Every year Google gathers the media and hundreds of developers in San Francisco to share with the entire world their finest and most innovative pieces of technology. This year was not the exception and we’ve received a lot of information about their newest produts and services: From wearable technologies to improvements on the Android and Web ecosystems. But what from all this is really useful for the mobile App industry?
This year’s I/O central topic was all about making better Apps and providing a better experience to the mobile users. We were taking notes at the Google I/O Extended events in Vienna and Berlin and in this article we offer you our best analysis of the most useful technologies presented by Google.
As it was expected, this time Google previewed its upcoming version of Android, codenamed simply as “M”. It will be launching later this year and comes with very interesting functionalities such as multi-window support for two apps at the same time on phones and four on tablets. This new functionality means that apps have to be tested and optimized to ensure a good performance and usability on “smaller” displays, since phones are now powerful enough to make this natural step forward in multitasking, the combination of a small screen-space and high-resolution displays might be a very common usage scenario in the future.
Other major change on the OS is the way the permissions are managed: Instead of being accepted or rejected before the installation the users will now have the possibility to manage them at any time, switching them on or off for individual applications. This means that one App can ask for the essential permission it needs on the install and for more permissions only when a certain user needs them. This is a game-changing approach of the security on Android that comes to solve the entry-barrier that users faced of applications asking them to access a lot of information and sensors – like the camera – before they installed the App. But this change is not as sleek as it sounds, for the developers means that now we have to manage the usage of our applications without certain permissions and update our apps to ensure that they work properly, since the permissions of the legacy apps will also be manageable.
The third major change on Android M is Now on Tap, which is both a deeper and smarter integration of Google Now into the OS and a new way to engage users with your app through App Indexing. This new feature is all about the context, Now on Tap will always be listening at your voice and give you results based on what you’re currently reading, typing or listening on your device. This allows apps to closely interact with each other by automatically recognizing names of places or people and link them to the installed apps that provide content related to the question asked.
The Android Wear also received a set of updates:
Applications can now take advantage of the low-energy ambient mode, in which the watch is most of the screen is set to black and white to save energy; this feature is called always-on and allows the developers and app providers to display useful information to the user for a longer time without compromising the battery life.
If you still don’t have an Android Wear version of your App, now is the time to do it! We’ll be glad to help you, we love to make you Appy!
The Google Maps API is now available for Android Wear, this is great news! Now it is possible for us to implement a full-functional Map into smartwatch applications, providing the user with a more information about their surroundings and a better contextual experience. But this is not the only update of the Maps platform, later this year Google Maps will also offer an offline-mode with support for offline search.
Google’s new payment platform, Android Pay, was announced. This comes as the new standard for mobile payments with NFC and adopts a safe tokenization standard to avoid storing the user’s credentials in the device. This platform is also linked with the new official fingerprint sensor support, providing both the phone and Android Pay with an extra security layer for user authentification. What about the previous payments platform from Google, the Google Wallet? It’s still working but now stays a step behind in relevance and might be deprecated later on, we’ll have to wait and see how the new platform evolves and what role the Google Wallet plays, for example in Web payments.
Google also presented new updates and future plans for their IDE: Android Studio 1.3. This release comes with speed improvements in build time by recycling the elements that were not changed and just recompiling those that are needed. New features will also be added such as integrated testing support, Google Analytics integration, data binding to access java methods in xml or create getters and setter automatically, support for vector drawables, SDK update notifications, official support for the Android NDK, C and C++ and 13 new code annotations that give direct suggestions about the code implementation and are shown in the debugger; examples of this are WorkerThread, CallSuper, Color or RequiresPermissions. Google also previewed a new theme and layout editors and promised big improvements in the performance of the Emulator.
Extensively testing one Application requires more that the Android Emulator, it requires a lot of different real devices. Google knows this and promises to help us all automate tests and get meaningful reports through their new tool: Cloud Test Lab, which gives us access to physical devices, crawls and finds crashes out-of-the-box and lets us write and run parallel tests on multiple smartphones and tablets; all this with a deep integration with Android Studio and the Google Play.
As it’s natural with every major OS update, Android M comes with a set of new APIs that expand the capabilities of the platform and thus the Apps. Examples of this is the Process Text API, which is specially useful for wearables and cretive designs by allowing us to shape the text into forms. Also new are the bluetooth stylus support, which mixes stylus-input with the touch events and recognizes primary and secondaty button presses; a Direct Share intent to directly send content to specific contats within an app; flashlight support without having to turn on the Camera and MIDI input and output ports. All these are functionalities requested by developers that now lighten the development process and widen the spectrum of app creation.
Security is a matter that Google and developers in general are tending to take more and more into consideration in every aspect of the App production. The Google Identity Platform comes with tree new identity tools:
- Google Sign-In to authenticate themselves within our Website, Android or iOS App. This feature is very useful if our product is connected with other Google services such as Drive, Android Pay, Calendar and more.
- Smart Lock for Passwords stores the sign-in password for Android Apps and Websites letting the users automatically sign-in to the services they use and hence reduce the frustration of forgotten passwords and low user usage.
- Identity Toolkit is perhaps the most innovative tool of this kit, it is a robust system in a box to do a secure sing-in with accounts from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and Paypal in all Android, iOS and Web.
Last year, Google presented their brand new Material Design guidelines, intended to unify the design across devices and platforms, providing them with a new and colorful design metaphor, but leaving the developers to figure out most of the implementation by themselves. This year Google is providing the new Android Design Support Library, giving official implementations for the Navigation View, Floating Action Button, Snackbar, Tabs and a new CoordinatorLayout with retrocomp all the way back to Android 2.1 Froyo.
The Platform of Apple couldn’t remain without tools and new SDKs from Google. To improve the way third-party libraries are imported into iOS Applications, Google is adopting the CocoaPods dependency manager, which already supports thousands of libraries and now also manages the AdMob, Google Sign-in and Google Analytics. This means that once imported, this libraries will always remain updated and seamlessly work with XCode. Google released an entertaining video explaining this in more detail. The second big addition to the iOS ecosystem is the availability of the Cardboard SDK, which is the affordable Virtual Reality system distributed by Google and intended to be “made by yourself” by people all over the world.
A good product is not enough. App providers have to build a distribution, advertising and promotion structure that lets them acquire more users, keep the current ones active and grow their business. Google is offering now a Home Page for each developer on the Google Play; here companies and developers can explain who they are and give the users more insight about their values and products. Another tool coming to the Google Play is a “search by age” and “search by character” feature, the first one filtering content depending on the user’s age and the second one following fictional characters like Spongebob across apps and content in the Google Play.
With regard to advertising, AdMob now has smarter tools like the Audience Builder tool to segment users based on how they are using your app, and Native Ads Express that easily implement Ads according yo your app’s layout. Another functionality coming soon is the Universal App Campaign for AdWords and Google Play, measure App installs with Google Analytics and using Google Cloud Messaging with iOS and Chrome.
At creative workline GmbH we love app development and are very excited about the new technologies offered by Google in this year’s I/O because they help us create even better technological products for iOS, Android and Web. Google provides the tools and guidelines and it’s in the hands of the developers to make the most out of them, technologies are always evolving and so should we all also be: evolving, costantly better. If you want to improve your App with the new services and platforms like Android Pay or Wear, create a new one for your company or are simply curious and want knowing more about the App industry, send us a message and we’ll be happy to help you.