Android Lollipop: What Developers Need to Know
Late last year, Google introduced its latest Android update named Lollipop and it was among the most robust yet. The new release has features that will make Android handsets and tablets a more graphically inspired experience and all without sacrificing battery life. Some of the highlights include improved performance and support for multi-channel audio streams, enhanced graphics rendering, and a new UI Toolkit with Material Design.
While all these additions mean the ability for developers to create dynamic apps, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s also up to manufacturers to build software stacks to take advantage of these updates. As developers, having an idea of how many devices will support these features will be a great help when it comes to deciding whether or not to build specific apps.
10 Android Lollipop Features Developers Should Get to Know
With so many advances in Lollipop, we’ve narrowed down some of the more noteworthy updates. Here are what some of those updates mean for developers:
- UI Toolkit: Thanks to the processing capabilities of Lollipop, Google added Material Design to Android, which adds 3D views, better animation effects, real-time shadows, and smoother transitions. While Material Design is really opening up the OS to the potential for some amazing apps, developers might need to read up on adapting the new Navigation Drawer styling. This Android Developer article should help with that. This will be particularly useful for developers who want to add that extra realism and texture to high-end mobile gaming apps that consumers will want to purchase.
- Performance: Lollipop moved to Android Runtime (ART), which runs on top of the CPU in mobile phones and supports 64-bit architecture to help with larger workloads. This feature will improve app performance and responsiveness. When devices (that have the chips to handle ART Runtime) can deliver better performance, developers can build apps that do more such as incorporate animation and effects without worrying about rendering capabilities. In addition to better processing power, this is also huge news for the advancement of mobile gaming apps on Android.
- Notifications: This is providing developers the ability to add more metadata, so there’s more information that they could potentially share in their apps. Since the notifications will now appear on the lock screen or in a floating window on Android devices, users will be more likely to see the notifications and take action. With this feature, developers can set the priority of notifications, which moves them up or down in the notification shade based on importance. Developers need to keep in mind that just because they believe a notification is really important, the end-user might not necessarily think the same thing. So use the feature wisely.
- Multi-tasking: The overview space has been redesigned, so the device can handle concurrent documents without crashing the phone. This is basically a bonus of the OS having more processing power. For users, this will be a welcomed feature and possibly adjust the way they use the OS since it will be a better user experience. No one likes it when a device crashes because it has too many things open simultaneously.
- Connectivity: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and NFC have been connectivity options that are in a lot more devices. Lollipop adds improved support for NFC that eliminates some of the limitations we’ve seen with the way this technology has been integrated into previous devices. We did see support for BLE as one of the updates in Android 4.3, but in this version it’s been built-in from the ground up which will make it a much better experience.
- Graphics: Lollipop adds support for Khronos Open GL ES 3.1. This feature ties in well to Material Design and takes advantage of the improved performance. For users, it means apps with more textures and faster rendering.
- Audio: It now supports multi-channel audio stream mixing and better control over text-to-speech (TTS). The key here is that developers can make more powerful audio apps. Think about some of the enhancements this can help add to mobile video cast apps, as well as podcast apps that let you record and mix the audio right on the handset or tablet. Consumers could do everything on the mobile device, no need to transfer the audio files to a computer to improve quality. They can now do high-end mixing right on the device. While this is a cool addition, this is one that developers should think about closely when it comes to making apps since to really take advantage of it manufacturers will have to build software stacks on top of their devices to support it.
- Camera: With photo sharing and mobile video apps becoming so popular these days, it’s exciting to see that Lollipop now supports raw formats and H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding. It’s consumers who will benefit most from this update. They won’t have to struggle with finding apps to play videos in formats that may not have been supported by their phone’s OS.
- Battery Efficiency (Project Volta): Battery strain is a constant issue when it comes to mobile devices and something that developers need to take into consideration when building apps. After all, an app that quickly drains battery life isn’t going to be very popular among users. Project Volta is a queue manager, working to identify places where it’s more efficient to group app tasks together. Just because it’s built-in to the system that doesn’t mean it will happen automatically with every installed app. To take advantage of the battery efficiency feature, developers will need to enable these APIs so Project Volta can do its job.
- Android TV: This feature is all about uniting the mobile screen with the big screen. While you may not be developing apps towards this feature immediately, it’s something to keep on your radar. As mobile gaming apps become more powerful with better graphics and faster rendering, there will likely be a natural transition of moving them from the small screen to the bigger screen in the right environment.
Dig Into Discover All Lollipop Has to Offer
It’s clear that incorporating graphics and creating more visually compelling apps is something on Google’s mind when it comes to Lollipop. It’s particularly evident in Material Design, which has a lot of potential. One of the things to remember though is that it’s new. So don’t be surprised if you find new design schemes/layouts that are in Material Design that are still missing implementation officially from Google. For example, the floating action button is something that’s prominent in Google’s apps, but it has not been put into the Support Library. The source code exists. When you encounter issues like this, do a little digging and reach out to fellow developers. Take the time to go over all of the Material Design guidelines and get to know how everything should look.
There are tons of other interesting features to dig into with Lollipop such as RecyclerView. It reduces code bloat and allows for more time to be spent working on new features and less time figuring out why they aren’t working or responding smoothly. Let us know which are the most interesting features to you in the comments below.
When thinking about upscaling existing apps, first test your existing apps on Lollipop devices to see how it works. Get an ID and start testing your apps. Nexus 6 is already running it and the Nexus 9 tablet should be out soon. You can also check out existing phones that are getting the Lollipop update, maybe your handset is on the list. Then you’ll know what you need to do to apps in terms of upscaling. When building new apps for Lollipop, take the time to think about the features that will be on more devices.
When an OS gets such a major overhaul it can be overwhelming, but it’s also exciting. The good news is this a huge step in the right direction. When apps look better and run better, that equals a better user experience and more money for you.