydream View was made official.

Of course, we can’t forget about Android N. This developer preview actually launched in the spring, a few months ahead of Google I/O, but they did still have a few features to show off at Google I/O. Android N included over 250 new features, like Multi-window, improved Doze (which launched in Android M the year before) and much more. The name was being crowdsourced, and eventually became Android Nougat, which launched in August ahead of Google’s hardware release. The LG V20 was actually the first device to launch with Android Nougat, even ahead of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. Finally, Google announced Instant Apps in 2016, which still hasn’t fully launched. The idea with Instant Apps was for users to be able to run apps in the browser. So that users could use an app like Flixster to get movie tickets without needing to download the app to their phone. Especially important for those that have very little space left on their smartphone(s).

On the Chrome side of things, Google had a big event on the second day of the conference where they talked all about Chrome OS. Specifically they talked about bringing Android apps to Chrome OS. The Google Play Store is now part of Chrome OS, but only on a few Chromebooks right now. It’s expected to hit the rest of the supported list by the end of 2017, though. With Android apps on Chrome OS, Chromebooks got a whole lot more useful. Seeing as Adobe has a slew of apps for Android, which can now be used in Chrome, as well as other great note-taking apps and much more. Android apps on Chrome is still pretty beta, but it’s getting better with each update to Chrome OS. Given away in 2016 was Google Cardboard, once again.

Google I/O 2017

Now it’s time for some speculation, which is always fun. Google I/O 2017 is taking place at the Shoreline Amphitheater again this year, and it’ll take place May 17th through the 19th. Google’s keynote starts at 10AM PDT on May 17th and is expected to last about an hour and a half. Now what could Google be announcing in this keynote? Likely, plenty. Google will more than likely go over Android O, even though the developer preview came out earlier this year. They are going to go over a few more features that are going to be part of Android O, and likely release another preview (this would be the second one). Of course, they’ll also update Google Assistant, Allo, Duo and many other things announced at Google I/O 2016, but as far as new products go, it’s tough to say. Especially since there hasn’t been a lot of leaks regarding Google I/O 2017 just yet.

Something that everyone is hoping Google will talk about at Google I/O (and likely will, even if not at the 2017 edition of Google I/O) is Andromeda. This first popped up last year in the run up to Google’s big hardware announcement in October. Basically Andromeda is going to be a hybrid operating system, bringing Chrome OS and Android together. Now Google has already begun doing this a bit with bringing Android apps to Chrome OS, but that’s not even complete yet, nearly a year later. This may or may not get announced this year, but Google will definitely announce it well ahead of release, so that developers can get started with making apps and such for the platform. One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of news coming out of Google I/O 2017. It’s said to be Android users’ Christmas, since Google does announce plenty of new features, products and services at these developers conferences, and 2017 will be no different.