After a long term sabbatical to parts unknown, #ShinobiSpy sent our developers some coded messages indicating that he might just have managed to infiltrate Google’s I/O conference.
In between telescopic snaps of bacon sandwiches and coffee stands, drip by drip information was planted in the ShinobiControls inbox.
After some head scratching and code breaking, we’ve managed to piece together this report…
The general theme at this year’s Google I/O seems to surround consolidation and polish, rather than any seismic changes in Google’s software direction or product line up. Instead of revolution, we are seeing a focus on incremental improvements to existing software and services, with a strong emphasis on improving the development experience. Google seem to be reaching out to developers. The language they use suggests that they see external developers as an integral part of the Android eco-system, rather than just customers, competition or producers. Which is nice, because we like to feel special.
Hardware wise, we were treated to the unveiling of a stock-Android, Google stamped Galaxy S4. It will be unlocked and available at the princely sum of $649. The oohs and ahhs were tangible, but it doesn’t really change that much. And it’s only available in the US, for now.
For months now, people have been testing Google Glass in the real world. Being the focus of so many tech blog jokes, it was only natural that Glass took the spotlight, filling out the main stage and its overflow rooms with talks. ShinobiSpy was particularly grateful that the room was filled with people wearing the smartphone-cum-headset, as it distracted somewhat from his balaclava.
The Mirror API looks particularly interesting for basic apps, and for tying Glass into other platforms as a notification system. We saw apps for Facebook, Twitter, Elle, Evernote and CNN. To tickle more interests, Google announced a Glass SDK (or GDK). They’re soliciting opinions and feature requests, and when asked for any potential timescale they’re narrowing the eyes behind the digi-frames and uttering ‘Not soon’, like cyber-Jedis.
There was a brief demonstration of how to install the vanilla AOSP launcher on Glass and how to gain root access to install other software (Ubuntu and emacs being used as examples). We were treated to a non-hypothetical battle between Google Glass and everyone’s favourite reviewer of the rigidity of consumer products, the Blendtech Blender. The Blender remains undefeated.
An interesting point about Google Glass’ robustness is that the frame can be removed. This opens up the possibility of using prescription lenses (bespectacled humorous bloggers shaking their fist in anger, all around me), but also the capability to expand for unthought-of accessories.
All 2000 developers who signed up for the Glass program at last year’s I/O now had invites to go and collect them, and the 8000 winners of the #ifIhadglass competition are getting them soon.
Google+ is also undergoing something of a revamp. A different, card-stack user interface will be combined with improved Hangouts. Hangouts is changing to base conversations around long lived objects, rather than an email style inbox that bases everything around your contacts. There will also be a Photo enhancement element built in, placing the darkroom in the datacentre. Emphasis was given to ‘Auto Awesome’ enhancement, which sounds, well…Awesome.
The new Android Studio, an IDE based on the community edition of Jetbrains’ IntelliJ Idea, was a fairly significant announcement. It integrates the new Gradle-based Android build system and has some cool Android-specific features, such as resource previews in the margin, code folding for string lookups from resource files, visual layout editing using previews on multiple device screen configurations and Android-specific code refactoring tools. We are just experiencing the genesis of Android Studio, and the available version is an early access preview, but the future bodes well.
There is a lot of emphasis on Google Play Services, the service API layer which provides standardisation and easy updates across all versions of Android, from Froyo upwards. There have been several significant additions announced so far, and it doesn’t appear to be ending there.
Within the Google Play Services update, we also have improvements to Google Cloud Messaging. It now supports access over XMPP, message limits of 40,000 messages per second (4000s/*10 concurrent connections, fact fans), two way messaging, long term connections to the server and grouping of registrations into ‘Notifications’ to allow more useful behaviour with users who have more than one device. This is all very new, and will have an impact on the potential instrumentation applications for Shinobi Android.
Google Play itself has had a major UX revamp. After 48 billion app downloads, they’ve tweaked the look. The new version is cleaner, flatter and simpler to navigate. For the first time, users are given recommendations based upon what they and their Google+ contacts have purchased or downloaded previously. We have seen the emergence of Google Play Game Services, which is comparable to Game Centre on iOS, and a further opportunity for ShinobiSpy to assert his dominance over all and sundry.
Google are also stretching out into schools with Google Play Education. This allows multiple purchases of one app on a single account, as well as the opportunity to pay by purchase order.
Google also announced Google Music All Access. This appears to be a Spotify-style subscription service. For $9.99 per month, you can integrate your own music library with Google’s, and the result is presented in a typically clean Google UI that encourages exploration and experimentation. ShinobiSpy is keen to find out whether it’ll be more useful than iTunes Genius, which told him to download the latest Bonnie Tyler album the one and only time he bothered to try it.
Google app Engine now has PHP support. ShinobiSpy was otherwise engaged during this event, having been distracted by nearby vans touting pork goodness. Plus it sounds a bit messy, even if it will pull in the crowds. During this porcine tasting extravaganza he also missed a talk on schemas in email and activity in the inbox.
For the lazy amongst us, Google have improved their autocompletion API. A cursory glance over at chromestatus.com will also show details on web components, WebRTC, Web Audio API, Viewport percentage units, intrinsic sizing, CSS Vars, @Supports, position: sticky, clip-path, screen sharing over web RTC, web audio input, speech recognition…So many new toys, so little time to play. The life of a sleuth in a nutshell.