A fresh version of the Android Support Library is now available to developers. This may be one of the biggest updates in quite a while, as some of the changes demand a few significant internal changes. On the plus side, there aren't very many changes that should break existing code, and most of the new features will make it worth the trouble. Here's a quick introduction to some of the new changes.
Vector Drawables and Animated Vector Drawables
Full vector support was first introduced in Android 5.0 Lollipop, allowing developers to distribute apks with easily resizable vector drawings in place of multiple images at various sizes.
When a manufacturer open sources the code that makes their device work, it's an occasion worth noting. This is one of the strengths of Android, the availability of files that enable developers and tinkerers to create software that can replace the firmware that our devices ship with. It's one of Android's differentiating factors compared to iOS and Windows Phone.
Kotlin has been emerging as a programming language to keep a close eye on. It started as an internal project at JetBrains back in 2011 and was released early the next year. Taking inspiration from both classic C-based languages and a number of modern alternatives like Scala, Kotlin is branded as a "pragmatic" language and modeled to encourage smarter coding and easier readability. JetBrains has been tiptoeing up to an official v1.0 release for a few months, and today, it's finally here.
While it's still a fledgling language, Kotlin has earned some enthusiastic supporters among the Android development community, even a few Googlers have discussed using it in projects.
The Android Studio team has been kicking out preview builds at a fevered pace since the first 2.0 preview hit the scene near the end of November, and it's finally paying off as the first real Beta is now rolling out. (The first beta has an issue, so this is actually labeled Beta 2). The jump from v1.5 to v2.0 is enough to suggest that this could be the most ambitious update to the IDE since it was launched, but the feature list confirms it. We've already covered some of the biggest features: instant run, GPU profiling, and a massively faster and more functional emulator.
If you're an avid gamer on Android, get ready to see quite a bit fewer of those pesky Google+ sign-in prompts. Google is rearranging things a bit in the Games API to cut back on permission dialogs and authorization requests so users have an easier time getting straight into the action. The changes should also allow game developers to take advantage of Google's Games API and services like cloud sync without asking users to trust them with account details and potentially sensitive information.
With the new model, users will only be asked to sign in once per account—just to set it up—and every subsequent new game that runs can sign in automatically.
Some of the most interesting additions to Android often come from unofficial sources. Maligned though they may be, Google has incorporated many features previously only found in manufacturer skins into AOSP, and custom ROM developers add new features more or less as they feel like it, some of which are quite useful. For example, the CyanogenMod development team is working on a new integrated system for handling "locked" apps, applications that can't be accessed by the user without a password or other validation mechanism.
If you've never heard of OpenCV, it's a popular open source "computer vision" library designed for efficient, real-time processing. This is a great platform for live object tracking, photo capture, image manipulation, and more.
Android's rapid rise to the top of the mobile market was accompanied by a number of legal battles, and perhaps none of them was so central and so contentious as Oracle versus Google. The fight over the legality of patents and copyrights in some of the portions of Android that used allegedly proprietary Oracle-owned Java software has been raging since 2010, eventually being considered for review by the US Supreme Court before being bounced back to the lower appeals court. The fight was a constant, and sometimes dramatic, part of legal software news at one point.
Apparently Google is as tired of dealing with the legal headache as we are of writing about it, because the company has confirmed that Android will do away with the remaining Java APIs starting with Android N, which will probably be released sometime in 2016.
A couple of days ago, we pointed out a free eBook giveaway from Packt Publishing that involved a copy of the Android NDK Game Development Cookbook. Another great book just turned up and we wanted to give another shout out so everybody could jump on it before the offer was gone. Today's freebie is Android Database Programming by Jason Wei, first released in 2012. It's targeted at developers that already know something about database development, but focuses on building and optimizing a data-driven mobile app with SQLite and Google App Engine.
To score a free copy of Android Database Development, make sure you're logged into Packt's website (accounts are free), then go to the Free Learning promotion page and hit the big button to claim your copy.
If you're reading this, chances are you know more about the topic than I do. I am not a developer, and although I have always wanted to dabble a bit with app and game development (at least when it comes to the basics), I can almost never find a single free minute in the day for me to do that. But I'll do my best to explain what this book and deal are all about.
Packt, a publisher of technology related ebooks, is giving away one free eBook each day until January 3rd. I suppose it's part of the holiday spirit.