Android and Chrome used to be known for how difficult they were to build for. Not anymore. Google continues to improve its developer tools year after year, and at I/O 2018, there's plenty to be excited about.
What's new and exciting about development tools at I/O 2018?
The biggest announcement for Android app developers was Android Studio 3.2. Not because everyone likes a higher number, but because of some huge features that will come with it. While stuff like a new shrinker and optimizer is pretty cool in a nerdy sort of way, there are some really awesome user-facing features coming soon.
Android Jetpack — Jetpack is a bundle of features that developers can plug right into their apps that supports four major components of development: Architecture, User interface, Foundation, and Behavior. These components cover things like data management, animation, media playback, permissions and a whole lot more. And because they aren't embedded into Android itself, Google can add more at any time and they are easy to implement through the Android Support Library.
App bundles — Google knows, as do developers, that when an app gets too large users stop wanting to download it. Data fees and free space can mean your app loses its install base as it grows. To fight this, Google introduced App Bundles and Google Play Dynamic Delivery. A developer can put everything needed for an app to run on multiple architectures and in multiple languages into the Google Play developer console and have it create bundles that contain only the files a particular user needs. Then Google Play Dynamic Delivery kicks into gear and serves the right files to the right users.
- Slices — Slices are small "remote" pieces of your app that can be displayed somewhere like the notification bar or inside a Google search. One example given was a music player that pasted Now Playing controls into search when the user searched for music. App Actions are essentially visual Google Assistant actions that can let the user do something like watch a video or order food through your app from almost any screen. When bundled together these could change the way we use our Android phones.
Android P brings some new APIs, too. Apps developed for P will let developers know how long an app is in use, and how it's used. They can then give feedback like advising you it's time to put down the phone. There's also a new biometrics manager so device manufacturers can implement things like iris scanning through the secure element on the hardware easily. And of course, new UI elements like the notifications and Assistant actions look great.
What's new with Android development tools?
The tools inside Android Studio are looking good with version 3.2 as well. Small changes designed to make building great apps easier and faster are always welcomed and these "little things' received the warmest welcome.
- The Android Emulator will launch faster because of tools like snapshot support and better resource management. A demo showed the emulator, complete with a device frame, open and run the Android 3D stress test in 2 seconds. Yes, two. Seconds. I didn't believe it either until I watched it a few times.
- Material Theming — Material Design was easy way to make apps follow a consistent look and fell, but it was too consistent. Material Theming is Material Design that won't make every app look the same. Have your cake and eat it, too!
- Experimental Kotlin extensions will let you drop those mundane things you need to do time and time again into your app with a click or two.
- Support for AR apps in the emulator is a pretty big deal.
We also saw some new tools for Machine Learning, the Flutter language, and better support for cloud computing. Developing for Android gets better and better, and easier and easier.
And what about Chrome tools?
Android Studio, as well as general Linux app support, is coming to the Pixelbook. If no other announcements were made, this would still be the best Google I/O ever. But we also saw a a demo that let a developer build one app optimized for any screen, and that included big Chromebook screens.
We'll learn more about web development and debugging tools like LightHouse in the coming days.
Anything about Fuchsia?
What's Fuchsia? In all seriousness, outside of the brief mention of the Flutter language nothing we want to know about a future operating system from Google has popped up. We don't really expect it to, as Google I/O is all about changes to existing tools and new features for the things we already use.
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