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What does Google I/O 2014 bring to users?

Google I/O this year was kicked-off with focus on user experience and performance. It began with a note “every little bit matters” which in a way summarised the entire keynote.

The keynote was divided into 3 main segments – the mobile momentum, how the platform is evolving to support the momentum and finally how developers can make use of it.

Talking about the mobile momentum, the keynote revealed how the platform has grown exponentially with help of the ecosystem of manufacturers, developers and carriers. With a focus on Android’s increased market penetration, it talked about affordable Android One devices releasing this fall starting with India which will receive regular new updates unlike other Android devices (except Nexus) till date.

It discussed how the platform is evolving to support this momentum and the focus was mainly on 4 things

  • Contextual Awareness (between users and between devices)

  • Voice Enabled (for inputs through voice – great when you are driving or cooking or need to go hands-free)

  • Seamless (shouldn’t matter what device you are using)

  • Mobile First (because mobile device is more accessible than a desktop – we have long come into this era)

What’s new in Android

L Developer Preview

Packed with 5000 new developer APIs, the L Developer Preview release comes out as the biggest release since Android was first open-sourced.

What does it offer?

 Material Design

It is built with a focus on “one design for all” – it works for Android Phones, Tablets, Laptops and TVs. But wait – one design does not mean one size fits all. The guidelines allow you to appropriately adapt the UI.

With Material Design, pixels are given a depth along with color. A 3D effect in design is introduced and we can transform and change shapes in response to touch. It comes with new colors, icons, touch feedback ripples, activity transitions.

Unified guidelines for every screen and devices can be accessed at google.com/design

New widgets

Two new widgets are introduced

– RecyclerView aka, ListView2 (with vertical, horizontal scrolling)

– CardView

Notifications in L

An important announcement made in the keynote was heads-up notification. It is a small floating window that pops up while you’re busy with an app in the foreground – similar to notifications in iOS. Based on your priorities, you can either respond to it or just swipe it away.

Pre-L you had to hear the phone buzz, turn on the phone, unlock the screen, and pull down the notification menu.  But with the enhanced notifications, you can now have instant access to notification right from the lock screen – again something which we could already see in iOS.

Notifications in L now use material themes, new accent colors and small icon badges.

Authentication

“Spheres of visibility” – yes this is what they called it – when deciding what needs to be visible publicly and what should be kept private to you when the phone is unlocked.

Google also discussed how the time to unlock a device can be reduced by the smart recognition of your presence around the device through proximity of your android wear (smart watch) or even your voice signals. So if the device recognizes your presence, you won’t be required to unlock it.

While this is a giant step forward, it also brings about a question of security threats – does it open the phone to being more vulnerable?

Performance

ART Android Runtime now replaces Dalvik. The new Android Runtime is much faster, offers smaller GC pauses and has increased capabilities for garbage collection.

Android Tools

Android Studio Beta – The new Android Studio incorporates new material design of the L Developer Preview SDK. It also comes with a new app wizard and layout editor with support for Android Wear and Android TV.

New SDKs

androidauto – With Android Auto SDK you can bring your app experience to the car. A lot of emphasis was given here to audio (through voice inputs) and messaging.

This was something Apple discussed during the WWDC in 2013 but has not been opened to indie developers yet. Looks like Google might beat Apple to this (though its hard to say with the Coming Soon!)

androidtv – Android TV is truly a smart TV that comes with Google’s core search functionality powered by voice. You can search for movies by voice and even ask questions with intelligent replies from search results.

A good example was showcased in the keynote where you could search for Oscar nominated movies on an Android TV through a voice input and know all details before deciding to play it.

You can now create one app for phone, tablets, TV. Once you app is ready for the new TV screen, you need to add a new intent category to the manifest: LEANBACK_LAUNCHER.

Android Fit

Like Apple, Google has also added emphasis on health and fitness. They introduced an open fitness platform which lets user control their fitness data so that developers can focus on building smarter health-based apps.

The potential we see

Overall, we found the new updates exciting and aimed for a complete overhaul of the Android User Experience and performance. With the keynote, we see how Google is trying to get everything unified – Phones/ Tablets, Desktops, TVs and Android Wearable – one design, one app for all. We feel the essence of how “every bit of detail matters”, see improved developer tools and a better, smarter platform to work on, that focuses on “one for all” paradigm.

While we’re exploring the Android L Developer Preview SDK, we wait to see the full featured Android 5.0 release which is said to be the biggest release so far.

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Anurag

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