Floating apps have become emblematic of Android's unique flexibility and range. No other mobile OS allows non-system apps to directly interact with users and overtake the screen while another app is supposed to be in the foreground. This capability allows for a powerful and customizable user experience, but it can also quickly become a problem if an app is poorly implemented or its developer abuses this privilege for malicious purposes.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow is setting some new rules for drawing on the screen. Starting with Developer Preview 3, apps targeting API 23 (or above) will have to ask users to grant permission for them to draw on top of other apps.
When the developers of Unreal Engine ship an update, they mean business. Version 4.9 was released late yesterday and its changelog is remarkably lengthy. Seriously, it's 36,950 words long and has 74 images, about a third of which are animated. It's basically the War And Peace of changelogs.
There are far too many things in this update to cover here, so game developers might want to check out the changelog in all its monumental glory. However, the list of Android-related items is a little more tenable and might be interesting to those who don't make a living (or hobby) out of building games.
One of the biggest challenges to creating good apps for Android Auto has been actually testing the experience. Many independent developers can't afford to purchase brand new cars with Auto built-in, and aftermarket head units won't fit in most recently manufactured cars without heavy modification, and most of those units aren't very good anyway. When the Auto SDK came out, it included simulators that could be used for basic testing of just the messaging and media browser interfaces, but even these weren't good substitutes for the real thing. Today, Google released the Android Auto Desktop Head Unit, a functioning implementation of the Android Auto platform that runs right on a desktop or laptop.
It has been almost a month since Google Play services 7.8 began rolling out to users, and as of yesterday, it is in wide release to everybody. A previous blog post by Google discussed the big new feature for developers would be the Nearby Messages API, but it turns out there are a couple of other additions worth checking out. In a new post on the Android Developers blog, Google announced a new Mobile Vision API with the ability to detect the presence, orientation, and some details of faces when they are in frame on an active camera.
With the official stable release of Android Studio v1.3 a couple of weeks ago, it's time to begin testing the next string of new features. The first preview release of version 1.4 is now in the Canary channel, and it's sporting some big new features. The Android Tools team has been working on the new theme editor first demonstrated in the I/O session titled What's New in Android Development Tools. There are also new performance monitors for GPU and network activity, a vector asset wizard for turning SVG files into XML vector drawables, and a few new lint checks.
Here is the Google I/O session video cued up to the beginning of the theme editor demo at 36 minutes:
The new theme editor examines the styles in a project and displays visual samples of what controls should look like on a live interface.
Game developers have a new player in the game engine market, and it's one most of them already know quite well: Autodesk. At GDC Europe, the software company behind some of the most popular 3D modeling tools in the industry – 3ds Max and Maya – has announced the Stingray game engine to compete with the likes of Unreal, Unity 3d, and others. Alongside Autodesk's other design tools, it offers a seamless solution for game developers and designers to rapidly prototype and build high performance, cross-platform games.
Stingray is based on the Bitsquid game engine acquired by Autodesk last year. It supports testing and deployment to Android, iOS, Windows 7 and 8, Oculus Rift DevKit 2, PS4, and Xbox One.
The new Android platform version distribution numbers are up on Google's developer site, and given no data was published during the month of July, that means we've got two months of change. Lollipop continues to climb - it's up from 12.4% a full 5.7 points, now at 18.1% of all devices. KitKat actually hasn't lost much traction because of that, and actually grew a tenth of a point, now at 39.3% of all devices versus 39.2% two months ago.
Android version stats, August 2015
Previous data (%)
Current data (%)
The real loser is Jelly Bean, down 3.8 points, with Ice Cream Sandwich down 1, Gingerbread down 1, and Froyo hanging steady at 0.3% (diediedie).
Microsoft surprised Android developers last year with the launch of a brand new emulator designed for performance and features that aren't available anywhere else. While the initial Preview release only included an image for KitKat, subsequent updates introduced an expanded set of emulator images and some valuable new features. While a high-speed emulator is certainly compelling, many developers still didn't adopt it because it had to be downloaded and installed alongside a very large Visual Studio package, not to mention it was also frustrating to set up for use with other IDEs. Last week, Microsoft unburdened the emulator and released it as a standalone download along with step-by-step instructions to set it up to easily run with Android Studio and Eclipse with ADT.