Android L first take: Developers are excited, intrigued

Comparisons between Google's new OS with its visual 'material design' concept and rival Apple's iOS are emerging

New design philosophy? New runtime? It all sounds good to developers ready to give Google's upcoming Android L release a try.

Unveiled this week at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Android L includes the "material design" visual design concept that spans across mobile and other platforms. The company at the event emphasized Android everywhere, with the OS powering devices ranging from watches, via Android Wear, to televisions, with Android TV, and even automobiles, through Android Auto.

"I'm quite excited about Android L," said developer Mike Burton, of Groupon. "I'm more excited about Android L than I have been about KitKat or Jellybean or most of the other updates that have been out recently." Burton, who also is author of "Android Application Development for Dummies," cited material design as a highlight. "As a developer, that's a very exciting opportunity for us to consolidate the look and feel of our Android apps with the look and feel of our Web apps. And it's a nice, fresh design that works very well and I think it will make our apps easier to use for our customers."

Material design improves the Android look and feel with enhanced animation and and touch design capabilities, including rich shadowing. Although featured within L, it spans across multiple Google technologies, serving as a design language and philosophy for use on devices ranging from watches to TVs. A major takeaway from material design is "motion matters," said Adam Powell, of Google's Android UI toolkit team. "Movement can teach a user what something can do and where it came from."

Other Android developers also said they appreciate Google's design emphasis. "I like the design," said developer Akop Karaeetayan. Materials design makes Android look a lot more mature, he said. Other developers see Google keeping tabs on rival Apple in the design realm. "The biggest area that we have disagreements on in the company that I work for is generally around design -- design between iOS and Android," said one developer who requested anonymity. He noted Apple also has emphasized design with its flat design concept. Material design, said Eoin O'Connor, principal software engineer at Fidelity Investments, is "interesting." He added he did not know what his company's designers would think of it yet. But O'Connor appreciates Google's intent to have a consistent user experience across multiple types of devices.

Not everyone was floored by Android L and material design. Android L, said Fredrik Toorn, who manages Android developers at Sony Mobile Communications, was "perhaps a little less than I expected." He described material design as a "nice" feature. While calling Android L a "big leap from KitKat," developer David Fultz, of Sprint, is taking a wait-and-see approach. "Right now, it's just a glossy brochure to me." But Toorn and Burton gave a thumbs-up to Google's plan for connectivity between devices. "Having your phone talk to your watch, talk to your car, talk to your TV, is a really good opportunity for us as developers and it's a really good user experience as well," Burton said.

The Android RunTune, which was available as an option in Android 4.4, is the exclusive runtime in the L release. It is drawing positive reviews. "We've been using ART for a while and it's definitely an improvement," Burton said.

O'Connor also welcomes the runtime. "That's going to be great for developers because [with] the old Dalvik [virtual machine], the garbage collection system was not efficient." He anticipates ART being faster and more memory-efficient.

Android L also offers improvements intended to boost battery power via tools such as Battery Historian, which correlates battery and device activity. The battery life capabilities are mostly around tools for developers to check battery life of their own applications, Burton noted. This will take time to be rolled out across different applications, he said.

The battery life tools sound promising, Fultz said. "This is going to have to be a show-me type of thing first for us." Sony, however, already has tended to battery management in its own mobile devices, negating the need for Google's new tools, Toorn said. "We already have a solution for that." Karaeetyan said he understands the battery life enhancements offer just a 15- to 20-minute improvement.

Android L features more than 5,000 new APIs. "It's a lot," Karaeetyan said. "But I'm wiling to bet a lot of that is probably due to TV and wearables." The mobile space, said developer Ryan Morlok, CTO of Docalytics, is maturing, hence Google is branching out to smartwatches. "That's going to be kind of the next battleground and I think Google sees that as well as anybody," said Morlok, who develops applications for the Google Cloud platform. He noted Apple also wants in on this space with its iWatch.

This article, "Android L first take: Developers are excited, intrigued," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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