Last-minute Google I/O rumor roundup: Maps, Spotify killers, and the Google Galaxy S4

The Google I/O keynote for 2013 is just a few hours away, and this year’s kickoff to the company’s developer conference is shaping up to be one for the record books.

On tap for Google I/O 2013 are expectations for an Android refresh, new Google-licious hardware, a whole lot of gaming, and maybe—just maybe—some talk about Glass. (If we're lucky, Google might even throw a Glass-enabled Fred Armisen from a plane.)

Beyond those previous whispers, the ramp-up to the show has seen the launch of a revamped Google Play Store and a slew of new rumors of what might be on tap, from a potential Spotify killer to a "Google Galaxy S4." Let’s dive in to the latest Google-flavored reports and updates flying around the Web.

Google music streaming

Google is getting ready to take on Spotify this week with a new music streaming subscription service on Google Play, according to both The Wall Street Journal and The Verge. The company has reportedly signed deals with the major U.S. recording labels—Sony, Universal, and Warner—ensuring a deep catalog at launch. It’s not clear if Google will announce its streaming service on Wednesday during the I/O keynote, but it’s certainly a good bet if this turns out to be the real deal.

There have also been reports about a music streaming service coming to YouTube. However, there are currently conflicting reports about whether a YouTube music service would be announced at the same time as the purported Play-based version.

A new streaming service from Google could spell trouble for smaller companies like Spotify and Pandora, which have a tough time turning a profit as most of their revenue goes towards music royalties. Google, on the other hand, can afford to break even with a streaming service as long as it encourages people to use Android devices and Google’s ad-supported online services such as search.

Google Maps

Droid Life
(Click to enlarge.)

Droid Life recently spotted a sign-up page for a new version of Google Maps that briefly went live late Tuesday. Like everything Google does these days, the new version of Maps will reportedly focus on personalization, offering maps tailored to your searches: think en-route restaurant suggestions or even faster ways home.

Based on the screenshots over at Droid Life, it also incorporates a wider array of Maps-related services into one spot including Google Earth, Google Ocean, and flight search.

New Play Store

This morning, Google released version 4.1.6 of the Play Store. The company says the update will make it easier to browse and discover new apps, games, music, and movies. The new look maintains the same basic layout as other Play 4.x versions, but the new app does add eye-catching, color-coded buttons for each of the major sections of the store. (Books, apps, games, etc.)

If your Droid hasn't received the update, Droid Life has an APK you can install yourself as long as you’ve adjusted your device settings to allow app downloads from outside Google Play.

A prelude to Google Play Games?

Google also recently released a new Google Play Services update that manages a lot of the backend stuff for your Google account.

One new addition to Play Services is an “App Data” setting that sounds like you will be able to sync your app settings across devices. This feature requires support from third-party developers, according to Android Police, which tore down the new APK earlier in the week. So while you may be able to sync your latest Angry Birds achievements one day, it may not be ready just yet.

Interestingly, Android Police says there’s one app data syncing tool for regular apps and a separate one for games. That may have something to do with the expectation that Google will soon unveil a Game Center-like feature, which recent leaks suggest might be called Google Play Games.

Google Galaxy S4

Last but not least is a hot rumor that sounds like a great idea, but leaves us feeling skeptical.

A Geek.com report claims Samsung and Google are teaming up to release a version of the Galaxy S4 that runs plain old vanilla Android rather than TouchWiz, Samsung’s proprietary Android overlay. The new device will reportedly be called the Galaxy S4 Google Edition and hit T-Mobile sometime in June.

Google did release the Galaxy Tab 10.1 with vanilla Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) in 2011, so the idea of a Samsung device running stock Android isn't unheard of. Shortly after its release, however, the Galaxy Tab received the TouchWiz skin as an over-the-air update.

A Galaxy S4 running plain Android may excite our geeky little hearts since Nexus devices are pretty much the only way to get a great handset running stock Android out of the box. But why would Samsung bother doing this at all? TouchWiz-loaded Galaxy devices are already the most popular Android handsets around, and a lot of the Galaxy S4's value comes from its abundant Samsung-only software features. There doesn’t really seem to be any reason to offer stock Android without some arm twisting from Google.

Let’s put this “Google Edition” rumor in the category of “too good not to talk about, but don’t get your hopes up.”

Stay tuned!

Will any or all of these predictions come true? We'll know before long. You can catch all the action as it happens right here, with TechHive’s Google I/O 2013 live blog starting at 9 a.m. Pacific/noon Eastern.

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