Google is hard at work making Android development easier and less time-consuming, making that a primary focus for the platform at its Google I/O 2019 event across no fewer than six areas, the company says. Central to that are adjustments and improvements to two integrally interwoven additions that have already been in place — namely, the Kotlin programming language and the components, tools, and best practices encompassed under the Android Jetpack umbrella.
The Android Jetpack API, in particular, have increasingly been focused on Kotlin. That’s because, according to Google, as many as 50-percent of professional Android developers are now using the language for their apps and that 80-percent of its top 1000 apps are built using Jetpack API. Moving forward, that will only intensify as Android becomes ‘increasingly Kotlin-first’.
In fact, Google recommends that all new projects should be written in Kotlin and that more tooling, docs, training, and events are being funded and built out in collaboration with JetBrains and the Kotlin Foundation to make learning and using Kotlin easier. The initial result is the launch of eleven new Jetpack libraries as of Google I/O 2019, split between six new alpha Jetpack libraries and five further beta libraries.
Three of those that stand out, Google says, are CameraX, Architecture Components, and Jetpack Compose.
The first is a new open-source library to ensure a consistent camera experience for developers creating new camera apps. Approximately 70-percent of all Android camera use is through third-party apps rather than the pre-installed app, making this an important library for developers trying to get or stay ahead in that space. It includes support for all of the latest features from optical zoom to night mode and works with just shy of 90-percent of devices back to Android Lollipop.
Architecture Components and Jetpack Compose represent more sweeping changes with the first library centering around making running things concurrently easier. In effect, the components described in the library are intended to make saving states and recalling them simpler and, via LiveData and Lifecycles w/ coroutines, “add support common one-shot asynchronous operations.” Conversely, Jetpack Compose is a library serving as a new UI toolkit specifically for Kotlin.
What else is new?
It’s been two years since Google formally added Kotlin support for Android development with a direct focus on shortening the length of code required to implement functionality on the platform and just over a year for ‘Jetpack’ with similar goals. Now, with work on those tools well underway, Google is shifting some of its focus to other aspects of developing for the world’s most popular mobile OS.
In many ways, that means a renewed focus on the hardware side to help developers build their applications.
Android Q takes things further in that direction. Improvements to the Neural Networks API used for Android and Google has now increased the number of supported Operators to more than 90 from 38 so that the overwhelming of API models can be accelerated via the API. That’s without requiring changes to the models themselves in order to work with mobile.
Work will continue on that front in support of AI, including a continuation of work with hardware manufacturers to ensure that the latest chipsets are not just supported but as efficient as possible. Specifically, Google points to work with MediaTek and Qualcomm, with the latter example tying into the search giant’s own Google’s Lens OCR.
Acceleration of the Lens OCR via the Snapdragon 855 AI Engine saw increased the speed and reduced energy consumption by more than three times.
The work in machine learning ties back into changes that have been introduced across a number of Google services, most notably its Assistant, which will continue moving closer to operating locally on Android gadgets themselves. That takes some focus away from the cloud but means that the tool will be more instant and much more powerful, as outlined during yesterday’s Google I/O 2019 opening keynote.
At the same time, Google has improved the “Android App Bundle” to ensure even greater savings in terms of overall app size for developers. The changes will take the savings above and beyond the average 20-percent file size reduction seen in previous updates, helping downloads be more far-reaching since the assets won’t take up too much space on less premium hardware.
Changes to privacy and security policies in Android Q will augment all of that with better transparency for end users, with Google reiterating its commitment to not break Android apps with incoming changes.
Android Studio and Chrome OS for Android Development
Last but certainly not least of all, Google is taking a fresh look at Android development via its in-house Android Studio IDE.
More about polishing than new functionality, Google says the latest Beta version introduces better memory management with a direct focus on large scale build-outs as well as reduced latency for typed input. Lint improvements, optimizations to CPU usage, and improvements to both emulator and the layout editor are included too, alongside a completely rewritten Instant Run — now called Apply Changes.
Over 400 ‘high-priority- bug fixes are patched into the latest Android Studio build too — Android Studio 3.5.
Simultaneously, Android Studio has now been moved to a one-click installation process for Crostini Linux on Chrome OS. That’s been coupled with incoming changes making Linux file management easier across the ecosystem and improved port forwarding, meaning that developing for Android on one of the fastest growing operating systems is now much easier.