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Here are three big areas to watch at Google I/O — and one big problem Google needs to solve

Drink every time you hear "machine learning."

Google Hosts Its I/O Developers Conference Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Later this morning, Sundar Pichai will take the stage in Mountain View for his first I/O developer conference as CEO of Google.

And he will reiterate many of the points he laid out in his first founders' letter — that Google believes artificial intelligence is the next foundational platform in tech, after mobile, and that Google is well positioned to win.

He and his executive underlings will also have announcements to share. Here are the most important ones to follow:

Search as your life assistant

We are moving to a world where smart, interactive machines surround us — our homes, cars, offices and (of course) phones. Google wants to be there; that's Google's bread and butter.

It's also a space where big rivals, namely Facebook and Amazon, are making aggressive moves. Google will preview a voice-activated system and device at I/O, as we reported earlier. The company may also articulate a bit how its AI tech integrates into its plans for mobile messaging, where Google has slipped behind.

Android for VR

It'll be a marquee show for Google's virtual reality efforts, which are aiming to position the search giant as the integral operating system for the spring chicken industry.

Look out for some VR functionality added to Android, as well as updates to its linchpin Cardboard headset. And pay attention to Project Tango, the advanced 3-D motion system that's very important for Google's long-term aims.

Apps and the web

Google's intent on voice search is to take Google search everywhere. Its plan for mobile apps is to bring the web everywhere.

Expect updates on several products — Play apps, the Chrome browser, mobile ads — to revolve around ways developers can build things that jump fluidly from apps to the mobile web. That will create new channels where developers can find users and footholds for Google to ensure the web sticks around.

Google's big problem

Every year, Googlers pour hours into building these impressive upgrades on display at I/O. And then most Android phones don't get those for years.

The fact that only a slim chunk of Androids use the latest operating system is a nagging issue for Google. Only 7.5 percent of phones use Marshmallow, the version released last year. That's a slip from last year, when 9.7 percent where using Lollipop, the then-current version ahead of I/O.

Google released a preview of its latest version, N, to address this issue. And there are indications that some of its key products, like virtual reality and app linking, may work across older versions of Android. That would mark a big win for Google.

We will be on hand during the keynote speech, covering Google's announcements, big and small, and letting you know why they matter. Join us!

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