XDA Recap: This Week At Google IO (May 24 – 30)
Another week, another recap, right? Not so fast; this week was home to Google’s annual developer conference, and announcements ran wild! We have a lot of line-items to cover, including the deluge of features in Android M, a suite of assorted Google product updates, Android Pay, stereoscopic 3D virtual reality, and more. Without further ado, let’s get down to business and see what goodies Google brought the developer community this year.
Notable Links & Announcements
- Last week’s news roundup, or click here for the bookmark-able archive page.
- This week’s app roundup, or click here for the bookmark-able archive page.
- XDA articles – original reporting and in-depth analysis. This week there is plenty of I/O coverage in the mix (more on that in a moment), but we also found time to unbox an LG G4, review an FM transmitter, discuss the consistency, user experience, & future direction of Android, and theorize about what it would take to assemble the perfect IM/SMS client (among other topics).
- The ultimate guide to saving battery
- Discover the untapped potential of lesser-used XDA Forums and walkthroughs
This Week in XDA TV
This has been a very busy week in the tech world, and not all of of the news came from Google. However, only so many line-items will fit in one roundup, and I/O is the largest and most densely packed story of the year. To fill in the gaps, here is a quick summary of developments in the wider Android ecosystem provided by Jordan Keyes.
Annotations for this video can be found in the main XDA TV post from Friday. Now, let’s get on with the main event: Google’s yearly two day developer conference, Google I/O.
This Week at Google I/O
Read more about the XDA TV feature on its dedicated and annotated page.
The full Google I/O keynote can be found here, but it’s two hours long and you surely have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon. With this in mind, here’s the rundown of everything Google announced.
Android M Preview
Android M, codenamed Macadamia Nut Cookie in internal repos, is finally here! System images have been posted for the latest preview build (links below), so let’s unpack what the newest Android version is all about.
Fingerprint Support – Android now comes with API hooks to support a variety of fingerprint sensor tech. The move comes as part of the larger push for Android Pay, but also allows for device unlocks and Play Store purchases thanks to integration with open authentication APIs. Learn more!
Android Pay – Google’s latest mobile payments rebrand is its most compelling version to date. Android Pay has the backing of major US carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, works across more than 700,000 stores, and can be used for in-app purchases including Lyft rides and GrubHub meals. In terms of security, credit card numbers never change hands during transactions, and fingerprint authentication is finally along for the ride – two features previously holding back Wallet in comparison to other payment solutions. Learn more!
App Permissions – grant (and revoke) permissions on demand in Android M. Starting with this preview build, Android will no longer ask about permissions when installing or updating apps. Instead, permission popups will appear as each service is needed, and decisions about each can be changed through system settings after the fact. This approach may finally smooth out the app update process and give users the granular control for which we have spent years pleading. Is this the Xprivacy killer, or just a neat extension of App Ops? Learn more!
App Link Enhancements – As it stands now, links to Twitter.com and other websites with app counterparts are handled by the cumbersome “App Chooser” dialog through a system of intents. Starting with M, developers can choose to bypass this dialog by using a string of code to “verify” that certain links should redirect to specific apps. Details on precisely how this will work are still a bit fuzzy, and this is a topic that deserves further scrutiny, but a good place to start is reading our primer found here.
Doze – eke out up to twice the standby time on your Android M devices through an intelligent “deep sleep” mode called Doze. The feature uses your onboard gyroscope to identify periods of inactivity, then shuts down nonessential systems without affecting notifications and other high priority alerts. Learn more!
Custom Chrome Tabs. WebView works well enough for now, but sometimes apps need a more fully featured browser to handle links – a browser they can control and brand. This is where Custom Chrome Tabs come in. The new feature allows for a range of tweaks to make the Chrome experience look and feel like a native part of your app, complete with colored toolbar, custom address bar button, injected settings in teh overflow menu, and enter/exit animations. The icing on the cake, however, is that content in these tabs can be pre-loaded into memory, speeding up the opening process. You can find Custom Tabs on the Chrome dev channel now, with wide scale release scheduled for the third quarter of this year. Read more on the Chrome Developer blog.
Multi-Window Mode (Experimental) – Google stayed silent on the topic of this highly anticipated feature, but Android M appears to ship with a rudimentary multi-window mode. The current version pales in comparison to the more elegant solutions from Samsung, LG, and others, but we are excited to watch the feature progress on our own handsets. You can try out multi-window for yourself by installing M and modifying your build.prop file, so follow the link to take this buggy multi-tasker for a spin today.
Now On Tap – context-aware searching on any screen. Are you reading an email that mentions a film? Hold the home button for a card that shows everything you need to know. Have you come across a word you can’t pronounce? Google knows which words are on-screen while you are fumbling through asking for a definition, and can better interpret your gibberish. Some may rightly argue that having this level of access to the contents of your screen is a serious privacy concern – stay tuned for an upcoming analysis – but it’s hard to deny the utility of Google Now showing up when and where it is needed. Learn more!
New app drawer design – the system app drawer may see a lot more white space in M, thanks to an alphabetically grouped, vertically scrolling layout. We aren’t fond of the three-column approach here at the office, but having a search button within easy reach is a marked improvement. Check out the new look here!
Automatic Backup of App Data – Google has backed up data for some time, but Android M will finally add app data to the mix (for better or worse). Currently, users rely on third party solutions like Titanium Backup to safeguard game saves, user dictionaries, and other local information, but now that Google is getting involved it is time to revisit the security concerns implicit in handing over information to the search giant. For more, check out Pulser’s words of caution, here.
Settings toggles can be rearranged! Not much more to say about this one, other than “good job, Google,” and perhaps the obligatory sigh of “finally” heard ’round the world.
Dialer has been replaced with Voice Search on the lock screen. Lollipop’s lockscreen introduced two swipe gestures – swipe left to take a picture, and right to make a phone call. Apparently no one ever swipes right.
SD cards are treated as internal storage. The KitKat microSD crackdown is finally at an end.
Text selection now jumps by word and adds a floating toolbar.
Volume Controls add media and alarm sliders.
Dark theme! Unfortunately the theme only covers Google’s settings menu for the time being, but watch this space for future developments.
For more information about Android M, keep an eye on the XDA Portal over the coming weeks as we work our way through the preview build and the finer points of I/O. If you would like to get a jump start on the process and dive straight into the features outlined above (and more) here are the links to get you started:
- AOSP Changelog for Android M – take a gander at the more than 35 thousand commits comprising Android M.
- Android M Developer Preview System Images – images are now available for the Nexus 5, 6, 9, and Player.
M will officially launch later this year, and OEMs are already pledging support for their current lineups. First up, HTC’s Senior Global Online Communications Manager took to Twitter to share that the One M9 and One M9+ will make the jump. No timeline has yet been given. Expect other manufacturers to follow suit in the near future.
Other I/O News
Check out Google’s video streams for the full I/O experience, but here’s the brief rundown:
NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV – The Nexus Player, Razer Forge, and a handful of smart TVs do exist as 10-foot Android experiences, but this week’s announcement of the SHIELD console sets a new bar. Onboard, you will find an NVIDIA Maxwell 256-core GPU capable of DX-12 and the latest OpenGL standards, an 8-core 64-bit ARM CPU, 3GB RAM, 16GB flash ROM (or 500GB HDD), two USB 3.0 ports, and microSD expansion. As for video playback, the unit can output H.265 video at 4K, 60Hz or 1080p, 120Hz. This machine is a beast. You can pick one up for $199 (or $299 for the pro package) via NVIDIA, Amazon, or BestBuy. Find out more about the SHIELD TV and its accessories here!
Two Google apps saw significant updates as well – Google Photos and Inbox by Gmail. The former ups the resolution of pictures stored for free, and puts a machine-learning spin on finding faces, places, and things through search, while the latter comes out of Beta and is available to all. Check them out in the companion article: XDA Picks: Best Apps of the Week (May 15 – 30).
Brillo is Google’s software contribution to the Internet of Things. Projects Brillo and Weave function as scaled down operating systems and communications schemas (respectively) based on the Android kernel. Through these systems, smart home devices like thermostats, security cameras, refrigerators, and remote sensors can talk to one another and to Android itself using a shared Hardware Abstraction Layer, and suit of communications standards. Learn more!
Android Auto comes to the Hyundai Sonata – The 2015 Sonata becomes the first car to run Google’s automotive infotainment system. Learn more!
Project Tango – Pick up a dev edition of the 3D mapping Tango tablet for $512 here.
Cardboard v2.0, DIY 360-Degree Stereoscopic VR Rigs, & more – last year’s conference brought us the original cardboard VR viewer, and this year’s update now fits larger devices, works with older phones, and runs on iOS as well as Android. However, the new viewer was not the star of this year’s show. After showing off Cardboard and the new educational VR program called Google Expeditions, Google unveiled an open source rig on which 16 cameras can capture video to be stitched into the most immersive VR experience to date. The real kicker? Google will do the background 3D processing for you, and the resulting video works with YouTube. GoPro will launch a commercial version of the video rig in the coming months, but industrious builders can make an ad-hoc version from almost anything, including cardboard. Learn more!
Android Developer Nanodegree – Aspiring developers have a new resource for getting up to speed with Android. Udacity and Google collaboratively launched the Android Developer Nanodegree at Google I/O, and the flexible 9-12 month course covers everything a novice programmer with some Java background will need in order to build an Android app. Enrollment ends on June 8, so check out the course page now if you’re thinking about signing up. Fees will run $200 per month while enrolled, but the end result is an official certification from Google.
New account management page for Google accounts. The new manager divides content into sign-in & security, personal info & privacy, and account preferences to simplify navigation. All of the usual features and data logging toggles are included, though we’re still sifting through the menus to compare the old with the new. Check it out!
Google Maps Works Offline – we will have to wait for the switch to be flipped on this one, but voice search, place search, and navigation will all work without a data connection in the near future.
YouTube works offline without a music key – the key feature of YouTube Music Key for Play Music All Access was the ability to download tunes for offline listening. Now, offline music and video playback comes to the whole community with no key required.
Projects Soli and Jacquard – new and intuitive input methods anywhere you need them, courtesy of the advanced research group (ATAP). Soli is a miniature radar device small enough to fit inside a smartwatch, and can interpret any finger gesture imaginable in thin air. Jacquard, on the other hand, is a smart fabric that can be made in any color, sewn into any pattern, and function as a clothing-size touchscreen. The position of your hand, as well as distance away from the fabric, are tracked, so Jacquard is a truly 3D touch input device… that you wear. In other words, Google is working with Levi’s to make your clothes smart.
Project Abacus – enhanced password-less security through analysis of webcam footage, typing patterns, and other factors. The best part? Abacus could be enabled through a simple software update. Like all projects coming out of the advanced research group, this one is a little ways off, but has on the edge of our seats.
Project Ara, now with hot swapping demos.
The world is coming online fast; here’s how Google is preparing to bring the next Billion people online and into the Android ecosystem. The strategy? Polymer 1.0 to make the web more material, a consistent API chain to ease the development burdon, Cloud Test Lab to automate app testing, developer pages on Play to market your brand, family friendly filters to target different age groups, and more. This topic is too expansive to cover in just one blurb, so read on for more in-depth coverage.
That is it for this week, but you haven’t heard the last of the Google news. Stay tuned to the XDA portal as we unpack the Android M preview and learn more about each service listed above, then come back next Sunday for another round of recaps. It’s an exciting time to be part of an Android development community, and we’re here to deliver the action right to your front door.