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Google I/O 2021: What developers need to know about the new Android

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Chinnapong)

Recently, Google held a large-scale developer conference with Android 12 as its central topic. This release is one of the most significant Android design updates in its entire history. We will tell you what new features have appeared in the beta version of the product.

Personalized design - Material You 

From February 2021, the new Android 12 will be released in the form of developer previews so that developers can prepare their applications for the September launch. The beta version can be used on most devices and will be available this August.

Material You - a new design trend - is intent on device personalization. The user installs a background image on the phone, the operating system analyzes it, determines the main color of the picture, and adjusts the interface to it. Notification shades, lock screen, and other elements assume the dominant color of the picture.

Previously, developers had the option to create a dark or light screen theme. In Android 12, it is done natively. If the dominant color is identified as light, the light theme approach is applied. Conversely, when the dominant color is dark, the dark theme approach is applied.

New interactive widgets 

This is the first release with noticeable changes in the implementation of widgets - their working principle and appearance have been improved.

Updating to Android 12 will allow users to customize their entire workspaces in the most convenient way. For example, you can ask Google to check Strava for the number of kilometers you have run, and this information will be displayed right on the lock screen.

Improved confidentiality 

Google has made some privacy improvements by implementing App Hibernation. If you don't use an application for more than 14 days, the OS resets the program to its initial settings.

The OS cancels all previously confirmed permissions to access the location, camera, and other personal data and switches the software to a deep sleep mode. If you don’t launch the app for two weeks, you will need to reconfigure all permissions. Therefore, data from the application doesn’t take up space, doesn’t consume battery, and doesn’t potentially leak sensitive data.

The developers have also improved the geolocation technology. In the previous version, you would allow an application to access your geolocation either permanently or at the time you use it. In Android 12, you can ensure that several applications determine your location with different accuracies:

with increased accuracy - when the program determines a location within a few meters from you, approximate location - a few kilometers from the actual address.

Thus, it is you who controls how programs track your location.

In Android 12, it becomes possible to see what information an application requested within the last 24 hours (microphone, camera, location, etc.). There will be a green indicator on a status bar, which means that the camera or microphone is active. It is also possible to send a blank feed from the camera or microphone, but it’s not clear yet whether this will show which application is accessing the camera or microphone or just the fact that they are being used.

The behavior of the clipboard has changed as well. Within a single program, everything remains the same. But if you copy data from one application and paste it into another, you will receive a notification that the data has been read by a corresponding application. This will allow you to understand which software interacts with the clipboard content.

Updated Google Play 

One of the new rules concerns the amount of commission for in-game and other purchases made through Google Play. Previously, the commission was 30 percent. From the 1st of July, the commission will be 15 percent if the application has earned up to one million dollars, and 30 percent if it has earned more.

Android AppBundle technology has reduced traffic by 15 percent. From August of this year, all new apps that will be published on Google Play must support AppBundle. It will also be possible to choose monetization policies - set price tags for a certain country or region instead of a general price, which Google Play itself translates into local currency.

Android Auto 

Google continues its partnerships with Volvo, General Motors, and Renault. This summer, Android Auto will appear in the Porsche 911. The company is releasing the Android for Cars library that will allow developers to create apps for navigation and finding electric car chargers and smart parking.

Foldable devices and large screens 

In 2021, Google is focusing on supporting large screens and convertible or foldable devices. Due to the recent situation in the world, tablet sales have grown by 16 percent. Foldable devices are expected to become the new premium segment.

Plus, Chrome OS, delivered together with Chromebooks, has seen a record growth of 92 percent over the past two years. This operating system has become the second most popular in the United States and the European Union. Large screens are needed for multitasking and conveniently entering long texts using an external keyboard or external screen.

In light of these trends, Google advises focusing on how convenient apps will be in split-screen mode when building them. Drag and drop functionality, used in computers but rarely found in mobile development, is also on trend.

To help developers prepare apps for foldable devices, Chromebooks, and so on, a new library has been released - Sliding Panel Layout. It helps to automatically determine which type of presentation is suitable for a smartphone, folded or unfolded devices, and a tablet.

A new library is added, which implements the same approach as the current framework for the bottom app bar. In a smartphone, navigation buttons are usually located at the bottom of the screen. For foldable devices and large screens, an alternative called the Navigation rail is offered. This rail will be located on the left side of the screen for convenience.

The behavior and operation of the base components have been updated for foldable devices and large screens. Buttons, text fields, and other elements can adaptively adjust to the current screen size.

The developers have updated the Window Manager library that allows programmers to track the physical state of foldable devices: resolution, diagonal, mode, etc. Older APIs that were previously used to determine pixel density, screen size, and similar functions are now marked as outdated.

Android Wear: new tools, documentation, and API Jetpack

Google is working together with Samsung on the improvement of smartwatches. The company announced a possible merge of Wear and Tizen OS to provide the best possible user experience.

The developers have updated some of the Android Studio Arctic Fox tools. A new emulator that includes a virtual hardware sensor is now available. When building fitness apps, you can refine it right in the emulator by simulating heart rate readings.

The updated Jetpack library has new features:

  • tiles for quick access to information and actions, 
  • the procedure of switching between applications with gestures, 
  • curved text support, etc 

Google has also partnered with the wearable maker Fitbit. The latter is responsible for the fitness component of watches, provides various sensors and APIs, and so on.

Improved development environment 

Google has improved Android Studio Arctic Fox that was already a powerful development environment. There is Compose Preview now, where you can preview the result while writing code. The feature called Deploy Preview to Device makes it possible to see what the user interface will look like without the need to install the application on the emulator.

Also, a scanner of interface accessibility to develop programs with regard to the needs of users with disabilities has appeared.

Android Studio can now connect to smartwatches directly or using an emulator to customize it without real devices.

A static code analyzer has also appeared, and the principle of working with P has changed. Previously, when developers had a complex application from several third-party libraries or modules, they all would be ported into one large file. In the new version, constant copying will not be necessary - only certain parts will be changed, which will speed up the assembly.

New Mac (M1) processor support and new controls for the emulator have appeared. The Background Task Inspector has been added, tracking what background processes are happening in the application. The Memory Profiler now shows different memory consumption for native code, Java, and Kotlin.

These are just some of the important changes coming to Android 12 and tools for developers. We hope that the improved features will allow you to create applications with better privacy and accessibility and new capabilities.

Artsiom Balabanau, CIO, Andersen

Artsiom Balabanau, has ten years of experience in the IT industry building a path from a Business Innovation Consultant to a Senior Manager. Currently, he works as a CIO at Andersen.