Google I/O 2013: What’s On Tap For Nexus Smartphone And Tablet Hardware

Google’s big annual developer conference kicks off on Wednesday, and while Android lead Sundar Pichai has downplayed big new announcements at Google I/O this year, we’ve also seen reports that suggest the Nexus line of Google-branded hardware won’t go completely untouched.

Nexus Phones

The rumors suggest that we won’t see a brand new Nexus phone at Google I/O this year, but what we could see instead is a mid-cycle upgrade for the Nexus 4. In fact, the existing version seems tailor-made for a couple quick internal hardware upgrades to inject some fresh life into sales and activate some new buzz around the product, which by most accounts has been selling fairly well, especially when compared to previous Nexus flagship phones.

What we’ve heard indicates that the Google Nexus 4 will appear at I/O boasting a 32GB internal memory upgrade, along with built-in LTE support. There’s an LTE-capable wireless radio built into the current Nexus 4, but it lacks a proper signal amplifier and as such remains officially disabled. Nearer the Nexus 4’s launch, you could activate it with a backdoor hack, but Google quickly shut that down.

Both these spec bumps would be easy enough to accomplish, and are both considered the most noteworthy obvious flaws on an otherwise very impressive device. And a new spy shot making the rounds today backs up earlier claims we might see a white version of the Nexus 4, which so far only ships in black, which could be another factor in convincing new buyers to take the plunge.

It’s not clear how exactly Motorola’s devices will fit into the Nexus line, but it’s also worth mentioning that a new device labeled the “Motorola XT1058” has just been spotted making its way through the FCC, which suggests it might arrive very soon. What precious little info the filing contains suggests that this could be the fabled XFON we’ve been hearing Motorola is working on for Google, and it could theoretically make an I/O appearance, but this could also be yet another smartphone already on Motorola’s roadmap pre-acquisition, and there’s no guarantee we’ll see it at the show either way.

Nexus Tablets

There’s less buzz around new Nexus tablet hardware making an appearance at I/O, but there are some indications we could see some upgrades there, too. KGI Securities analyst Mingchi Kuo says there’s a brand new Nexus 7 coming, with a high-res, 1920×1200 display, an improved processor and a decent rear camera.

Reuters also reported earlier that a next-gen Nexus 7 would arrive, powered by a Qualcomm chip just like Kuo reports, but they’ve pegged that tablet for a release in July, which suggests we might not see it at I/O after all, except maybe in a preview capacity. Google demoed the original Nexus 7 at I/O in 2012, however, before bringing the device to market in mid-July 2012, so we could see a similar pattern repeat itself here.

I’d hesitate to suggest we’ll hear about much more beyond the Nexus 7 in the tablet category. Sales of the Nexus 10 have reportedly been quite low so far, and that device was only introduced in partnership with Samsung late last year. Google will likely want to give it a bit more time to try to pick up sales, or might focus its Nexus tablet efforts on the apparently more popular 7-inch market instead.

Earlier rumors suggested we might see a Nexus 11 make its initial appearance at I/O, too, but while it reportedly sits on Samsung’s roadmap for the year, there’s been nothing so far to indicate we’ll see it at I/O.

Nexus Q (LOL)

We won’t see Google’s bizarre boondoggle make an appearance at this year’s conference, and we didn’t really need AllThingsD’s reported confirmation of that fact to predict its absence, but it’s nice to have it.

The Nexus Q was Google’s attempt at answering the Apple TV and AirPlay if you recall, but it was an overpriced, precious gadget that essentially screamed “niche,” and a small one at that. Kuo said in the same report that detailed updated Nexus hardware that we’d see Google come back up to the plate with a stronger Apple TV-type device later this year, but it doesn’t look like we’ll see that at I/O.

Pichai said in his Wired interview this morning that Google doesn’t have “much in the way of launches of new products” at the moment, but that leaves wiggle room. It sounds like he’s trying to manage expectations, and a couple of upgrades to existing product lines would be right in line with something Google hopes will impress, but not on the scale of something like a new smart watch or the original Google Glass reveal.