Google I/O 2016: New Tools, Strategies, and Takeaways
The Apptentive team had a great time at Google I/O 2016 last week!
Four integral members of our development team attended the show, including Mike Saffitz, CTO and co-founder, Sky Kelsey, Director of Client SDKs and Co-founder, Robi Ganguly, CEO and Co-founder, and Barry Li, Android Software Engineer.
Today’s post is a compilation of their biggest learnings from the show, along with predictions around how Google is approaching 2016 and beyond.
But first, a picture of our crew enjoying the lovely weather and great seats during the show:
Android N updates
Android N, the codename for the next version of the Android OS, is now in public beta. It’s free, and you can get started right away by downloading the N Developer Preview tools.
The Android N program introduces Multi-Window, which allows developers to display more than one app at the same time. For example, two apps can run side-by-side or one-above-the-other in split-screen mode on a handheld device. This addition should make it easier to create interactions where you need to see data in two apps at the same time, and is a big win for Android developers.
A new layout editor called Constraint Layout is also include. The editor lets developers specify how views in a single ViewGroup will interact as the window size and shape changes, making it much easier to create responsive layouts in Android that are also fast to render.
Google Assistant expansion
Google Assistant is what we’ve been calling “OK Google” (more on the odd naming convention in this article from The Verge), and it’s been expanded and improved. New Google products, such as Google Home and the messaging app Allo, can access it, and it remembers conversation context as you talk to it.
Google made headlines when Google Assistant was released, but making it more conversational and accessible will be key to growth over the next year. Many assistants on the market have limited, clunky conversational capabilities, which creates a frustrating customer experience. With a focus on hooking Google Assistant into products like Google Home, Google has clearly set its sights on putting the power of the Googleverse behind all of its devices.
Android Studio improvements
Android Studio is the official integrated development environment for Android, and has some great improvements coming out of Google I/O:
- A new Layout Designer that shows developers what their views will look like in an arbitrary theme. It even includes new Blueprint view that shows what the view bounds and relationships look like with majority of styling stripped away.
- Layout Designer also supports the new Constraint Layout introduced in Android N.
- Developers can now record Espresso UI tests. Interact with the app, and it will write the code for an Espresso test, which you can then play back automatically each time you run your tests.
- Instant Run makes building and running an app up to 10x faster.
- Emulators are 3x faster than the previous version.
- They’ve added an APK Analyzer that lets developers see properties of your APK.
- The addition of Layout Inspector, a tool which lets developers see what a snapshot of view looks like on a device.
- The addition of Merged Manifest Viewer, which lets developers see what the libraries your app depends on are doing to the app’s manifest.
Firebase feature additions
Google is investing heavily in Firebase as their mobile BaaS, and they’ve added many features, including app analytics, push notifications, crash reporting, segmentation, invites, and re-engagement. Firebase is free and unlimited (like Google Analytics), which shows the strategy of lowering prices to free or almost free continues to be popular at Google. However, there won’t be any vendor support for Firebase (also like Google Analytics) when it comes to customization or support. We think the tool will definitely gain popularity, but won’t replace other similar third-party solutions, especially for enterprise customers.
In addition, Firebase has a nice and tight integration with Google’s other mobile platform offerings. For instance, the automatic user segmentation uses AdMob id; the revenue generated from Google Play Store and Google Pay will surface up as eCommerce data on dashboard. Firebase will be able to complete conversion analysis based on user segmentation and revenue. However, there is a big catch. Because of this tight integration, data reported will be single-sourced from and biased towards Google’s mobile ecosystem. For example, it may not be surprising to see conversion favoring Google’s AdMob if there are limited, if not zero, integrations from other sources.
With Firebase, Google now has several interesting overlapping projects: Firebase, the Play Developer Console, Google Cloud Platform, and Google Analytics for Mobile. We’re excited to watch how all of these tools evolve relative to one another in the year to come.
Google Play investment
Based on the Google I/O speakers, Google continues to invest heavily in Play. Their strategy here seems straightforward: The more support they can provide to Android developers, the easier it will be to develop for Android, which will drive more apps, which ultimately drive consumers to Android.
Completing this piece of the puzzle has been a challenge for Google over the years, and is still trumped by monetization. Until Google is able to monetize at Apple’s rate, we think iOS will still be the developer communities’ first choice. Apple’s service revenue is growing, and they’re making investments to compete more directly in producing original content (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, etc.). It will be interesting to see if Google follows a similar tack, but only time will tell.
Although the show was heavily product-focused, we were also able to glean insights around Google’s general approach to 2016 and what lies ahead. Here are some general takeaways around Google’s focus and future we left with:
1. Consumer sentiment and feedback is now more important to Google, with several components of the Play store rolled out to support companies in their quest to understand consumers.
Consumer-focused announcements within Play from the show include:
- Automatic topic creation from app store reviews.
- Reviews API to enable responding to customer comments in Google Play.
- Numerous case studies with customers who shared evidence that talking with customers is important for monetization (i.e. sharing data around higher-rated apps making more money, and more satisfaction leading to better monetization over time).
Moving customer sentiment to the center of the development process is right up our alley here at Apptentive, so we were thrilled to hear this at the show.
2. Google is increasingly worried about a post-web world, and who will own attention in it. Their introduction of Allo, Duo, Daydream, and Home are all catch-up projects as there are already major players in each space, intended to ensure that they’re competing for and collecting their fair share of advertising dollars (as well as the underlying data) necessary to build the models to monetize advertising.
3. Google is the undisputed king of deep learning. This philosophy was presented slightly more subtly than last year, but Google’s expertise in this area is what’s going to allow them to catch up and ultimately win with Home and Allo. Duo and Daydream may struggle as they have less opportunity to leverage deep learning, but only time will tell.
4. Google continues to flex it’s “Machine Learning” and “NLP” muscles, quite specifically highlighting that they’ve been investing the most in these areas over the past 10 years. However, despite the strength they have in machine learning and the work they’ve done with TensorFlow, the show was very light on machine learning talks.
Did you attend Google I/O? Were your takeaways different from ours? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!