Google Play Services 8.4 Delivers New Developer Features Galore

With Google Play Services now installed on the majority of Android devices, Google has released the corresponding SDK so developers can take advantage of all the new features within. Not only can developers improve the performance of their apps, but they can also learn more about their users and potential revenue opportunities.

Here is a rundown of all the goodies.

First up, Play Services 8.4 udpates the custom email app invitation feature. Previously, developers were forced to create custom emails with user-defined content. Now, developers can add app content to the emails directly. This gives developers more control over what's shared, the format in which it is displayed, and the actions that recipients can then take.

Google improved the Player Stats API, too, so game developers can better understand, manage, and optimize their game throughout its lifecycle. The updated API includes a new churn prediction method that's better able to predict if and when players might abandon the game. Developers can then entice them to say with additional offers or content. Moreover, the Player Stats API can help predict how much players are willing to spend in order to stay in the game.

Enabling location data has always been a drain on batteries. That's why most devices include high-accuracy and low-accuracy location tools. The high-accuracy tools (GPS) consumer more power than low-accuracy tools (cellular and WiFi). It is with this in mind that Play Services 8.4 improved the Fused Location Provider (FLP). The FLP has always chosen cellular and WiFi signals over GPS in order assess location. Before Play Services 8.4, it relied on data only from the nearest cell tower. Now, it is able to triangulate between serveral nearby towers to improve accuracy and cut down on battery drain. The FLP can put WiFi signals to the same effect for better accuracy, as well.

The Maps API picks up an update with respect to polygon behavior. Google explains, "We’ve added an onClickListner for polygons, so you can easily add transparent polygons and intercept [screen] taps directly." This is meant to help reduce the number of layers needed on maps.

The Vision APIs that first appeared in Google Play Services 7.8 has been updated with support for Aztec bar codes. The Vision API can see Aztec bar codes in addition to faces and 2D/3D barcodes. Google says enablng the BarcodeDetector will automatically begin to decode Aztec codes.

The Nearby Messages API snags support for background scanning for Eddystone. Eddystone is Google's open format beacon technology for location-aware services. The update means apps can be programmed to wake up when they sense a beacon in the area. Together with the Proximity Beacon API, developers can wake their apps, trigger screen-on events, and push intents all through background processes. 

If you develop fitness apps, the updated Fitness Platform History API will be news to your ears. Google says the API now supports consistent step counts across the Google Fit app, third-party fitness apps, and Android Wear watch faces. (As a step-counter, I can't tell you how frutrating it is for my various devices/apps to be out of sync with respect to step count.) This should ease a pain point with end users. Another improvement to the backend of this API lets apps update data in one API call rather than two.

Last, Play Services 8.4 introduces a Place Picker Autocomplete Widget. As the name suggests, this widget helps end users by automatically suggesting place names and addresses as they fill in forms and text fields. Google says adding this feature to individual apps requires just a small amount of code and will go a long way to easing the text-entry process for users.

Google has been pushing Play Services 8.4 to Android smartphones and tablets since mid-November, so the bulk of devices should be able to take advantage of these new features as soon as you publish your revised apps.

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