It’s been a relatively quiet Google I/O this time around, with a lot of under-the-hood improvements to Android, and a few new features, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some exciting things for us to look forward to. Here’s our takeaway from this year’s event.
Last year Google made sizeable waves when they introduced Android L (now known as Lollipop) and Material design, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see changes on a smaller scale this time. Android M (name as of yet unknown), adds a host of underlying performance and battery improvements, tweaks to the design language and a few new features to keep things ticking over.
Since its inception, Android has had a set of “permissions” that apps can request to use device features such as the camera or location. Up until now, an app requested all of the required permissions on install, which can sometimes be scary for a user who doesn’t fully understand them. In Android M, users can deny an app individual permissions, allowing them to tailor their experience and stop apps from doing things they might not want. Unfortunately this means that apps need to handle this gracefully and not some existing apps may crash or become unusable when denied certain permissions.
Android phone makers have been trying to implement fingerprint scanning systems in their devices for some time now, with the first device from Motorola (the ATRIX) being available in 2011. However, early implementations were poor and we have only recently started to see scanners becoming accurate and fast enough to be genuinely useful. Devices like the Galaxy S6 now have comparable performance to Apple’s Touch ID sensors, so it makes sense for Google to implement this feature in the core Android operating system.
Device makers no longer have to worry about implementing software to interact with a scanner and the security issues involved. Being part of Android itself also means that fingerprint scanning will be able to be used by any app on the device for authentication.
Google Now “on Tap”
One of the most exciting features introduced in Android M is an extension of the current “Google Now” service, which provides contextual information, reminders and news based on the user’s activity and preferences. Now on Tap will be available when using any app on the device, by simply holding the home button and will provide information relating to what is currently on the screen. For example, if you’re looking at a text message from a friend about seeing a movie or visiting a restaurant, you’ll get relevant information such as reviews, directions and screening times, along with the ability to add an appointment to your calendar, or open IMDb or Google Maps. The most interesting part of all this is that you are using doesn’t have to anything at all to facilitate this.
In 2011, Google launched a mobile payments system called “Google Wallet”, which allowed users to make contactless payments using their smartphone. Unfortunately this didn’t take off as much as they had hoped, with contactless payment support not being very widespread at the time. Fast forward to 2015 and we now have contactless payment systems being used in thousands of stores and new competitors such as Apple driving the uptake of this technology.
Possibly wanting to get away from the disappointing Wallet name and create more excitement around a new product, Google have renamed their effort and re-introduced “Android Pay”, a new system for in-store contactless payment and ecommerce app integration. Hopefully the refreshed service will spread outside of the US this time around and we’ll soon have no need for real wallets at all.
Android Wear is now almost a year old, with 7 different watches currently on sale and more coming soon. Google is celebrating this with some unique new features coming to all of these devices. Users will now be able to swipe through their stream of content by flicking their wrist forward and back, making it easier to operate with your hands full.
Wear apps can also now take advantage of an “always-on” mode, allowing them to stay visible in a low-power, black and white mode. This means that if you’re following directions in the Google Maps app, the map will always be visible at a glance, without using too much battery life.
With 4000 Android Wear enabled apps already in the Play Store, we to get in on the action. If you would like to discuss opportunities for Wear support in your app, get in touch.
Play Store Enhancements
As well as improvements to Android, Google are also making some great improvements to the app distribution process in the Play Store.
Listing Experiments and Analytics
Listing Experiments allows us to run experiments on your Play Store listing, such as testing out different versions of feature graphics and listing text. Analytical data is then collected and can be used to compare the effectiveness of these listing changes, tracking conversions such as the number of listing views that result in app installs. This could be an invaluable feature to improve your listing and drive more app installs.
The store will also provide data on where users are coming from to find your listing, be it from search results, external websites or paid links and ads.
It is now possible create a “Developer Page”, a specific page on the Play Store that details your brand and highlights any apps you have available for download. This is an opportunity to showcase your brand and give a little insight into what you do.
Cloud Test Lab
A big addition to the Play Store this year is the Cloud Test Lab, a result of Google’s acquisition of Appurify, announced at last year’s event. The Play Store already allows us to upload Alpha and Beta versions of an app and distribute this to a group of testers. Now developers can sign up for a preview version of the Cloud Test Lab and each version they upload will be automatically tested on a range of popular devices from around the world, simulating similar actions to a real-world user and reporting back any issues and a series of screenshots to ensure that the app looks consistent across all of these devices.
This could prove to be a very important tool going forward, as it can be difficult to thoroughly test Android apps in the real world due to the amount of unique devices we need to support.
The Distance team is looking forward to taking advantage of many of the new opportunities coming our way soon, and we hope that you share in this excitement in updating your apps, or indeed creating new apps to take full advantage of them.
We already have a preview version of Android M ready for testing, so if you would like an appraisal to ensure your app is ready for the switch, or our advice on how your app could take advantage of the new technologies discussed here, please get in touch now.