Google IO 2016 Highlights

Google IO '16 logo

With the excitement of Google IO ’16 behind us, I wanted to do a quick summary of the stuff I found most interesting.

This year that list includes the following:

  • Firebase
  • Instant Apps
  • Android Studio
  • Android Developer Certification
  • and more…

Firebase all the things!!

Wow!  That’s about all I can say about Firebase at I/O.  I knew there were a number of sessions scheduled this year, and I was happy with what appeared to be a solid nod of continued support from Google, but I did not expect Firebase to become the new home to many existing Google services or for Firebase to become such a complete development platform.Of particular interest to me were 3 things:
  1. Analytics tracking:  Building on lessons learned from Google Analytics, the new Firebase Analytics provides a fully integrated analytics solution for Firebase applications
  2. File storage:  This is something I had wished for in a previous Firebase application.  There are now apis available to help devs upload/download large files which are backed by Google Cloud Storage.
  3. Code quality support:  “Crash Reporting” and “Test Lab for Android” both aim to improve the quality of your applications. Test lab allows you to test your code on a wide array of cloud-based test devices to squash any pesky bugs before they happen, and if (let’s face it when) they happen, the new crash reporting features can give you detailed crash information including device and locale statistics.  Both of these features are pulled over from existing Google services, but are now part of the unified Firebase platform.
There is a lot more to go into, so for that check out the Firebase Platform Announcment and Getting Started Guide

 

Android Instant Apps

Instant apps allows an application to be run w/out having to have been previously installed on the device.  This seems like an excellent way to drive user engagement through your app and to increase app downloads.  By supporting this feature, users can now handle links in your app rather than with a browser.  This ensures they are provided with a mobile-tailored experience and increases that chances they will use your app in the future.

I’m definitely looking forward to see how this feature is implemented and evolves when the documentation is more readily available (currently in an early-access phase).  In particular, I’m interesting in seeing the implications on application architecture when building applications that will provide functionality without being fully installed first.

Check out the landing page and Intro Video for a more complete overview

 

Android Studio Goodness

With I/O came Android Studio 2.2 Preview 1.  This is a rather feature-packed update with a number of interesting additions.

Probably the most exciting new feature to me is the Espresso Test Recorder.  Unfortunately, this did not actually make the cut for Preview 1 so I haven’t gotten to try it yet.  The idea though, is that you start the recorder, click through your app in the emulator, the recorder records these view interactions, and you can then add assertions as needed.  This is an awesome way to get up and running with UI testing.  Additionally, you can upload your Espresso tests to the new Firebase Test Lab for Android.

Another interesting addition was the new Layout Editor which was built in combination with the new Constraint Layout from the support library.  This layout editor provides an upgraded properties panel that makes it quicker to edit key view properties through the editor itself and also adds a blueprint mode.  These features, in conjunction with the new Constraint Layout, provide what could be a great new way to quickly build efficient, complex layouts.

I tried this new editor out and was pleasantly surprised with how well it was working in this early form.  Features like auto-inferred constraints, built in material design margins, and the streamlined properties panel really make for a much nicer visual layout editor.  Will this replace building/editing layouts all in xml?? Probably not, but it’s a great new tool to add to your toolbox.

Check out these videos for more on the new layout editor and Constraint Layout

There were many other additions including a new Firebase Plugin, APK Analyzer, improved C++ support, and more.  Check out the Blog Post for additional release notes.

 

Associate Android Developer Certification

This was a much smaller scale announcement, but it stuck out as further indication that Google seems to be putting additional effort into bridging the Android developer skills gap.

This certification provides a goal for new Android developers to aspire to, a means of distinguishing developers from the many job applications in the market, and a way for employers to find candidates with a specific skill set.

The certification also seems like a wonderful next step for those that have completed the Udacity Android Nanodegree.  Particularly since the Udacity Android courses are one of the recommended preparation methods for the certification, and the certification is powered by Udacity.

Follow these links for the I/O Intro Video and for more on the Certification Exam

Honorable Mention

VR made a big splash last week.  This isn’t something I see myself exploring too much in the near future, but I’m very excited to see what others do to provide VR experiences in the mobile space.

YouTube and Google Play Movies were both mentioned as having been redone to support VR and I must say the prospect of watching my videos in a VR environment is very enticing.  I’m very interested to see the new devices that were mentioned as meeting the “Daydream Ready” specification.

 

Final Thoughts

I was much more satisifed by the amount and quality of Android related content at this year’s Google I/O than I was by last year’s.

There are a ton of new features coming, and lot to learn about to build great Android apps moving forward with Android N.

Be sure to check out the full list of I/O recordings Google I/O 2016 Youtube Playlist

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