What developers can expect at Google I/O 2012

Google's annual developer conference sold out in 20 minutes. Here's what all the fuss is about

Since when does a vendor-sponsored developer conference sell out 5,500 seats in just 20 minutes? That's what happened when tickets for Google I/O 2012 went on sale this week. It beat last year's record of an hour, which had also raised eyebrows.

One easy answer is that Google I/O sells out because of the swag. Tickets aren't cheap, but each attendee gets a gift bag with a street value that typically exceeds the price of entry. Last year's goodies included a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and a Chromebook. Previous years' attendees received Android smartphones.

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This has led to lots of grumbling that too few ticket buyers are "real developers" anymore. Others claim the event's rising ticket price and limited supply have made it undemocratic or "too corporate." That hasn't been my experience. In years past, Google I/O has attracted a diverse range of developers. That's largely because the conference features some of the best developer content available from across Google's increasingly diverse developer ecosystem, from the Web to Android and beyond.

The conference itself doesn't take place until late June, but there's lots to look forward to. Here are a few ideas of what we can expect from this year's show.

Android marches forward
Google's mobile OS will of course feature heavily. The question is whether the search giant will roll out a new version at the show. Rumors place a possible launch date for Android 5.0, code-named "Jelly Bean," within that timeframe.

That's worrying to some. Last year's conference was all about Android 3.0 "Honeycomb." Google released the next version, code-named "Ice Cream Sandwich" (ICS), in the interim. And yet, as of today the mobile carriers have rolled out ICS to just 1 percent of Android smartphones. Even the flagship Android tablet from last year's Google I/O goodie bag has yet to receive the update. If Google launches another Android version in June, ICS will have effectively been passed over by the industry.

Still, the show must go on. If smartphone and tablet makers skip ICS for "Jelly Bean," that's one fewer version to add to the so-called Android fragmentation problem.

More than the OS, however, what could really use some attention is Android hardware. The Android smartphone market is poorly diversified. Too many devices have similar specs, and makers have been slow to adopt Google's more cutting-edge ideas, like near-field communication (NFC). I wouldn't be surprised if Google I/O brought us a new Nexus smartphone that raised the bar for Android hardware (and gave Apple something to worry about). Android tablets, too, could use a jump-start. So far, they've competed poorly against the iPad. Google can't afford to let this market fizzle now. A new reference tablet with an improved screen and an emphasis on multimedia doesn't sound like a bad bet.

Enter the Web platform
Technically speaking, the HTML5 spec isn't even finished yet. But already Google, Mozilla, and others have been distancing themselves from using the term "HTML5" for the current Web standards. The term they're using now is "the Web platform." You'll hear it a lot at Google I/O, guaranteed.

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