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I/O 2016: Android 2.2 Gets New Test Recorder, Layout Designer and More

Much of the press around this year's Google I/O event focused on the company's day-one consumer app-economy announcements, but there was plenty of news for enterprise developers in the opening keynote.

The most immediately relevant announcement was the launch of Preview 1 of Android Studio 2.2. The upcoming version of the official IDE for Android app development includes a rewritten layout designer, an automated test recorder, a Firebase plug-in, and the latest updates of JetBrains' IntelliJ IDEA and CLion development environments, on which the IDE is based.

The most welcome upgrade (judging from the applause the announcement received) is the new test recorder feature. Based on the Expresso testing framework provided by the Android Testing Support Library, the new tool allows devs to test an app manually while recording the interactions in Espresso code. That code can be played back across a number of platforms, including Google's Cloud Test Lab, to re-test the UI over and over again.

The new layout designer also drew its share of oohs and aahs from the crowd. Designing the UI for an Android app can be challenging, given the variety of screen sizes and resolutions the developer must accommodate. The rewritten designer calculates the screen positioning and sizing (constraints), which means the UIs can resize automatically for different screens.

Android Studio 2.2 also introduces support for the NDK-Build and Cmake build tools used for creating C++-based apps.

Versions of Android Studio 2.2 for Windows, Mac, and Linux can be downloaded now from the Canary Channel Page.

Google also announced that it will be adding features to its Firebase back-end-as-a-service product, which it acquired in 2014. The company plans to integrate Firebase fully with its existing products and services, and says that many previously paid-for features, such as Cloud Messaging, will be free going forward. The new Firebase is a single SDK that provides analytics, remote config, crash reporting, test lab, notifications, dynamic links, invites, AdWords and AdMobs. One notable new feature, Crash Reporting, provides reports to help diagnose and fix problems that show up in Android or iOS apps. The feature is based on Firebase Analytics, which allows developers to see information about how and where an app is being used.

The company also made several announcements around the third (and probably last) preview release of Android N. This version of the OS is shaping up to be very VR-centric, with support for the new Daydream system, announced at the show. The new OS will also support the advanced Vulkan graphics API, and and bring split-screen multitasking and picture-in-picture video playback. And there's a new JIT compiler designed to improve performance and take up less storage space.

The "N" in Android N is just a placeholder, of course, and Google has invited the public to help name the next version. ("Namey McNameface" has been disqualified as a potential option.) I'm guessing they'll be looking for something sweet, given the previous naming scheme. For what it's worth, I'd go retro with something like Abba-Zaba or Pop Rocks.

Posted by John K. Waters on May 19, 2016