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Google I/O: Android N and Cardboard to take center stage

With Google's 2016 developers conference just around the corner, those heading to Mountain View can't wait to see what the US tech giant has lined up for them. We look at some of the expected highlights.

The Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View is the physical venue for this year's Google I/O, the tech giant's annual developers conference, but odds are that much of it will take place in the virtual world.

There was no way the company could ignore the hype around the Virtual Reality (VR) hardware and apps that have captured the imagination of the technology world, in no small thanks to Google itself.

Just a few days before the conference, the big G started shipping its Cardboard VR viewer outside the US, including to Germany, emphasizing it was compatible with most phones under six-inches in size.

Developers will be paying attention to what Google has to say about the future of its Cardboard project, which has enabled people to dive into the virtual experience at little cost. The tech giant has sought to use its Cardboard viewer (yes, it's literally made of cardboard) to popularize its virtual reality technology among Android users.

Standalone headset?

But according to people close to Mountain View, the big news from the conference is expected to be the announcement of a standalone Android VR headset. Former tech journalist Peter Rojas has no doubt that such a device will be coming consumers' way soon.

Techcrunch writer Lucas Matney noted, though, that this is a tall order. "With its standalone product," Matney writes, "Google will have to build something that moves past the power of high-end smartphones and delivers superior optics, but is priced aggressively."

People testing Google's Cardboard

Google Cardboard: high-tech looking extremely simple

The developer conference will also have some news in store for those keen on seeing the advance of the Android mobile operating system. The new Android N technology, it's rumored, will offer a number of new features that CEO Sundar Pichai will likely touch on in his keynote speech.

Experts say it's a given that Android N will boast a multi-window mode, enabling users to drag and drop content across split screens. It's also expected that it will allow smartphones to boot much faster, due to a new method of compiling and storing apps in the device's memory.

Let's tango

And then there's Project Tango, which, using spatial vision sensors, seeks to bestow mobile devices with a human-like perception of the world around them. There's been little information as of late on the project's progress, but Google isn't likely to remain so tight-lipped during the conference.

After adding a bit of AI capability to the new devices, Sundar Pichai's vision becomes clearer. "Looking to the future, the next big step will be for the very concept of the 'device' to fade away," the chief executive said. "Over time, the computer itself, whatever its form factor, will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day as we move from mobile-first to an artificial intelligence-first world."

Looking at the conference agenda, it takes a while to spot the only session devoted to Android Auto and the company's push for self-driving technology. If this is anything to go by, autonomous cars won't feature prominently at the event. We may learn though about Google's uphill struggle to strike partnerships with carmakers

other than Fiat Chrysler,

as well as its financial position in the project.

Watch video 01:22

EU and Google clash over Android

Google's online ad business has remained the most, if not the only truly

profitable segment

in the Alphabet family. Alphabet's revenue soared by 17 percent in the first quarter to over $20 billion (17.7 billion euros).

So far so good. But only $166 million came from the non-Google segments combined. Finance chief Ruth Porath will have to think harder about cost-cutting measures. Whether that could mean the company will have to part with some of its pet projects is yet unclear.

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