If you build a lot of Android apps, you know there are certain aspects of the process that make you want to rip our your hair. Google understands your pain. Even better, it's offering some relief.
Instead of focusing on a new version of Android specifically to kick off the keynote at Google I/O this morning, Google focused on new tools and services that will make developers' lives easier. Google VP of Android product management Hugo Barra announced a variety of new services for Google Play, location and gaming.
The biggest new feature for developers is Android Studio, a dedicated Google-made integrated development environment (IDE) custom-made to simplify the process of building, testing and deploying Android apps. In particular, with Studio, Google aims to solve one of the longest running and bigger problem for Android developers: fragmentation.
Developers often cite the variety of screen sizes and different Android versions as one of their biggest headaches. With Android Studio, developers can render their apps in real time across any type of screen size that Android supports. Studio can also help translate apps into different languages straight from the console.
Maps & Location
Google also announced new ways for developers to tap features of Google Maps in their apps. The new Google Maps API version 2 aims to make it easier for developers to add Google Maps straight into their apps while also improving the speed with which maps render.
Google said it's also been working to improve the battery drain that turning on smartphone location services can cause. The company claimed that Android location services will use less than 1% of a device's battery per hour. If that holds up in the real world, it would represent a major improvement over the current location performance on Android.
Google also announced three new application programming interfaces —i.e., hooks for developers to use Google services in their apps — for Android location:
- Fused Location Provider -- location is faster to acquire, more accurate, low power location mode that uses less than 1% of battery per hour.
- Geofencing -- Can have up to 100 geofences active per app.
- Activity Recognition -- Help users track their physical activity. Machine learning classifiers to help people "quantify" themselves.
Google Cloud Messaging
Google said its Cloud Messaging service is delivering 200,000 push messages every second. That is 17 billion messages a day. Google claims to have 60 milliseconds latency, half of what it was when Cloud Messaging was announced last year.
Among the new features in Google Cloud Messaging are Persistent Connection and Upstream Messaging (from the app to your server, GCM does all the client side functions for you). Cloud Messaging will also be able to synchronize notifications between Android devices so you can send a message to a user's tablet or Android smartphone in one shot.
Google is putting a major focus on Android games at I/O this week and announced a variety of new APIs for Android games. None of these are especially groundbreaking, although they really make Android gaming perform a lot like Apple's iOS Game Center.
- Cloud Save: The ability to save game play to the cloud and play among multiple devices.
- Achievements: The ability to earn badges based on performance.
- Leaderboards: The ability to have a leader board among your friends on a specific app. Instead of having to raise the global rankings, play against your friends.
The one mild stroke of genius here is that Google is rolling these APIs to both iOS and the Web, meaning that it can extend its gaming experience outside of Android.
Google Play Developer Console
The Google Play Developer Console was announced at I/O 2012. The goal is to help developers manage and monetize their apps. Five new features were announced for the developer console:
- Optimization Tips: Analyzes app and how it is doing in the Play Store and gives you tips to get it to perform better.
- App Translation Service: Allows you to get professional translations from the developer console. Russian!
- Usage Metrics: Google analytics metrics directly in the Google Play Developer Console.
- Revenue Graphs: Simple tool as a tab in the dev console to see how much money you are making.
- Beta testing and staged rollouts: Three tabs, alpha testing, beta testing and production. Can use Google+ and Communities to get beta testers. Can manage the rollout in one go. That is huge so you don't push out bugs to thousands or millions of users.
The biggest announcement here is the beta testing and staged rollouts. This is something that iOS developers have been asking from Apple for a while.
What are the biggest new features in building for Android? What are you most excited by? Is it the Android Studio that helps you render from a dedicated IDE? Or the beta testing and stage rollouts? Let us know in the comments.
Lead image by Nick Statt for ReadWrite