Google Adds 5,000 APIs to Android

Eric Z
Jun. 26 2014, 01:13PM EDT

It was Christmas In June for developers this week at Google I/O, where the company previewed the next generation of Android. Google is adding tons of new features to the operating system at both the user-facing and developer levels. The vast number of added APIs means developers will be able to do more with Android than ever before. Here are the highlights.

Google refrained from naming the forthcoming version of Android. In sticking with its alphabetical naming scheme for major new versions, the letter "L" is next in line. Many believe Google will choose Lollipop, but Google only referred to it as Android Release L. Previous versions bear the names KitKat, Jelly Bean, Ice Cream Sandwich, Honeycomb, Gingerbread, Froyo, Eclair, Donut and Cupcake. Google did say that Release L will be the biggest ever for Android, likely warranting a jump in numbering from 4.x to 5.0.

As far as broad strokes go, Android Release L will make several important jumps. First, it makes the transition to 64-bit computing. According to Google, apps written in the Java language can run immediately on 64-bit architectures with no modifications required. Second, it will drop the Dalvik runtime in favor of ART (Android Runtime). ART offers ahead-of-time compilation, more efficient garbage collection, and improved development and debugging features.

The operating system is seeing a major visual overhaul, too. Google is adopting what it calls Material Design, which changes the way it approaches visual, motion and interaction design. The developer preview of Release L includes a full set of tools for creating new textures and rich interactions. Google says Material Design will give developers more freedom in expressing their character.

Google is allowing developers to surface more content to the lock screen with an expanded notification tray. New visibility controls provide wide latitude for pushing alerts, notifications and other information to small floating windows that will pop up on top of running apps, as well.

Project Volta should help developers create power-efficient apps. The Project Volta API helps developers fine-tune their applications to make them conservative when it comes to battery usage.  For example, the Battery Historian tool lets devs visualize power events over time and understand how their apps are using battery.

A new camera API gives developers expanded capabilities for image capture and processing. On supported devices, apps will be able to capture raw sensor data and control parameters such as exposure time, ISO sensitivity and frame duration on a per-frame basis.

Some of the core connectivity APIs include support for Bluetooth Low Energy Peripheral Mode, which lets apps broadcast their presence to nearby devices. A multinetworking API means apps can work the system and dynamically scan for available networks and connect automatically. Release L bakes in support for Android Wear, Google's new platform for wearables. It will allow apps to communicate with and sync code between smartphones and devices such as the Samsung Gear Live smartwatch.

Release L improves Play Games services, adds an App Indexing API for in-app searching, adds new features to Google Drive and Google Wallet, and adds Google Case so media tracks can add closed-caption support. Google is not forgetting about paying its developers. A new analytics engine provides developers with insights about their apps' performance, a Mobile Ad API improves in-app purchases and a Dynamic Security Provider helps developers keep their apps more secure.  

The developer preview of Android Release L is available starting today. The operating system won't be available to consumers until the fall.

Eric Z I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for Programmable Web and other online properties.

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