It was a packed agenda that covered a wide variety of Google products. Here are some notes and thoughts on each section.
KeyNote - 2018 Vision and Roadmap for Play by Kevin Fives
A focus of this presentation was that developers should put energy into testing apps in Chrome OS, adapting to Instant Apps, and testing split screen functionality. Google Play is going to highlight recommended apps for users based on a variety of metrics. Among those, app flexibility and stability are something that developers can directly control. An app's vitals will greatly affect the app's discoverability. Additionally, they'll be rolling out functionality where a developer can target alpha releases on a per-country basis and 2018 will bring the promotion of multi apks to support different markets and devices.
Developing for Oreo by Sean McQuillan
The primary point here was to test existing apps against new functionality and take advantage of that functionality where appropriate. Not everything covered was new specifically to Oreo, but overall they're newer features in general. Some specific use cases discussed were:
- extended ratio
- notification channels
- Digital Asset Links
- shared fonts in Google Fonts Provider
- more emojis
Identity and Security by Steven Soneff
A highlight here was Smart Lock for Passwords to be able to share passwords for apps and websites across mediums. This was particularly interesting to me because we had recently launched an Android app for a client who had a responsive web app for a long time. If users could easily have their passwords transferred from Chrome to the Android app, it makes the barrier to entry for the app all that much lower.
Build Beautiful Mobile Apps with Flutter by Martin Aguinis & Wm Leler
Some of the Android developers at Rocket have discussed Flutter in our previous regular Android meetings. It looks promising, but the "build-once-deploy-everywhere" claim is always an ambitious one to make. This time may actually be different because it doesn't use some kind of layer on top of native code. Flutter compiles directly to native code.
One compelling point from this talk was hearing how the Hamilton iOS and Android apps were built using Flutter by an agency in attendance, Posse. That makes Flutter all that less scary and more intriguing.
Android Instant Apps by David Scannell
The idea behind Android Instant Apps is to allow users to install just a small portion of your app. To do this, you divide your app into features and a base module. The base module and a single feature combined have to be less than 4MB. You can have multiple features separated out in this way.
This fits in nicely with Play's push for multi apks and Android Go support.
Actions on Google
Actions on Google power Google Assistant. Rocket has had success launching Alexa Skills, so working with Actions makes a lot of sense.
One interesting tidbit is that currently users use natural language for about 70% of requests. Actions work across all devices that use Google Assistant, giving you access to a plethora of devices.
Android Vitals by Joel T Newman
In 2018, Google Play plans to really use vitals to determine which apps to surface to users. An app with what Google considers bad behavior will drastically affect your placement in Google Play.
Android Architecture Components by Lyla Fujiwara
This was an intro to Android Architecture Components, which we're using in production apps at Rocket. We've run into some issues that might not be obvious initially, but since then have cleaned them up. It was interesting to see that we're an agency on the forefront here.
Optimizing for Chrome OS by Kenneth Ford
This talk opened with the fact that Chrome OS is the second most popular OS in the United States. For most Android apps, the focus should be on testing for screen sizes, testing freeform resize, and confirming there are no configuration change issues. The Android target needs to be at least API level 24, which is easy to achieve at this point. Finally, a Chrome emulator is coming soon so it'll be easier to do some initial tests before running out to get another device.
UX App Review
One of the additional selling points to the Agency Day was that you'd get one-on-one time with a Google designer for a user experience review. Initially, they were scheduled for 20 minutes, but mine ended up going for an hour with a lot of great advice and back and forth. As a result, I missed the presentations of Google Cloud by Sara Robinson and What's new in Firebase: Firestore, Functions, and more! by Sachin Kotwani & Mike McDonald. While I would've liked to attend every presentation, the UX review was phenomenal.
I was paired with a designer named Tommy, but unfortunately I didn't get his last name. Much of the advice was specific to the PatientsLikeMe Android app we had recently launched. However, some of the more general pieces of advice were that after we had the initial Material Design nailed like we did for PatientsLikeMe, it was time to start bending the rules. Material Design means trust to Android users and is what they expect. After that, it's time to customize the design to your specific brand. The downfall of following Material Design closely is that you can end up not strongly differentiating your app. Now that we've followed the rules, it's time to bend them.
Progressive Web Apps: An overview by Jeffrey Posnick
After the UX review, I came into this presentation part way through. Much of it followed what I remember from back when I was a frontend web developer. By using new features and web workers, you can create a web app that behaves like a native app in many ways. Users aren't trained to expect that yet, but avoiding the Chrome Dinosaur is a great objective.
Google Agency Day was a long and informative one. There was a chance to meet other agencies and see what they were up to as well as get some insider access to what Google plans to do in the future as well as see what they think are important aspects of what an agency should be and do. We're looking forward to what else they might offer and what new events are in store for 2018.