Google I/O 2021 kicked off today, and the developer keynote was packed with news pertinent to Android programmers, web devs and machine learning experts.
Android developers were told by Google’s Jacob Lehrbaum, director of Android developer relations, to be ready for Android 12, which he described as “one of the biggest design changes ever” in Android’s history. As part of that, developers will need to learn more than just new UI elements.
New user safety features are being added, including the ability for users to audit app data requests (not unlike recently released iOS 14.5 privacy features). Developers can learn more about how their apps will be audited, and test the auditing themselves at d.android.com/audit.
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Android 12 is also adding new Standby Buckets that will limit background work in order to conserve resources, and is limiting how foreground services can be started in order to prevent malicious apps from taking advantage of lax requirements. Developers should be ready to adapt to these new features, as well as new UI elements like customizable launch animations and stretch overscroll visuals. The Android 12 developer beta is available now.
As for Android app development, the biggest announcement is the upcoming 1.0 release of Google’s native UI toolkit Jetpack Compose in July. Jetpack is designed to work with existing code and can be added to existing apps, and now supports Wear OS, folding large-screen devices like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. A new health services platform for Jetpack Compose is also in alpha beginning today.
APIs for Chrome
Web developers will need to be aware of several coming changes, including new hardware APIs for Chrome that will give it access to device peripherals, new Privacy Sandbox APIs that are now available to test, and Google’s plan to completely phase out third-party cookies from Chrome.
Core web vitals
Those changes may be big, but they are nothing compared to the big web announcement made in the keynote: Ranking calculations will be changing this summer to add what Google calls “core web vitals.” The vitals consist of three elements that Google said determine what makes a website feel fast to internet users: Load speed, responsiveness and stability. Developers who may be affected by these new SEO requirements can visit web.dev to learn more about them and check current measurements.
Flutter 2.2 news
Google also announced the release of Flutter 2.2, which will update the UI toolkit to add improved support for desktops, dev tools that will display how memory is being allocated by web apps, making null safety a new default for app development, and tighter integration for Flutter-designed apps with Google services.
Firebase new features
The Firebase development platform is also getting several new features, and none is more impressive than the new Personalization element of Remote Config. Personalization will use Android’s on-device machine learning capabilities to automatically deliver the best remote configuration of an app to users based on need. All Firebase developers need to do is provide different configuration options and Personalization will monitor app users and tailor different aspects of those configuration options to suit what it thinks will improve engagement.
As an example of how Remote Config Personalization works, take an Android game. A developer can build two different difficulty models, and Personalization can decide which features to include in a user’s unique instance of that app to present the most challenge without becoming too difficult.
New managed machine learning platform: Vertex AI
Of all the announcements during the developer keynote, the largest one came last: Google is launching a new managed machine learning platform called Vertex AI. The new platform can reportedly train machine learning models without user datasets, lets devs test models in its online console, and provides metrics to show what models are relying on to make predictions in order to improve transparency.
Vertex AI also allows developers to build pipelines that will allow it to manage ML systems in prediction, update, and publish changes automatically. An example of this given in the keynote was how a Vertex AI-build spam filter would work: It could detect how attacker tactics are changing, train itself to adapt to those new tactics, and push changes all inside of an automated workflow.
How to find out more from Google I/O 2021
Google covered a lot of information in a relatively short amount of time in the developer keynote; developers interested in learning more about the new features and announcements covered here should check out Google’s I/O 2021 website to watch on-demand recordings of the developer keynote and breakout sessions on the topics covered above.
The three-day event will run through May 20, and it includes a series of workshops, meetups and keynotes. It’s free to attend for anyone who wants to register.