4 Updates to Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) for App Developers

October 6, 2015
Ashley Rondeau

If you’re a fairly big Android fan like us (well, those of us on the team that aren’t total Apple fanboys), you’ve probably already downloaded the factory images for Android’s latest OS update rolling out starting yesterday: 6.0 dubbed Marshmallow. We’ve had a chance to play around with it and… it’s not bad! Some new features are cool (On Tap! Doze!), some are not (oh, vertical scroll on the app drawer…), and some are head scratchers (Adoptable Storage for SD cards? We guess Samsung Galaxy owners might care).
However, there are a few updates that will directly affect Android app developers. Let’s dive into 4 Marshmallow updates that you need to know about.

1. Google Now on Tap

Google Now has been Android’s answer to Apple’s Siri since the Jelly Bean era (2012), and it was great. Press a button or say “Ok Google” and you could use it to search by voice, or let it display relevant cards (to your location) on your Google Now screen. Now on Tap goes a step further and integrates 3rd party apps. It’s pretty fun playing with it, and gadgets.ndtv.com has a good description of how it’s used if you’re curious.
now_on_tap_ndtv_1The take away for developers is pretty big: now that Google Now, a ubiquitous Android feature that users frequent, supports 3rd party apps, you’ll want to make sure your app plays nicely with the ecosystem. Since Now on Tap can generate cards based on text and links within your app, it’s very important you’ve implemented app indexing if you already haven’t (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?). Also, since Google suggests apps to launch for various searches, you’ll want to position your app to appear in these cases.
Keep an eye out for more information on integrating with Now on Tap in the coming weeks. Google has stated that “developers will be able to take extra steps to mark up their apps and make them even more effective with the system.” Meanwhile, read up on “Assist API” to see the nuts and bolts of how it all works.

2. Google Voice for 3rd Parties

“Ok Google” has become a popular way of launching apps, but the latest Android can do more than just open your app. Now the updated Voice Interaction API allows your app to plug into the Google app that handles “Ok Google,” which enables two-way dialog.

tunein-interactionFor example, a user could say “Ok Google, play music with Spotify,” and the app could ask “What artist?” This is pretty big: your app can now talk back to the user, ask contextual questions, and become that much more useful. Sure it’s a little limited. From our research, it seems your app can only choose from a number of voice commands Google already offers, but this is definitely something to keep tabs on. As this new feature expands, voice commands could be the next major way users interact with your app.

3. On-demand Permissions

For the first time, users can deny or allow specific permissions an app asks for. Basically, they can check off whether your app can access Location, Storage, Camera, etc. Here’s a look at how a user can switch off whether an app can access the camera or not.

Android-6.0-Marshmallow-permission-managerThis is a great move by Google as they continue to give users more and more control over their privacy, but we app developers should think about what this change means. Now we can’t ask for a block of permissions at the get-go of a download. This will definitely affect the more nefarious app businesses out there, but even those on the up-and-up have to consider whether they really need certain permissions or at least be ready to explain exactly why they’re needed. Google suggests “updating apps and testing out the new API libraries…so that any issues and bugs can be ironed out,” so heed that warning and make sure your app’s permissions play nice with this new update.

4. Fingerprint API

 Sure, there aren’t any devices with both a fingerprint sensor and Marshmallow (only Nexus devices have the updated OS and sensor-equipped ones aren’t out yet), but that just gives app developers more time to build in this feature. Most likely, if your app already exists on iOS, you’re familiar with how this will work. This is just Google officially providing an API to unify how apps interact with the eventual sensors on their hardware. Basically, Google doesn’t want Samsung to muck up with their OEM solutions. Nothing earth-shattering, but it’s nice to see this finally come to Android.

Did we miss any new Marshmallow features that devs should keep an eye on? Sound off in the comments below!


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