At Google I/O, all eyes on Android Auto and Android TV

What developers need to know about the expanding Android ecosystem

Volvo Android Auto console
Credit: Google/Volvo

Developers from around the world are gathering on the lawn at the Shoreline Amphitheater today. Excitement for the annual Google I/O conference is a given, but this week’s announcements will undoubtedly keep developers on their toes. Any platform update or new feature contributes to an already fragmented Android ecosystem—making the Android Developer’s job more complex.

Google is going all-in on new user interfaces with updates for Android Auto and Android TV. By offering better ways to tap into these new technologies, all eyes are on app developers to fill in the emerging market. Integrating with platforms like Android Auto and Android TV may offer a competitive advantage, but doing so won’t be a walk in the park. As Google I/O lays out the road ahead for the Android landscape, there are several checkpoints dev and test teams need to hit along the way.

Speed bumps ahead with Android Auto

At this week’s conference, we can tell Android Auto is gaining momentum. The number of cars that support the platform is growing, and it won’t be long until developing for Android Auto is as valuable as Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel.

The platform offers tremendous value for companies and consumers alike, so it’s success should come as no surprise. Built-in Android Auto applications allow users to easily navigate, play music, make calls or send messages using a voice assistant, while giving brands a chance to engage with consumers on the road. We’ve been seeing companies like Spotify, Skype, Telegram and Podcast Republic take advantage of this unique opportunity, and it won’t be long before others take the wheel.

As always, adding yet another consumer touchpoint comes at a cost. As apps evolve to fit into the connected-car ecosystem, they integrate with more than just the Google platform, but each car’s audio or navigation systems. With a growing list of supported vehicles, your user experience needs to remain consistent across Audi, Ford, Chevy and others. Unique constraints across vehicles offer a heavy set of challenges on the development side, and overlooking this can have some shaky implications for your app’s performance. That’s where testing and optimization come in—a crucial step in development that can make or break your app.

To add another layer of complexity, your Android Auto apps won’t be alone in the connected car, but will be one of many built-in car apps that compete for the same resources. Apps like Hyundai’s Blue Link, which syncs Google Home with your car, can easily cause a glitch or slow down your app. Most people don’t realize that while Android Auto apps are running via Bluetooth, their performance can be affected by the dozens of mobile apps running on your phone. Even if Snapchat or LinkedIn isn’t interacting with Android Auto, the moment a notification comes through can cause your app to falter, resulting in a frustrated (or lost) user.

Starting to make sense why testing for these scenarios during development make for a smoother ride, right?

Zooming in on Android TV

Google is serving up Android TV on a silver platter. In the past, app developers could leverage DVR recording capabilities and PiP (picture-in-picture) through their Android 7.0 Nougat devices or dedicated Android TV box. Now, the new user interface is becoming much more accessible. Google plans to enhance Android TV APIs to enable app developers to better develop content that suits the platform, and offered a checklist to help devs design and build these apps to enhance the end user experience.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, app developers in gaming, media and entertainment leveraging existing capabilities in Android 7.0 (and upcoming capabilities in Android O) have a few hurdles to clear before fully making the transition to Android TV. For example, the PiP capability on Android TV can now show what’s playing in the picture window while a user navigates the program menu or the TV settings. In building apps for these new features, developers need to be aware of the challenges around supported network protocols for audio and video playback, and audio and codec formats. Keep in mind that Google is recommending device agnostic codecs and protocols to avoid any unwanted issues.

Additional challenges arise around game-based apps as well. Multiplayer games require a split screen with proper design/display and controls—a whole new set of obstacles for developers to navigate during development. It’s a lot to consider, but thankfully Google is providing tools and emulators to help streamline the Android TV app development process. These tools can be used through their dedicated SDK, making it easier to connect to virtual devices and validate app functionality and compliance. All the more incentive for teams to start building and designing apps for the increasingly popular user interface.

Building for Google’s latest and greatest

Android Auto and Android TV are just the tip of the iceberg. This week’s announcements at Google I/O are giving Android developers a ton of opportunity, but a whole slew of new boxes to check before deployment can actually take place. But as long as Android developers are willing to adapt their dev and test practices to work within the evolving digital landscape, anything revealed at Google I/O this week will be a challenge worth facing.

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