Google I/0 2014

As every year, i’m gonna summarise what i found most interesting about this year’s I/O. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of public material relevant to game developers. According to the schedule there have been a few hands-on talks with Intel, Nvidia, ARM etc. on performance tuning, but no videos are available on that. So, breaking with the tradition a little, i’ll highlight what i found interesting from a more general point of view. Here’s the keynote (danger, very long, very robotic, kinda boring):

New Android version “L”

Now, hold your horses. The new version is still in the making and will be released this fall. However, you can get preview release images for the Nexus line of devices and emulator images. A lot of new features went into this one, some are quite interesting for us libGDX folks:

  • Dalvik’s out, ART is in. Starting with L, ART is the new default VM on Android. Dalvik has been completely removed from L, which is a good thing. Preview builds of ART didn’t work with libGDX due to some JNI issues on ART’s side. Those have been resolved and merged into L.
  • Separate rendering thread. Previously the UI toolkit thread did both processing and rendering. Not anymore, there’s a separate rendering thread to which the UI toolkit thread is sending display lists essentially.
  • 64-bit support. This has been long coming, and it must have been pain to fix up the class library which used 32-bit ints to store pointers to native peers. While this mostly opens up the possibility of more addressable RAM, it also may give us some new instructions/registers ART and native code can exploit.
  • OpenGL ES 3.1 support and Android extensions pack. It appears that most GPU vendors in the Android ecosystem are now pushing for OpenGL extensions for tessellation, geometry and compute shaders (and still not OpenCL…) as well as things like ATSC texture compression. We’ll see how that pans out, i’m not sure it’s to relevant for libGDX at this point.
  • USB audio. Not sure if they finally fixed the audio latency, which i guess is part software/driver part hardware related.
  • Project Volta. Aims at giving users more control and insight into battery usage. There’s also a method level kind of battery profiler called Battery Historian which is really awesome! Here’s the talk on Project Volta which i haven’t seen yet.

There’s of course a metric ton of other additions, but i didn’t feel that those were to relevant for game devs. Check out Chet Haase and Adam Powell’s talk on what’s new in Android L:

Material Design

Most of Android’s current design was introduced with Ice Cream Sandwich, with iterations in Jelly Bean and and KitKat. With the new Android release called ‘L’ we get a new iteration called Material Design. Apart from the nitty gritty design principles you should follow, the big obvious things for non-designers like me where:

  • Shadows: every view now has an elevation value (z-coord), based on which the framework can draw orthographic soft shadows. It looks awesome, and gives us a back a bit of the the feel before everybody went insane with “flat” designs.
  • Animations: everything is animated. I’m not a super big fan of this as it’s easy to overuse it. But the things presented so far looked very non-intrusive while giving things a nice natural touch. I especially like the new activity transitions, which can take a few of the activity that’s being left and animate it into the activity that’s being started.

Quite a few talks have been given on Material Design. My favourite is of course the Romain Guy/Chet Haase. They are giving a bit of a behind the scene talk, with Romain explaining how the shadow rendering works. They also tell us why Romain was fired from the Android team and is now working on boring robots instead.

Chet Haase and Adam Powell also gave a nice round-up talk on how to write Material Design apps for Android. Adam will likely replace Romain in upcoming I/Os, which is sad, sorta.

Android Wear, TV and Auto

Introduced in the keynote, Android Wear is what you expect: smart watches that can hook up to your Android devices and desktops/laptops. Definitely not for me, but some people seem to like to order their pizza with those things (as demonstrated in the keynote video). Android TV is a bit more interesting, as it means that TV set vendors may start using Android as the OS running the TV. This is sorta like a death blow to Ouya and other micro consoles and may indicate that Google is not interested in playing the console game after all. Android Auto must have been the most underwhelming thing next to wear. While Google was able to round up a few manufacturers that will ship their 2015+ line ups of cars with Android Auto, i can’t really find the appeal. Similar to wearables. You hop in your car, then have your phone hook up to the console of your car. Maybe i’m just to old, so all i really need is Android TV.

Android Fireside Chat

I always look forward to the fire side. Some insights:

  • Java 8, no comment. This led me to believe that Google may pull a Swift on us (though very unlikely given the investment in Java within the framework)
  • Google’s not gonna pull a Swift on us, so says Dianne Hackborne. Neither will Scala become the new lang for Android.
  • Eclipse support is on it’s way out according to Xavier Ducrohet and David Burke, though improvements in the Gradle Eclipse integration should keep Android working in Eclipse. Somewhat.

  • IKIGames

    Nice reading! Thanks for the summary!

  • micax

    Definitely an underwhelming I/O this year.

    Personally, I found the biggest disappointment to be the continued lack of support – or even a hint that of it going to happen – for bringing Android to the last big computing platform that it is missing from. You know… actual PCs. I hadn’t gotten my hopes too high (although rumors last year claimed that 5.0 would be the “keyboard and mouse” release of Android), but it did feel rather ludicrous to watch them prattle on and on about cross-platform, and how you’ll soon be running Android in the lapels of your suit… and yet you can still not run an Android app in Chrome, and you can still not run an Android app on your Linux/Windows/Mac laptop/desktop.

    It’s great that they want to continue to support Java (Oracle should be thanking them for that. rather than fighting them in court), but I’d really like to see them do something to make the Android flavor of Java more useful on other platforms. If not for libGDX, it would be much better to go C++ or C# than Java when coding for Android.

  • Anonymous

    Eclipse is on its way out? What are we supposed to use? Android Studio, which has no NDK support?

  • Thanos Fisherman

    Can one use Android studio for standar Java and LibGdx desktop games? If yes then there might be a chance

  • http://magory.net/ Tomasz Kucza

    They put Android apps on Chrome OS which is quite strange – why not dump Chrome OS and just use Android with full Chrome browser installed? Also the word about dropping Eclipse support is scary. That would be a lot of work for us to move old projects and even more since Desktop would have to be separate etc.

  • http://www.mattjohnston.co/ Matthew Johnston

    IntelliJ or some other build tools. Though I don’t know how true that Eclipse is on the way out. That is a pretty big jump.

  • random guest

    Hey Mario, you really should add desktop compiling with Avian feature to LibGDX 1.3.0

  • Anon

    Visual Studio is going to support Android from 14′s beta apparently.