Android is taking over the world, or at least the technology we tend to use in it. I/O this year saw a new, unified Google across Chrome and Android through the introduction of Android TV, Android Auto, Android Wear and a preview of the new Android L. In addition, the Android One programme was announced, designed to reach more of the world, through lower-end smartphones.
Phones for the World
The Android One programme is Google’s way of helping to reach more of the world, combatting competition in developing markets from Firefox OS and low-end Microsoft devices. With Android KitKat, Google made strides to lower the minimum specs for Android. It showcased this with the Moto G which quickly became Motorola’s most successful phone in its history. Android One takes the principles introduced with KitKat even further to provide Android to lower cost handsets and therefore, more of the world.
There are currently one billion active monthly Android users worldwide, which sent 20 billion texts over a 30 day period and took 93 million selfies a day. Android One is Google’s new set of hardware reference handset specifications designed to reach the developing world; using stock Android and low-cost parts that are readily available. The programme starts rolling out to India this Autumn.
Mubaloo’s Android and Web technical team lead, David Branton commented, “Google has long been experimenting with technology that can be used to address the so-called ‘90% problem’. It has been estimated that ~70-90% of the world’s population do not have access to personal internet, with a notable proposition of Google’s Project Loon currently being tested in New Zealand, conceived back in 2008.
At I/O, Google brought along their next foray into this arena with the announcement of Android One, a sub-$100 KitKat powered device which will launch in India. The launch location and price-point, together with the major platform announcements with Android Gear, Android TV et al. demonstrates Google’s ambition for Android. They don’t want you to ‘simply use it’ (re: iOS), they want you to build with it and make Android powered devices integral to your business and way of life.”
Android L is the next version of Android. At the moment, we’re still not sure what L is. Google didn’t reveal KitKat’s name until it was fully announced in the Autumn, the same could be true with L. What we do know, however, is that Google is getting very serious about having a consistent experience across any device you use Android on. We also know that Google wants Android in your TV, your car and on your wrist.
There are a huge number of features coming in with L. Chief among them are interactive notifications, new UI animations and enhancements to Search, to bring deeper integration with the device. Security has had a boost on Android too, with features coming in from Samsung’s KNOX and a new remote wipe kill switch. A similar ‘kill switch’, introduced with iOS 7, has led to a 24% drop in the number of iPhone thefts in London.
Branton continues, “Android at Work indicates Google is getting serious about work-personal separation, with significantly more enterprise functionality being baked into the platform with Android L. This will clearly have a tangible and relatively immediate effect on the way Mubaloo do things over the coming years.
Developers will find integrating with Android Auto, Wear and TV familiar, maintaining the ability to add support for these new form factors under a single application bundle. Since Android has had full support for a variety of form-factors from Day 1, I was impressed that these two (very different) form factors continued to fit under the remit of the current framework. I was left with the impression that I could just ‘add’ watch/car-mode support, without drama. Somewhat disappointingly, Android Wear requires Google Play Service – Play Services are Google’s differentiating product forming “Google-Android” (as opposed to other types of Android available). Android Wear is not a core Android product, as it currently stands, but I’m hopeful the platform will gain these features in the near future.
Finally, many Android applications already support TV form factors, under the guise of Google TV. Seeing Google step-back into this arena is welcomed, but this isn’t new tech-wise. We’ve been able to run Android apps on Google TVs since 2011.”
Over the past few years, Google has become one of the leaders in how websites, apps and operating systems look and function. Android has made great strides in the way it looks and functions; with Android L, Google is taking its design sensibilities to a new level. With Material Design, Google is bringing a new uniformity to the way it looks across all devices.
What this translates into, is not software looking like real life material, but design that interacts with the users touch and what they are doing.
Android powered watches are here and they are ready for consumers. Both LG and Samsung launched their Android Wear powered smart watches at I/O, with immediate availability. It was the Moto 360 that has got many of us at Mubaloo excited however. With a round screen, it is the most watch-like smartwatch, that enjoys a premium look and feel. The 360 won’t be available until later in the year, but we are very much looking forward to seeing it!
Ray Britton, one of Mubaloo’s Android developers commented, “One feature I particularly liked was that, via an app on the phone or tablet, wearables can partly remote control devices. This is going to be really powerful in a number of different scenarios, for example we can create apps that act as remote controls for objects nearby.
Another interesting development is that many of the wearables that come out will have built in health sensors. We will be able to write apps for phones that can easily integrate with wearables to take advantage of the sensors. There is so much potential here.”
Responding to Malware Claims
Google went to great efforts to point out that it runs virus checks on apps uploaded to Google Play, on a regular basis, to minimise the amount of malware on the platform. Google said that less than half a percent of Android users run into malware issues, which equates to roughly 5 million users.
Chromebooks can run Android apps
Later this year, some Android apps will be able to work on Chromebooks such as Evernote and Vine. The apps let developers take advantage of local hardware and cameras opening up new avenues for innovation and cross-device app experiences; where it won’t matter if a user is on a phone, tablet or Chromebook.
From Dalvik to ART
From a developer perspective, one of the big news stories, was Google’s move from the Dalvik runtime to ART. Where Dalvik used a just-in-time compiler, that runs code as it is needed, ART relies on an ahead-of-time compiler, to process code in advance. This will lead to much smoother performance when apps are running. ART is not only faster, but will also bring battery life improvements, thanks to more efficient processing.
In a true Google way, developers won’t have to do anything special to bring their apps and games in line with the latest runtime, it should just migrate over as L rolls out.
Beacons on Android
At the moment, getting beacons working on a multitude of Android powered devices is a bit of a struggle. With Android L however, Google is changing that. Devices capable of running Android L, and featuring Bluetooth 4.0 chips, will be able to act as beacons, by sending out signals for other devices, to intercept and run background scanning to pick up beacon signals.
This signals a huge improvement to how beacons will interact with Android devices and indicates that Google understands the value beacons can bring, in terms of the user experience and data.
James Frost, one of Mubaloo’s senior iOS developers who has been working on beacons for the past eight months commented, “It’s still different to how Apple handle beacon signals, as Apple has specific functionality for iBeacon. With Android L, it appears to just be about improving BLE, which developers can build beacon support on top of.
The main benefit looks to be a much improved battery life thanks to optimisations, devices to act as beacons, the ability for the device to go on standby whilst still listening for BLE signals and the ability to filter down & listen for specific types of devices.”
It’s rather obvious to state that every year, mobile platforms get better. Android has made huge leaps since it was first released. Google seems to be more commited to bringing a more connected experience across the platforms running its software or offering its services. Everything at I/O this year was focused around developer opportunities and showing that Android can be a unified experience.