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Google I/O 2013 preview: What to expect

Is Google turning into Apple? Word on the street is that this year's Google I/O is likely to be shorter on big new product announcements than we're used to, and longer on tweaks to existing product lines.

Tickets for this year's Google I/O sold out just as fast as they did for the 2012 conference, when Google thrilled developers, press, and technology fans with a new 7in tablet and an amazing demo of what was then known as Project Glass.

But it's going to be hard for Google to top the 2012 show. For starters, there are only so many times you can land skydiving couriers on the roof of the Moscone Centre just to bring Sergey Brin a pair of glasses before it starts to feel a little bit “been there, done that.”

Instead of the next Chromebook, Nexus 7, or Google Glass – to name splashy products and projects unveiled at the past two Google I/O conferences – we may instead be getting incremental upgrades to the Nexus 7 tablet and Google Wallet.

It's possible that we'll see the Nexus 5 at Google I/O this week – but it seems just as likely that something considerably less sexy is in store, like some minor improvements to the Nexus 4. There's been some buzz about a Motorola "X Phone," but the latest talk has that product coming out in the third quarter.

In other words, lots of folks may be arriving in San Francisco with the expectation that rocking-socking Google is going to turn up with new gadgets and platforms ranging from the ground-breaking to the goofy – and instead they'll be getting a latter-day Apple WWDC type of show, where minor tweaks to existing products rule the day and everybody leaves feeling slightly disappointed.

Curiously, this wouldn't necessarily be a terrible thing for Google. Last year's Google I/O delivered the Nexus 7 but it also served up the Nexus Q. The search giant loves to swing for the fences, but that approach results in a fair amount of strikeouts to go with the occasional home run.

Google isn't a startup anymore. It likes to cultivate a startup environment in its Mountain View campus and push out as many new and fun ideas as it can, hoping that some will be hits. But it may be that the really crucial task facing the company these days is simply the boring old maintenance of its sprawling technology empire.

Android needs some serious stewardship right now, for example. Can we agree that the platform is approaching some kind of maturity and doesn't necessarily need Google to kickstart its next phase, whatever that may be, with more Google-branded hardware?

Chrome, the operating system, is obviously at more of a crossroads. Then again, so is the PC industry at large. It wouldn't be surprising to see some major Chrome announcements at I/O – it's more difficult to imagine them generating a ton of buzz.

Google TV? It still seems like a sideshow for Google but we'd love to see some real developments here. And let's face it, the company has its fingers in enough technology pies that it probably has the ability to surprise us with something really cool all over again. Even if, like Glass, it's a technology that's in the very early stages.

Could we see some headline-grabbing announcement at Google I/O? Sure. But if it turns out that the company is dialling things back this year, don't be surprised. ITProPortal will be on hand covering Google I/O over the rest of the week, so keep checking back for the latest news and views.