21 September 2016

Extending Web Technology with Android

Developer guest post by Active Theory

Paper Planes started as a simple thought - “What if you could throw a paper plane from one screen to another?”

The heart of our concept was to bring people together from all over the world, using the power of the web - an instant connection to one another. Modern web technology, specifically JavaScript and WebGL, powered the experience on every screen.

Paper Planes was initially featured at Google I/O 2016, connecting attendees and outside viewers for 30 minutes preceding the keynote. For the public launch on International Peace Day 2016, we created an Android Experiment, which is also featured on Google Play, to augment the existing web technology with native Android Nougat features such as rich notifications when a plane is caught elsewhere in the world.

Introduction

Users create and fold their own plane while adding a stamp that is pre-filled with their location. A simple throwing gesture launches the plane into the virtual world. Users visiting the desktop website would see their planes flying into the screen.

Later, users can check back and see where their planes have been caught around the world. Each stamp on the plane reads like a passport, and a 3D Earth highlights flightpath and distance travelled.

In addition to making their own planes, users can gesture their phone like a net to catch a plane that has been thrown from elsewhere and pinch to open it, revealing where it has visited. Then they can add their own stamp, and throw it back into the flock.

WebView

We developed Paper Planes to work across devices ranging from the 50-foot screen on stage at Google I/O to desktop and mobile using the latest in web technology.

WebGL

From the stylized low-poly Earth to the flocking planes, WebGL is used to render the 3D elements that power the experience. We wrote custom GLSL shaders to light the Earth and morph targets to animate the paper as the user pinches to open or close.

WebSockets

When a user “throws” a plane a message is sent over websockets to the back-end servers where it is relayed to all desktop computers to visualize the plane taking off.

WebWorkers

The plane flocking simulation is calculated across multiple threads using WebWorkers that calculate the position of each plane and relay that information back to the main thread to be rendered by WebGL.

To create an experience that works great across platforms, we extended the web with native Android code. This enabled us to utilize the deep integration of Chromium within Android to make the view layer of the application with the web code that already existed, while adding deeper integration with the OS such as rich notifications and background services.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to bridge WebView and Java code, check out this GitHub repo for a tutorial.

Notifications

Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) was used to send push notifications to the Android app. When a user’s plane has been caught and thrown by someone else, a notification showing how many cities and miles it has travelled is sent to the device of the plane’s creator via FCM. Outgoing notifications are managed to ensure they are not sent too frequently to a device.

Background Service

We implemented a background service to run once a day which checks against local storage to determine when a user last visited the app. If the user hasn’t visited in over two weeks, the app sends a notification to invite the user back into the app to create a new plane.

The Communication Network

Our application runs on a network of servers on Google Cloud Platform. We used built-in geocoding headers to get approximate geographic locations for stamps and Socket.IO to connect all devices over WebSockets.

Users connect to the server nearest them, which relays messages to a single main server as well as to any desktop computers viewing the experience in that region.

Moving forward

This approach worked extremely well for us, enabling an experience that was smooth and captivating across platforms and form factors, connecting people from all over the world. Extending the web with native capabilities has proven to be a valuable avenue to deliver high quality experiences going forward. You can learn even more on the Android Experiments website.

19 September 2016

Android Studio 2.2

By Jamal Eason, Product Manager, Android

Android Studio 2.2 is available to download today. Previewed at Google I/O 2016, Android Studio 2.2 is the latest release of our IDE used by millions of Android developers around the world.

Packed with enhancements, this release has three major themes: speed, smarts, and Android platform support. Develop faster with features such as the new Layout Editor, which makes creating an app user interface quick and intuitive. Develop smarter with our new APK analyzer, enhanced Layout Inspector, expanded code analysis, IntelliJ’s 2016.1.3 features and much more. Lastly, as the official IDE for Android app development, Android Studio 2.2 includes support for all the latest developer features in Android 7.0 Nougat, like code completion to help you add Android platform features like Multi-Window support, Quick Settings API, or the redesigned Notifications, and of course, the built-in Android Emulator to test them all out.

In this release, we evolved the Android Frameworks and the IDE together to create the Constraint Layout. This powerful new layout manager helps you design large and complex layouts in a flat and streamlined hierarchy. The ConstraintLayout integrates into your app like a standard Android support library, and was built in parallel with the new Layout Editor.

Android Studio 2.2 includes 20+ new features across every major phase of the development process: design, develop, build, & test. From designing UIs with the new ConstraintLayout, to developing C++ code with the Android NDK, to building with the latest Jack compliers, to creating Espresso test cases for your app, Android Studio 2.2 is the update you do not want to miss. Here’s more detail on some of the top highlights:

Design

  • Layout Editor: Creating Android app user interfaces is now easier with the new user interface designer. Quickly construct the structure of your app UI with the new blueprint mode and adjust the visual attributes of each widget with new properties panel. Learn more.

Layout Editor

  • Constraint Layout: This new layout is a flexible layout manager for your app that allows you to create dynamic user interfaces without nesting multiple layouts. It is backwards compatible all the way back to Android API level 9 (Gingerbread). ConstraintLayout works best with the new Layout Editor in Android Studio 2.2. Learn more.

ConstraintLayout

Develop

  • Improved C++ Support: You can now use CMake or ndk-build to compile your C++ projects from Gradle. Migrating projects from CMake build systems to Android Studio is now seamless. You will also find C++ support in the new project wizard in Android Studio, plus a number of bug fixes to the C++ edit and debug experience. Learn more.

C++ Code Editing & CMake Support

  • Samples Browser: Referencing Android sample code is now even easier with Android Studio 2.2. Within the code editor window, find occurrences of your app code in Google Android sample code to help jump start your app development. Learn more.

Sample Code Menu

Build

  • Instant Run Improvements: Introduced in Android Studio 2.0, Instant Run is our major, long-term investment to make Android development as fast and lightweight. Since launch, it has significantly improved the edit, build, run iteration cycles for many developers. In this release, we have made many stability and reliability improvements to Instant Run. If you have previously disabled Instant Run, we encourage you to re-enable it and let us know if you come across further issues. (Settings → Build, Execution, Deployment → Instant Run [Windows/Linux] , Preferences → Build, Execution, Deployment → Instant Run [OS X]). For details on the fixes that we have made, see the Android Studio 2.2 release notes.

Enable Instant Run

  • APK Analyzer: Easily inspect the contents of your APKs to understand the size contribution of each component. This feature can be helpful when debugging multi-dex issues. Plus, with the APK Analyzer you can compare two versions of an APK. Learn more.

APK Analyzer

  • Build cache (Experimental): We are continuing our investments to improve build speeds with the introduction of a new experimental build cache that will help reduce both full and incremental build times. Just add android.enableBuildCache=true to your gradle.properties file. Learn more.

Build Cache Setting

Test

  • Virtual Sensors in the Android Emulator: The Android Emulator now includes a new set of virtual sensors controls. With the new UI controls, you can now test Android Sensors such as Accelerometer, Ambient Temperature, Magnetometer and more. Learn more.

Android Emulator Virtual Sensors

  • Espresso Test Recorder (Beta): The Espresso Test Recorder lets you easily create UI tests by recording interactions with your app; it then outputs the UI test code for you. You record your interactions with a device and add assertions to verify UI elements in particular snapshots of your app. Espresso Test Recorder then takes the saved recording and automatically generates a corresponding UI test. You can run the test locally, on your continuous integration server, or using Firebase Test Lab for Android. Learn more.
Espresso Test Recorder
  • GPU Debugger (Beta): The GPU Debugger is now in Beta. You can now capture a stream of OpenGL ES commands on your Android device and then replay it from inside Android Studio for analysis. You can also fully inspect the GPU state of any given OpenGL ES command to better understand and debug your graphical output. Lean more.
GPU Debugger

To recap, Android Studio 2.2 includes these major features and more:

Design

Develop

Build

Test

Learn more about Android Studio 2.2 by reviewing the release notes and the preview blog post.

Getting Started

Download

If you are using a previous version of Android Studio, you can check for updates on the Stable channel from the navigation menu (Help → Check for Update [Windows/Linux] , Android Studio → Check for Updates [OS X]). You can also download Android Studio 2.2 from the official download page. To take advantage of all the new features and improvements in Android Studio, you should also update to the Android Gradle plugin version to 2.2.0 in your current app project.

Next Release

We would like to thank all of you in the Android Developer community for your work on this release. We are grateful for your contributions, your ongoing feedback which inspired the new features in this release, and your highly active use on canary and beta builds filing bugs. We all wanted to make Android Studio 2.2 our best release yet, with many stability and performance fixes in addition to the many new features. For our next release, look for even more; we want to work hard to address feedback and keep driving up quality and stability on existing features to make you productive.

We appreciate any feedback on things you like, issues or features you would like to see. Connect with us -- the Android Studio development team -- on our Google+ page or on Twitter.


What's New in Android Studio 2.2

06 September 2016

Keeping Android safe: Security enhancements in Nougat

Posted by Xiaowen Xin, Android Security Team

Over the course of the summer, we previewed a variety of security enhancements in Android 7.0 Nougat: an increased focus on security with our vulnerability rewards program, a new Direct Boot mode, re-architected mediaserver and hardened media stack, apps that are protected from accidental regressions to cleartext traffic, an update to the way Android handles trusted certificate authorities, strict enforcement of verified boot with error correction, and updates to the Linux kernel to reduce the attack surface and increase memory protection. Phew!

Now that Nougat has begun to roll out, we wanted to recap these updates in a single overview and highlight a few new improvements.

Direct Boot and encryption

In previous versions of Android, users with encrypted devices would have to enter their PIN/pattern/password by default during the boot process to decrypt their storage area and finish booting. With Android 7.0 Nougat, we’ve updated the underlying encryption scheme and streamlined the boot process to speed up rebooting your phone. Now your phone’s main features, like the phone app and your alarm clock, are ready right away before you even type your PIN, so people can call you and your alarm clock can wake you up. We call this feature Direct Boot.

Under the hood, file-based encryption enables this improved user experience. With this new encryption scheme, the system storage area, as well as each user profile storage area, are all encrypted separately. Unlike with full-disk encryption, where all data was encrypted as a single unit, per-profile-based encryption enables the system to reboot normally into a functional state using just device keys. Essential apps can opt-in to run in a limited state after reboot, and when you enter your lock screen credential, these apps then get access your user data to provide full functionality.

File-based encryption better isolates and protects individual users and profiles on a device by encrypting data at a finer granularity. Each profile is encrypted using a unique key that can only be unlocked by your PIN or password, so that your data can only be decrypted by you.

Encryption support is getting stronger across the Android ecosystem as well. Starting with Marshmallow, all capable devices were required to support encryption. Many devices, like Nexus 5X and 6P also use unique keys that are accessible only with trusted hardware, such as the ARM TrustZone. Now with 7.0 Nougat, all new capable Android devices must also have this kind of hardware support for key storage and provide brute force protection while verifying your lock screen credential before these keys can be used. This way, all of your data can only be decrypted on that exact device and only by you.

The media stack and platform hardening

In Android Nougat, we’ve both hardened and re-architected mediaserver, one of the main system services that processes untrusted input. First, by incorporating integer overflow sanitization, part of Clang’s UndefinedBehaviorSanitizer, we prevent an entire class of vulnerabilities, which comprise the majority of reported libstagefright bugs. As soon as an integer overflow is detected, we shut down the process so an attack is stopped. Second, we’ve modularized the media stack to put different components into individual sandboxes and tightened the privileges of each sandbox to have the minimum privileges required to perform its job. With this containment technique, a compromise in many parts of the stack grants the attacker access to significantly fewer permissions and significantly reduced exposed kernel attack surface.

In addition to hardening the mediaserver, we’ve added a large list of protections for the platform, including:

App security improvements

Android Nougat is the safest and easiest version of Android for application developers to use.

  • Apps that want to share data with other apps now must explicitly opt-in by offering their files through a Content Provider, like FileProvider. The application private directory (usually /data/data/) is now set to Linux permission 0700 for apps targeting API Level 24+.
  • To make it easier for apps to control access to their secure network traffic, user-installed certificate authorities and those installed through Device Admin APIs are no longer trusted by default for apps targeting API Level 24+. Additionally, all new Android devices must ship with the same trusted CA store.
  • With Network Security Config, developers can more easily configure network security policy through a declarative configuration file. This includes blocking cleartext traffic, configuring the set of trusted CAs and certificates, and setting up a separate debug configuration.

We’ve also continued to refine app permissions and capabilities to protect you from potentially harmful apps.

  • To improve device privacy, we have further restricted and removed access to persistent device identifiers such as MAC addresses.
  • User interface overlays can no longer be displayed on top of permissions dialogs. This “clickjacking” technique was used by some apps to attempt to gain permissions improperly.
  • We’ve reduced the power of device admin applications so they can no longer change your lockscreen if you have a lockscreen set, and device admin will no longer be notified of impending disable via onDisableRequested(). These were tactics used by some ransomware to gain control of a device.

System Updates

Lastly, we've made significant enhancements to the OTA update system to keep your device up-to-date much more easily with the latest system software and security patches. We've made the install time for OTAs faster, and the OTA size smaller for security updates. You no longer have to wait for the optimizing apps step, which was one of the slowest parts of the update process, because the new JIT compiler has been optimized to make installs and updates lightning fast.

The update experience is even faster for new Android devices running Nougat with updated firmware. Like they do with Chromebooks, updates are applied in the background while the device continues to run normally. These updates are applied to a different system partition, and when you reboot, it will seamlessly switch to that new partition running the new system software version.


We’re constantly working to improve Android security and Android Nougat brings significant security improvements across all fronts. As always, we appreciate feedback on our work and welcome suggestions for how we can improve Android. Contact us at security@android.com.

01 September 2016

The Power Of “Early Access”

By Karolis Balciunas, VC & Startups Business Development Manager, Google Play

If you have ever launched a mobile app, you know full well that launching your app into the world successfully requires more than publishing it and hoping for the best.

It’s the diligent testing, constant user feedback loop and incremental tweaks leading up to that special launch moment that truly count.

The Google Play Developer Console gives developers robust tools to do beta tests or experiment with how they market their apps to users through the Play store listing. Getting this critical early feedback from users requires just that — users. And as a developer working on a new product that isn’t fully launched yet, how do you find people to try your new app and take the time to give you feedback?

1 Million Tester Installs And Counting

At Google I/O in May, we unveiled a new destination on Google Play to address this dilemma head on. Together with 29 app and game partners, we launched an “Early Access” collection that made select new Android titles that are running an open beta available for anyone to try before they officially launch. It was an immediate hit. Early-adopter users were eager and willing to send developers actionable, private feedback in exchange for an opportunity to get their hands onto the latest exciting apps and games. Most importantly, the feedback was objective and candid as it did not come from their friends and family who are often afraid to hurt their feelings. In just over a month since the collection became available to all users, open beta titles have been installed over 1 million times and demand is only growing.

3 Powerful Stories

Our launch partners experienced the power of Early Access in various ways. Peer-based language practice developer Lingbe was eager to validate the concept of their app connecting natives with language learners via voice conversations, which meant they needed to connect with a critical mass of possible users around the world from different language and cultural backgrounds. In just a few weeks, "the surge in users in addition to our current fan base meant that we've had Brazilians practicing with Spanish users and talking about their hobby in photography, Mexicans making friends with people from India, and Filipinos talking to Moroccans!"

Readfeed, one of the first online book clubs on Android, relied on Early Access to solicit feature requests, identify bugs, locate new and optimize existing target markets as well as build a sizable reader community. They stated that "early access confirmed that our target market exists and that we have something that they need. I don't think we'd be in the same place right now without it. It enabled us to validate and effectively iterate on our idea from day one."

Finally, Drippler participated in Early Access to test their new "Wiz" app and understand their beta title's appeal to their target demographic. Their performance in the Early Access collection as well as private feedback from thousands of newly acquired beta testers allowed them to polish the app before the launch and gave them confidence that their users will enjoy it."

These three developers’ stories show us just a few ways that Early Access can help developers build great new apps and games, and it shows the value of getting early feedback from beta testers before launching more broadly.

Get Involved

If you are a developer getting ready to launch on Google Play, you can nominate your app or game to be part of Early Access. Learn more here.

New titles are added weekly and thousands of users are looking to experiment with new and exciting ideas.

31 August 2016

Android Developer Story: Hutch improves player engagement with A/B testing on Google Play

Posted by Lily Sheringham, Google Play team

Hutch is a London based mobile studio focusing entirely on racing games, with more than 10 million players on Google Play. For their latest game, MMX Hill Climb, they used A/B testing and game analytics to improve the game design and experience resulting in more than 48 mins daily active usage per user.

Watch Shaun Rutland, CEO, and Robin Scannell, Games Analyst, explain how they were able to deliver a more engaging user experience in this video.

Learn more about A/B testing and get the Playbook for Developers app to stay up-to-date on new features and learn best practices that will help you grow a successful business on Google Play.

29 August 2016

Announcing Open Registration and Exhibitors for Google Play Indie Games Festival in San Francisco, Sept. 24

Posted by Jamil Moledina, Google Play, Games Strategic Lead

To celebrate the art of the latest innovative indie games, we’re hosting the first Google Play Indie Games Festival in North America on September 24th in San Francisco. At the festival, Android fans and gamers will have a unique opportunity to play new and unreleased indie games from some of the most innovative developers in the US and Canada, as well as vote for their favorite ones.

Registration is now open and the event is free for everyone to enjoy.

We’re also excited to announce the games selected to exhibit and compete at the event. From over 200 submissions, we carefully picked 30 games that promise the most fun and engaging experiences to attendees. Fans will have a chance to play a variety of indie games not yet available publicly.

Check out the full list of games selected here and below.


Fans will also have the opportunity to vote for their favorite games at the festival, along with an authoritative panel of judges from Google Play and the game industry. They include:

  • Ron Carmel, Co-founder of Indie Fund; co-creator of World of Goo
  • Hyunse Chang, Business Development Manager at Google Play
  • Lina Chen, Co-founder & CEO of Nix Hydra
  • David Edery, CEO of Spry Fox
  • Maria Essig, Partner Manager, Indies at Google Play
  • Noah Falstein, Chief Game Designer at Google
  • Dan Fiden, Chief Strategy Officer of Funplus
  • Emily Greer, CEO of Kongregate
  • Alex Lee, Producer, Program Manager, Daydream & Project Tango at Google
  • Jordan Maron, Gamer and independent YouTuber “CaptainSparklez”

We are also thrilled to announce that veteran game designer and professor Richard Lemarchand will be the emcee for the event. He was lead designer at Crystal Dynamics and Naughty Dog, and is now Associate Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts, Interactive Media and Games Division.

The winning developers will receive prizes, such Google Cloud credits, NVIDIA SHIELD Android TVs and K1 tablets, Razer Forge TV bundles, and more, to recognize their efforts.

Join us for an exciting opportunity to connect with fellow game fans, get inspired, and celebrate the art of indie games. Learn more about the event on the event website.