Unlike in 2012, this year’s Google I/O was not a distinctively Android-focused event and that’s telling: Google has realized that the key to mobile does not rest with Android itself. Google does not win mobile by competing against Apple and iOS. It wins by being Google, focusing on servicing its customers across platforms.
While there were some significant product announcements such as Google+ Hangouts—which launched on Chrome, Android, and iOS simultaneously—I’m going to highlight the interesting Android developments that caught my eye. For further details, check out Google’s wrap-up of the Android announcements on their blog.
Google Play Services
The big three here were new location services, Google+ sign-in across devices, and improvements to Google Cloud Messaging. Having worked on applications that heavily rely on location, I’m pretty excited about the low battery consumption aspect, along with the new activity monitoring that can detect movement type (e.g., walking versus running).
Making Google+ immediately more relevant as an identity provider, is the automatic sign-in to an app that’s been downloaded across your Android devices. This update is something that is extremely difficult to execute if you’re Facebook or Apple, without having to rely on one another.
On the Google Cloud Messaging side, there are some goodies for developers like upstream messaging and persistent connections. As a consumer, however, I’m looking forward to the fact that notifications are now synced across devices. Dismiss a notification on one device and that’s respected across your Android devices.
Google Play Developer Console
Thankfully, we’ve found a great localization partner in Applingua and they’ve helped us localize about a half-dozen iOS and Android apps. I believe that has definitely increased our success, which is why it’s surprising that more developers don’t take the time to localize their apps. That’s likely going to change with how easy Google’s making it to localize apps by submitting the strings file through their developer console to approved localization vendors.
I am initially concerned with this approach providing the right context to the translators, as a strings file alone won’t do that. We always give a build to Applingua and even when doing that, we sometimes have to tweak strings after a release. Provided that there is some level of interaction or quality checks involved, it’s a great addition.
Another welcomed update is the ability to do alpha and beta distribution via the console. I don’t love, however, that this seems wrapped up in Google+ itself by sharing with specific people or Circles. Hopefully it won’t be. In any case, we’ll still be using Hockey for the foreseeable future since it’s a one-stop shop for doing distribution across platforms.
One strategy mobile game developers have done for the last few years, is to initially launch an app in Canada to see how it performs, make revisions, and then tackle the U.S. market. With Google’s new “staged” rollouts, that might be a thing of the past on Android. Along with referral tracking, optimization to do’s, and the new revenue reports coming to the console, Google is finally bringing its algorithmic DNA to mobile app developers.
If you have spent any time around developers, you know they regularly complain about all and any IDEs. Thus it wasn’t surprising that my Android team members were immediately skeptical at this announcement. But within 10 seconds (literally) of Android Studio being demoed, they became very interested in it.
The verdict is still out obviously but Android Studio appears promising. Having an IDE specifically focused on Android is going to reinforce Android as a platform and at least in theory, reduce the learning curve and speed the development of Android apps. It’s a smart move by Google and the Android team.