Google prepares Android developers for changes in 2018

Starting in the second half of 2018, Android apps on the Google Play store will be required to target a “recent” Android API level and meet other new, additional requirements Google announced yesterday.

“Google Play powers billions of app installs and updates annually,” Edward Cunningham, product manager at Android wrote in a post. “We relentlessly focus on security and performance to ensure everyone has a positive experience discovering and installing apps and games they love. Today we’re giving Android developers a heads-up about three changes designed to support these goals, as well as explaining the reasons for each change, and how they will help make Android devices even more secure and performant for the long term.”

Early in the coming year, Play will begin adding “a small amount of security metadata” to each APK submitted for further authentication, and will require no effort on the part of the developer. Then come August, Play will require all newly submitted apps to target Android API level 26 (Android 8.0) or higher, and November will bring the same requirement to updates of existing apps. This minimum API level will increase “within one year following each Android dessert release” from then on.

“This is to ensure apps are built on the latest APIs optimized for security and performance,” Cunningham wrote.

One year later, in August 2019, new apps and updates will be required to be submitted with both 64-bit and 32-bit binaries.

“We deeply appreciate our developer ecosystem, and so hope this long advance notice is helpful in planning your app releases,” Cunningham wrote. “We will continue to provide reminders and share developer resources as key dates approach to help you prepare.”

More information can be found in Cunningham’s blog post.

Google starts using more secure packaging for trade-in program

Leading up to the launch of the Pixel 2, Google started a trade-in program to help drastically lower the cost of its shiny, new phone. Quotes for the trade-in program are more than reasonable, but it hasn’t been without its fair share of hiccups.

One of the main complaints we’ve heard is that the trade-in kit Google sends out is pretty flimsy, but it looks like this is now being addressed.

Rather than sending out plastic bubble wrap-lined sleeves, the Google Store is now shipping actual cardboard boxes for people to send out their phones in. Google initially stood behind the plastic sleeves, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t glad to see this change.

The new cardboard box is relatively slim, but the inside is padded with foam on the top and bottom to keep your device safe and secure during its trip.

Most people on the Reddit thread where photos for the box were shared seem to be quite happy with the new packaging, and this should hopefully help to keep headaches during the trade-in process to a bare minimum.


Google Assistant is able to troubleshoot problems on your phone (Pixel 2 only, for now)

The Google Assistant on the Pixel 2 and 2 XL is more powerful than ever before, and it can help you do a bunch of things with your phone like change settings or initiate a conversation with support. Thanks to a whimsical request from a reader, we now know about one more ability the Assistant has.

On a Pixel 2 XL running the Android Oreo 8.1 dev preview, our tipster asked the Google Assistant why his phone wasn’t charging fully, and to his/our surprise, a troubleshooting process was initiated. Artem was able to recreate this conversation, which you can see below.

This Assistant was able to run a battery health check and also look for any apps that might be causing drainage issues. When it has exhausted all of its options, it then offers to connect you to Google Support, either by phone or chat.

There are still some creases to iron out though, as when given a phone number to call a the end, it didn’t quite understand. Even so, it’s impressive that it can do any kind of troubleshooting at all. It could prove really useful.

Since we can’t find any official documentation, it’s likely Google is still testing this feature out. Here’s where you come in. Let us know in the comments if any of you can reproduce this behavior. If you could also tell us which phone/Android version you’re using and which region you’re in, that would be most helpful. Cheers.


Google previews TensorFlow Lite

Google is giving developers a way to add machine learning models to their mobile and embedded devices. The company announced the developer preview of TensorFlow Lite. The new solution is a lightweight version of TensorFlow, the open-source software library for machine intelligence.

“TensorFlow has always run on many platforms, from racks of servers to tiny IoT devices, but as the adoption of machine learning models has grown exponentially over the last few years, so has the need to deploy them on mobile and embedded devices. TensorFlow Lite enables low-latency inference of on-device machine learning models,” the TensorFlow team wrote in a post.

The developer preview includes a set of core operators for creating and running custom models, a new FlatBuffers-based model file format, an on-device interpreter with kernels, the TensorFlow converter, and pre-tested models. In addition, TensorFlow Lite supports the Android Neural Networks API, Java APIs and C++ APIs.

According to Google, developers should look at TensorFlow lite as an evolution of the TensorFlow Mobile API. TensorFlow Mobile API already supports mobile and embedded deployment of models. As TensorFlow Lite matures, it will become the recommended mobile solution. For now, TensorFlow Mobile will still support production apps.

“The scope of TensorFlow Lite is large and still under active development. With this developer preview, we have intentionally started with a constrained platform to ensure performance on some of the most important common models. We plan to prioritize future functional expansion based on the needs of our users. The goals for our continued development are to simplify the developer experience, and enable model deployment for a range of mobile and embedded devices,” the team wrote.

Stack Overflow: Angular and Swift are dramatically rising in popularity

Stack Overflow is taking a look at the most dramatic rises and falls in developer technologies. According to its data, Apple’s programming language for iOS development, Swift, and Google’s web framework Angular are getting a lot of attention from developers today.

“Life as a developer (or data scientist, in my case) involves being comfortable with changing technologies,” Julia Silge, data scientist at Stack Overflow, wrote in a post. “I don’t use the same programming languages that I did at the beginning of my career and I fully expect to be using different technologies several years from now. Both of these technologies grew incredibly fast to have a big impact because they were natural next steps for existing developer communities.”

The data is based off of Stack Overflow “questions by” tag.

The data also shows Google’s mobile IDE Android Studio, Apple’s iPad and Google’s machine learning library TensorFlow with remarkable growth over the past couple of years.

Technologies that have had a decrease in interest within the developer community include JavaScript framework Backbone.js, game engine Cocos2d, Microsoft’s Silverlight, and Flash framework Flex.

Stack Overflow also looked at technologies with the highest sustained growth since 2010. The report found Angular.js, TypeScript, Xamarin, Meteor, Pandas, Elasticsearch, Unity 3D, machine learning, AWS and dataframe have grown at a high level over the past couple of years.

“Several of these technologies are connected to the growth of data science and machine learning, including Pandas and the dataframe tag,” wrote Silge. “Others occupy unique positions in the software industry, such as the ubiquitous search engine Elasticsearch and the game engine Unity. These technologies are diverse, but they all have grown at strong and steady rates over the past 5 to 7 years.”

Google announces new machine learning capabilities for Firebase

Firebase’s development platform will receive a series of updates focused on tightening the integration of Firebase services and incorporating more machine learning technology into the toolkit, the Google-owned company announced today at the Firebase Dev Summit in Amsterdam.

Firebase is a mobile platform for developing high-quality applications.

The first notable update is the integration of Crashlytics by Fabric, which Google acquired in January. Crashlytics enables uses to track, prioritize, and fix stability issues within applications in real time. The integration will be rolled out over the next couple of weeks.

The company also announced that the overall UI and console appearance are receiving a major overhaul. “All of the products that you’re used to seeing in the Firebase console are still there; we’ve simply reorganized things to more accurately reflect the way your team works,” Francis Ma, group product manager for Firebase, wrote in a post. The features will also be integrated over the coming weeks.

In addition, the Firebase team announced a new A/B testing framework, based on the Google Optimize machine learning-assisted analytics tool. “Setting up an A/B test is quick and simple,” Ma wrote. “You can create an experiment with Remote Config or FCM, define different variant values and population sizes to test on, then set the experiment goal. From there, Firebase will take care of the rest, automatically running the experiment then letting you know when a winner towards your goal is determined with statistical significance.” The A/B testing feature is available as a beta feature today.

Finally, Google introduced Firebase Predictions, which uses machine learning to measure analytics and group users based on predicted behavior. The default groups are:

  • Users who are predicted to churn in the next 7 days
  • Users who are predicted to stay engaged with your app
  • Users who are predicted to spend money
  • Users who are predicted to not spend money in the next 7 days

In addition, users can set up custom groupings based on preferred data.

“While we’re excited about the updates to Firebase that we’ve announced today, we also know that there’s a lot more work to be done. We are working hard to prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) across Firebase and we’re committed to helping you succeed under it. Offering a data processing agreement where appropriate is one important step we’re taking to make sure that Firebase works for you, no matter how large your business or where your users are. We’ll also be publishing tools and documentation to help developers ensure they are compliant,” Ma wrote.

News digest: Google renames API.AI to Dialogflow, the Cloud Foundry Container Runtime, and Microsoft’s UWP support for .NET Standard 2.0

Google has a new name for its API.AI solution: Dialogflow. API.AI first started out as an API that could add natural language processing capabilities to applications, services, and devices. According to the company, over the past year it has grown into more than just an API with new features such as its analytics tool and 33 prebuilt agents, which is why the company decided it was necessary to rename the solution.

“Our new name doesn’t change the work we’re doing with you or our mission. Our mission continues to be that Dialogflow is your end-to-end platform for building great conversational experiences and our team will help you share what you’ve built with millions of users,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, lead product manager at Google, wrote in a post.

The company also announced two new features for Dialogflow: an in-line code editor and multi-lingual agent support.

CFCR becomes the Cloud Foundry’s default method for deploying containers
The Cloud Foundry Foundation has announced that Cloud Foundry Container Runtime (CFCR) is now the default Cloud Foundry approach to deploying containers using Kubernetes and BOSH. Users can now use the Container Runtime to deploy Kubernetes or application runtime for a Cloud Application Platform. This project was originally donated to the Cloud Foundry Foundation in June by Google and Pivotal, in order to expand choice for Cloud Foundry’s massive user base.

“The technology has progressed quickly—after only four months in incubation, the first commercial offering has already been launched. Container Runtime expands the capabilities of Cloud Foundry beyond Application Runtime, giving enterprises more options to take advantage of cloud-native best practices,” said Abby Kearns, executive director for the Cloud Foundry Foundation. “With nearly 70 percent of enterprises using containers in some capacity, choice is critical. This expansion enables businesses to take advantage of the power of Kubernetes combined with BOSH, an open source, enterprise-grade management tool.”

Microsoft adds UWP support for .NET Standard 2.0
Microsoft has announced a major update to UWP for .NET developers, which is their largest release since shipping .NET Native with Windows 10. The company is adding support for .NET Standard 2.0, which will give UWP developers access to about 20k more APIs. The update will also allow developers to migrate code into UWP apps more easily. UWP apps use .NET Core for debugging and .NET Native for release builds. This release adds incremental build support for .NET native, making debugging with .NET Native more approachable, according to the company.

Sauce Labs announces Extended Debugging for Selenium tests
Sauce Labs has announced Extended Debugging for Selenium tests, which provides faster resolution times for fixing errors. This tool combines browser console log information with networking data in order to determine the cause and location of a problem.

“Automated testing is the backbone of continuous delivery. By adding Extended Debugging to our platform, we’re ensuring that our customers can identify the root case of test failures faster,” said Lubos Parobek, vice president of product at Sauce Labs. “This has been a much anticipated addition to our platform as browser and networking failures can often be difficult to reproduce, troubleshoot and fix.”

Anchore releases Anchore Cloud 2.0 
Anchore announced the release of Anchore Cloud 2.0, a series of software tools that provides developers, operations, and security teams with a means to achieve proper container compliance, both on-premises or in the cloud. Anchore Cloud is a SaaS product built on an open source analysis and policy engine, and allows users to look for container images on both public and private registries. Anchor is integrated with popular open source tools such as Jenkins and Kubernetes.

“Anchore Cloud 2.0 gives users the tools necessary to achieve a controllable containerized software flow in a way that can be certified by the user for their specific needs,” said Daniel Nurmi, CTO and cofounder of Anchore. “Coupled with our open source on-premise engine, Anchore Cloud 2.0 provides users the ability to quickly and easily integrate powerful inspection, reporting, and security and compliance checks into their existing or new container build environments.”

Syncfusion updates Dashboard and Data Integration platforms
Syncfusion is announcing an update to their Dashboard and Data Integration platforms. In this release, the Dashboard Platform and Data Integration Platform will be integrated, enabling users to access workflows from the Data Integration Server in the Dashboard. New Dashboard features include advanced sorting options for the Dashboard Designer, a common ODBC connection, a waterfall chart widget, and a widget for radar and polar charts.

The Data Integration Platform now offers a user-friendly design for processors, process groups, and ports, allowing views to be expanded and collapsed. It also features support for monitoring tasks, and allowing disk and JVM memory to be monitored.

“We’ve been very pleased at the success of our Data Platform,” said Daniel Jebaraj, vice president. “We’ve taken some innovative steps toward simplifying effective data usage for businesses, and we hope to continue improving the platform with releases like this.”

Comparing Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Siri smart speakers

The smart home assistant race has been building to a fever pitch over the course of the last couple of years. Things really came to head this past two weeks, when Amazon, Google and Sonos all held big events highlighting their latest smart speaker plays, making the already busy field a heck of a lot more crowded.

The burgeoning category can be a tough one to navigate. A lot of picking the right speaker for your own needs comes down to your assistant of choice — that, in turn, has a lot to do with both feature sets and your own mobile operating system loyalties. Each has benefits and drawbacks — Amazon has cornered the home, Apple has done a good job in mobile and Google has straddled the two better than anyone else. And Microsoft, well, a lot of people own Windows computers, at least.

Things can be equally complex from a hardware standpoint, between first-party products and the increasing presence of third-parties like Sony, Sonos and JBL. Devices also run a pretty wide price gamut, from ~$50 to $300. Some focus on premium sound, some feature screens, and some even let you choose between multiple assistants.

Here’s a quick break down to help make navigating these waters seem a bit less treacherous.

[Infogram version] 

Source: TechCrunch

AngularFire adds Cloud Firestore support

The Angular team has announced support for Cloud Firestore in AngularFire.

Cloud Firestore was released into public beta this week by the Google Firebase team. It features querying; real-time data synchronization; iOS, Android and web SDKs with offline data access; and multi-region data replication.

AngularFire is the official Angular library for Firebase. “AngularFire combines the power of Angular, Firebase, and RxJS to act as your serverless backend. It includes modules for the Realtime Database, Firebase Authentication, and now we’ve added Cloud Firestore to that list,” according to an Angular blog post.

With Cloud Firestore, AngularFire now features improved querying and offline data.

The growth of the Progressive Web App

Developer advocate at Google, Pete LePage, gave a talk at the Velocity conference in NYC last year, and he said that today, the mobile web should be three things:  reliable, fast and engaging.

This remains true today, since users expect their web browser to work fast every time. It is why almost half of web app users today will actually abandon an app if it takes more than a second or two to load, according to recent reports.

One way developers can deliver better user experiences is to create a progressive web app (PWA).

Google first proposed the idea of PWAs back in 2015 as a way to solve problems like slow performance and unresponsive user experiences. While there are a few best practices to consider when developing a PWA, developers should consider a few qualifications in order to call their website a progressive web app.

For instance, a PWA needs to be fast, it needs to be progressive, and it needs to engage the user.

Also, a PWA lets a developer take a web experience that is generally in a web browser, and transfer it onto a mobile device as a standalone experience. It will have an icon that looks just like an app, and in many cases, PWAs can run offline, according to Michael Facemire, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. He said app discoverability today is poor, and with a PWA, users can come to a website and simply download a web experience onto their device. It requires no app store, no installation, and it loads fast and delivers a good experience, according to LePage.

Sencha’s engineering director, Mark Brocato, said that PWAs is one of the next emerging technologies, and a lot of companies are considering these experiences. According to Brocato, the two big app stores (Google Play and the App Store) control what goes onto a user’s device, but he doesn’t think this will last forever.

“People enjoy these lower friction environments from both a developer and user perspective,” said Brocato. “It’s easier than getting approval from an app store, and developers are embracing PWAs.” He also said that PWAs need to be easy for the user, non-intrusive, and it has to give them that same great experience.

“[PWAs] could change or augment the app store way of doing things,” he added.

And it’s possible PWAs will take over mobile applications and web experiences, especially since customers don’t care so much about applications anymore, said Facemire.

“They want you to deliver a great experience on their devices, so they don’t care if it’s an app, they don’t care how you develop it, they just want that great experience,” said Facemire.