Google Woos Software Developers At I/O

9/26/2013 5:43:34 PM

In the August issue they reported announcements from Google’s I/O conference, but the big move was a newfound focus on developers.

Google did its best to court software developers at this year’s I/O conference with a much-needed integrated developer environment API for better games and the ability to more easily translate apps. Their allegiance will become increasingly important as smartphone and tablet hardware sees fewer dramatic improvements.

Google’s I/O conference 2013

Google’s I/O conference 2013

“You guys, Android developers, are the heart of this ecosystem and I think you know that. We have been on this journey together for over five years now,” said Hugo Barra, vice president of Android product management, during the opening keynote.

“Google Play has just crossed 48 billion app installs but, even better than that, over the past four months of this year we have already paid out more money to Android developers on Google Play than in all of last year,” he said.

Google Play has just crossed 48 billion app installs

Google Play has just crossed 48 billion app installs

Importance of software

Google’s focus on developers doesn’t come as a surprise, given how the smartphone and tablet market is changing.

“Without great apps and content, a mobile device is just a very expensive telephone. Making developers productive and engaged is the number-one goal for any platform company and that seems to be the clear goal at I/O 2013,” said Michael Mullany, CEO at Sencha.

As the hardware and design becomes less of a differentiator for smartphones and tablets, the service and the apps that developers create become more important.

“We all know that Android and iOS have significantly more apps than, for example, Windows. Is that a key factor in people’s buying decisions? I think it’s a factor and a growing one,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa.

Google isn’t the only company chasing developers. The recent release of an open beta for Unity’s BlackBerry 10 add-on lets developers use Unity’s cross-platform game-development tools to create games for the new operating system.

With IDC’s first-quarter numbers showing Android’s smartphone market share at 75 percent and BlackBerry OS at 2.9 percent, the two platforms are in very different positions, and that is mirrored in their developer strategies. While BlackBerry is hoping cross-platform tools will lower the bar for developers, Google launched an integrated developer environment (IDE) specifically for Android.

Android Studio

Android Studio, which is based on the IntelliJ IDEA Community Edition, drew loud applause from the audience at I/O. It is a step in the right direction for Google, thanks to features such as the ability to see how an app looks on different screen sizes. Better Ul editing is also something Android needs, according to mobile developer Konrad Hubner.

Android Studio is a step in the right direction for Google

Android Studio is a step in the right direction for Google

“This is exactly where Apple is so much better and I hope Google can catch up. So far, I have done Ul editing in XML and then hoped for the preview to work, but that is quite a pain,” Hubner said.

Mullany agreed: “Fragmentation is a significant problem for Android developers and the existing tools for creating Android apps have a pretty mixed reputation. The new Android IDE helps developers visualize their app experience on multiple device types and should help them be significantly more productive,” he said.

Another feature announced at I/O that caught Hubner’s interest was a translation service that lets developers order translations from the developer console.

“A translation service for developers to get their apps out in different languages is a cool service offering. Often translations in apps are really poor,” Hubner said.

At first Google will offer the translation service as a pilot program to which developers can sign up from the console. Google has also added application optimization tips, the ability to see the effectiveness of ads, revenue graphs, beta testing and staged rollouts to the console.

Google also launched a number of APIs, including ones for more battery-efficient location-based services, geo-fencing and activity recognition, which are all part of Google’s Play services. There is also a new family of APIs specifically for games, which let developers build games with leaderboards and multiplayer support. Cloud saves provide developers with a storage API to handle game saves and settings, allowing users to move between devices and continue from where they left off.

But even if Google and its partners dominate at selling devices, Android still lives in Apple’s shadow when it comes to app development. According to a recent survey from IDC and Appcelerator, developers who said they were very interested in developing for iPhones accounted for 89 percent of respondents, with 86 percent interested in iPads. Just 77 percent felt the same way about Android smartphones, and 64 percent were very interested in Android tablets.

“Most often we develop both iOS and Android apps, but iOS is still number-one in our world. That’s what you start with, and if there is money left you do Android,” said Patrik Book, CEO at AppByrAn.

Google still has some work to do, but Barra’s message to developers was clear:

“We really want you to thrive,” he said.

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