Whats Happening In Android?
Droidcon London is the UK’s biggest gathering of developers who specialise on the Android platform. It takes place once per year at the Business Design Centre in Islington. This year, like every year, I made the pilgrimage along.
The event is informal in nature with much emphasis on learning something new and networking with fellow Android developers, who not only hail from around the UK, but from around Europe and some North American accents can also be heard.
The main focus of the event is for Android p
rofessionals to deliver t
alks on technical subjects. A theme of note this year was Virtual Reality. This was the case from the get-go. The first keynote of the conference was by Noah Falstein of Google who has a background in games development, talking about Google’s efforts and challenges with Virtual Reality and where he sees it going in the future.
I have never been involved with Virtual Reality development before but it was insightful nonetheless to hear of the experiences of someone who is close to the problem and raising points you’d never even think of.
For example, there has been a lot of progress in reducing latency at both hardware and software level so that the motion in the Virtual environment keeps up with the user’s motion. Also, as VR produces two images for each scene, which are slightly offset from each other to cater for each eye, this has to be really thought about as to not make the user uneasy with perspective. This is relevant to what we are doing at xDesign – we’re currently working with Google Cardboard Virtual Reality technology for an app for Visit Scotland.
As usual, Google send a number of their developers along to deliver talks on various aspects of the platform. Chris Banes, who is responsible for some of the Android support libraries, delivered a talk on the inner workings of the Design Support Library – a library provided by Google to assist developers in implementing Material Design in their apps, with explanations of why things are the way they are. I’ve often had to delve deep in to the Design Support Library to debug issues and it was interesting to learn about why the APIs of the library are designed the way they are.
Nick Butcher, an Android design/developer advocate at Google, gave in-depth technical examples of how to create advanced Android animations, using his open-source demonstration application, Plaid. There was great attention to detail, doing advanced animation techniques such as animating the drawing of a path in a vector graphic and custom screen transitions with text.
Huyen Tue Dao delivered a talk about a new way to construct layouts on Android, called ConstraintLayout. The usual way of doing Android layouts is to construct a view hierarchy which can consist of various view managers, but ConstraintLayout is similar to Auto Layout on iOS whereby there is a single layout manager and it lays out its children by using specified rules. For Android developers to relate, it has been described as RelativeLayout on steroids. The takeaway from this talk was that it is a very powerful tool which simplifies creating very complicated layouts, but in my personal opinion it overcomplicates simple layouts, so it’s a tool best used pragmatically in conjunction with existing layout tools.
Kai Koenig talked about Kotlin, a JVM based language which is similar to Swift. Kotlin is brought to us by JetBrains, the creator of IntelliJ IDE which forms the basis of Android Studio. The language is able to be compiled for and run on Android. It is statically typed, concise (meaning less boilerplate), safer as it enforces better handling of null pointers. Coding examples were shown during the talk to show the power of the language, and how more can be achieved with less code than Java. Kotlin can even be intermingled with Java in the same project and talk to Java classes easily (after all, it is a JVM based language). Kotlin is not a first class citizen on Android (at least not yet) but it is worth learning and keep an eye on for latest developments as I’m sure it’ll become a bigger deal in the future.
There was an interesting talk by Lisa Wray on RecyclerView, a tool used by Android to create layouts of scrollable lists of recyclable items. She gave code examples of how to easily achieve swipe to dismiss, item dragging and making RecyclerViews scroll more smoothly. This was one of the key learning highlights at the conference for me as I use RecyclerView almost every day and there were features contained inside that I wasn’t even aware of.
And of course, in recent Droidcon history, no Droidcon London is complete with Chet Haase’s end-of-day-one light-hearted comedy keynote, nor his start-of-day-two keynote on what’s new in the Android platform.
As a maturing platform, there was lots of representation for supporting clean code architectures and code testability, accessibility and internationalisation.
It’s impossible to attend all of the sessions. However, Skills Matter publish videos of the talks on their site soon after the conference, so take a look if you’re wanting to see what Droidcon is about.
As usual much was learnt. I spoke to many fellow Android developers and it was insightful to learn about what code architectures and libraries they are using. Because Droidcon is very much focused on developers it means that it is a very collaborative environment. The talks are provided by those who are well known in the Android community for their knowledge and understanding.
My biggest takeaways was learning about tips and tricks in RecyclerView that I’d not seen before, having a glimpse in to what Kotlin is like, learning how to create advanced animations and learning about how to use ConstraintLayout.
A frantic two days of conferencing has come to its inevitable conclusion, but I will be back next year like I always am. It’s always a pleasure.
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