Blog 53

Jonathan, Head of Native App Development

For Google I/O 2014 a group of developers from Degree 53 headed to TechHub Manchester to watch the keynote speech on a big screen in the company of our fellow Android developers with the nice bonus of beer, pizza and free t-shirts. There was so much announced by Google it'd be difficult to go through it all, but I'll cover a couple of the keys points here.

The first new announcement at I/O 2014 was Android One, a new initiative aimed at emerging markets, while smartphone ownership in the west is rapidly saturating (which is why Apple and Google are trying to generate new markets with wearables and tablets) a huge percentage of the planet is waiting to go mobile. Google have worked with OEMs to create a hardware reference platform using off-the-shelf components to create affordable devices and help find their next billion users. It's a strategy BlackBerry had some success with before their decline, a series of cheaper devices that will help them get a footprint in growing economies in the east (BlackBerry are still trying this with the Q5, though QNX based BlackBerry 10 arrived two years too late).

Sundar Pichai, senior vice president at Google, used the announcement of Android One to comment on Android fragmentation; Android One will auto-update from Google. I always find the fragmentation critisisms where people compare OS upgrade stats to iOS ridiculous, Android ships new services/features in Google Play Services, older devices don't miss out on new features (unlike iOS). Developers have the Support Library, apps running on older OS versions still get the latest UI capabilities, we still ship apps today for Gingerbread that have the Navigation Drawer, Action Bar, Fragments and several other API that didn't exist when these older OSs were released. It's not perfect and does take effort, but given the number of manufacturers and screen/device configurations it's impressive that things are as well managed as they are, and Android One will help Google tidy things up even more.

The next big announcement was 'Material Design', Google's new (interaction) design language which will be the most visible change in the 'L' version of Android, it builds on what we've already seen in Jellybean and KitKat but adds animations to pretty much every UI element in a very fluid and unobtrusive way (when it comes to animations in ui the first rule has always been: don't get in the way of the user). All these animations take processing power so it was good to see that Google has finished the ART runtime to replace Dalvik, ART will improve battery life and also massively improve garbage collection which is the main culprit when users experience display glitches. Material Design is also an attempt to unify the UI across all platforms: Android, TV, wearables, web; with Google growing across so many platforms it's important to maintain a cohesive user experience.

It's around this point that Pichai had a couple of digs at Apple saying that '(Android) is not a vertically integrated product but an open platform' before getting lots of laughs by pointing out that Android introduced 3rd party soft-keyboards and widgets four or five years ago, which is something that will come to iOS in version 8.

As well as all that announcements were made about Google TV, Google Fit, Android apps running on Chromebooks, improved Chromecast experience, Android Auto, Android Wear, Project Volta. Some people have commented that Google Glass didn't feature at all, but nether did Project Tango, Nest, Dropcam, Google Fibre, Project Loon, Google Chauffeur, etc etc

There's a lot to digest and we've not even had a look at the new APIs yet, we're looking forward to getting to grips with the new animations and transitions in Material Design, and creating fresh experiences on all the new platforms Google announced.

Images taken from TechHub Manchester's Twitter stream @TechHubManc

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