Charles Brian Quinn
Another Google I/O keynote has come and gone, and we’ve been given a peek into many of the new products and technologies Google will be focusing on for the next year. If I had to give this year a theme, it would be a focus of joining and evolving existing technologies into new products and features.
Well not yet, but you might have had that takeway after the first 40 minutes of the keynote. We were introduced to Google’s rebrand of rich search results, Google Assistant, with the aim of leveraging significant breakthroughs in machine learning and voice recognition to help in your everyday life. Google Assistant has been improved to feel more conversational, with knowledge graph of over 1 billion entities (people, places, things), so that it can provide the information you are asking of it without feeling like you are talking to a computer. Many of these services have been available for a while in Google search, but where they shine is in the interactions with the two new products Google announced.
The first had been rumored for the past week: Google Home, a voice controlled speaker fully hooked into Google Assistant and other Google technologies. Being called a response to the success of Amazon’s Echo, the Google Home is an evolution of voice search allowing for quick interactions from anywhere in your home. Allowing for activities like setting alarms and timers, controlling smart devices, sending playback to your Chromecast devices, and in future releases integrating with developers to integrate their own services. The biggest feature is how Google has applied advances in natural language processing so that queries to the device are more like a conversation, less like a structured search query. Unfortunately a release date has not been announced, but I can’t wait to see it in action soon.
Google also announced a new messaging platform called Allo, together with some unique integrations into existing Google technologies. Allo has all the features one would expect from a chat client: emojis and stickers for fun communication, image sharing, encryption and more. Where it begins to stand out is with the quick reply integrations Google has pulled in from Inbox. Just like Inbox, Allo will read the last message sent to you and offer three replies based on chat patterns seen in your conversations and other similar conversations it has seen before, perfect for a quick acknowledgement to a message. More impressive, quick reply will also apply to respond to images, applying Google’s vast image processing knowledge to quickly identify what has been sent to you and how you might reply.
Though we didn’t get a reveal as to what Android N will be named, we were given a nice overview of the new features coming available in this next version of Android. On the developer side we were introduced to a new layout, ConstraintLayout, that allows for flexible grouping of views that can adapt to size changes with less programming effort than previously required. Currently in Alpha, ConstraintLayout will be coming to the support library for easy integration across API levels.
At a quick glance, it seems like Android developers may be needing to support many new features, however when you take a closer look many of these features are leveraging existing frameworks within Android. Multi window mode is finally official on Android after being previewed last year, allowing users to resize their apps into smaller windows and have multiple applications running at once. From a developer perspective this is just a smaller screen size that they may have to support and always have the option to opt out of. Similarly, users will have an additional accessibility setting that allows for increasing the size of the entire UI, a much better solution for those hard of sight users than just increasing the text size, but only a change in screen density for the developer.
The announcement of Android Instant Apps was perhaps the biggest change announced to the Android platform. Developers can now segment their apps into modules. These modules can be used without ever downloading the full app from the Google Play Store. Details are still scarce on how this will work on the developer side, but the impact is huge for the user and applications. Users will be able to quickly open up an app that they do not currently have installed but may have come up in a search or from a chat with a friend, and get the full experience without having to go through the painful process of installing the app first. Hopefully leading to more installations if you have proven to your users how great life is with your app after small taste of it.
There are many more features coming with Android N: Java 8 language support (lambdas!), Doze mode on the go, bundled notifications, notification quick reply, quick settings, multi-locale, Firebase integrations and more! I know all of us here at Big Nerd Ranch will be eagerly exploring these APIs and hope to bring you more in depth looks at how you can leverage more of these new features in your apps.
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Charles Brian Quinn