One of the biggest challenges facing developers right now is the simple fact that the vast majority of people just don’t download that many new apps.
Google might have a solution: Android Instant Apps, which will allow people to use an app without ever having to download it from the Play Store. Instant Apps are now open to all developers, the company announced Wednesday at its I/O developer conference.
First introduced at last year’s I/O, Android Instant Apps essentially let you stream an app from Google’s Cloud. To the user, the experience feels the same as using a downloaded app from the Play Store, but everything is accessed via URLs.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
Google has been experimenting with the feature for the last year and says developers who have had early access have had a lot of success with the feature.
For users, Instant Apps offer a few advantages. For one, you can more easily take advantage of apps you may need once or twice without cluttering your home screen. Likewise, if you’re worried about device storage, Instant Apps allow you to use a service without worrying about running out of space.
It’s also a win for developers because it encourages people to try new apps before they download them. Downloading a new app may not sound like a big hurdle but for new developers, persuading people to try out their services is one of the biggest challenges they face.
For developers, creating an “instant” version of their app is relatively simple. Instant Apps use the same code as existing Play Store apps with a few adjustments.
Of course, there are some limits on what kinds of apps can be turned into Instant Apps. Google limits Instant Apps to 4MB, so some complex apps may not be easily converted to the format. The company is also still working on ways for games to be available via Instant Apps.
Still, it offers an interesting look at a potentially app-less future.
Google, Microsoft, Mozilla And Others Team Up To Launch WebAssembly, A New Binary Format For The Web
The idea is that WebAssembly will provide developers with a single compilation target for the web that will, eventually, become a web standard that’s implemented in all browsers.
Mozilla’s asm.js has long aimed to bring near-native speeds to the web. Google’s Native Client project for running native code in the browser had similar aims, but got relatively little traction. It looks like WebAssemly may be able to bring the best of these projects to the browser now.
As a first step, the WebAssembly team aims to offer about the same functionality as asm.js (and developers will be able to use the same Emscripten tool for WebAssembly as they use for compiling asm.js code today).
It’s not often that we see all the major browser vendors work together on a project like this, so this is definitely something worth watching in the months and years ahead.
The Web as we know it is about to fundamentally change, according to one its luminaries.
WordPress may power nearly a quarter of all websites, but Drupal is no slouch, either, running roughly 5% of all websites globally and 12% of the top 100,000 websites. So when Drupal founder Dries Buytaert declares the Web “will go through a massive re-architecture and re-platforming in the next decade,” it’s worth digging in to see what he means.
From Pull To Push
The Web has served us well for over two decades, serving up content that does everything from helping us become better people to teaching us to change diapers. (Hint: If you don’t usually help out around the house, the answer to the former may have much to do with the latter.)
But that content requires us to find it and, frankly, in an instant gratification society, the world of Google-esque searching may be far too hard for us.
At least, that’s the gist of what Buytaert argues:
The current Web is “pull-based,” meaning we visit websites or download mobile applications. The future of the Web is “push-based,” meaning the Web will be coming to us. In the next 10 years, we will witness a transformation from a pull-based Web to a push-based Web. When this “Big Reverse” is complete, the Web will disappear into the background much like our electricity or water supply.
As Facebook, Flipboard, and other modern Web services demonstrate, this “push-based Web” is all about catering to us, rather than waiting for us to search:
In the future, content, products and services will find you, rather than you having to find them. Puma will let us know to replace our shoes and Marriott will automatically present you room options if you missed your connecting flight. Instead of visiting a website, we will proactively be notified of what is relevant and asked to take action. The dominant function of the Web is to let us know what is happening or what is relevant, rather than us having to find out.
Awash In Notifications
Which means, of course, the way we interact with the Web will have to change. And, indeed, we already are. Anyone who’s received a push notification on their smartphone will find the idea of a push-based Web familiar.
This also applies to ad retargeting. While the initial interest is registered based on a Web search, the ongoing attempt to entice us back is all about push. (Someone needs to tell Backcountry.com that I already have alpine touring gear. I was just browsing for a friend!)
If you’re wondering where apps fit into this new Web, well, you should.
I’m not implying that apps aren’t important. Of course they are. But we’re already seeing legitimate questions raised about their utility in some contexts. (Phocuswright offers great insight into the whole “should I build for mobile Web or apps?” question.) And there’s an even larger question looming: if the future of the Web is about push, how do apps serve that purpose?
In a world where notifications are full experiences in and of themselves, the screen of app icons makes less and less sense. Apps as destinations makes less and less sense. Why open the Facebook app when you can get the content as a notification and take action—like something, comment on something—right there at the notification or OS level. I really believe screens of apps won’t exist in a few years, other than buried deep in the device UI as a secondary navigation.
It’s not really that apps aren’t useful. It’s just that they’re incomplete without interaction. Today that push notification depends upon an app installation so that users can grant permission for apps to push message them.
Tomorrow? Well, it’s doubtful that tomorrow’s mobile world will look like today’s.
Pushing And Pulling
Which brings us back to Buytaert’s thesis. The end result of the Web’s “Big Reverse” is a complete reordering of the global economy, Buytaert insists:
We are at the beginning of a transition bridging two distinctly different types of economies. First, a “push economy” that tries to anticipate consumer demand, creates standardized or generic products in large amounts, and “pushes” them into the market via global distribution channels and marketing. Now, a “pull economy” that—rather than creating standardized products—will create highly customized products and services produced on-demand and delivered to consumers through one-on-one relationships and truly personal experiences.
Developers who want to get ahead of the curve should follow Intercom’s advice and build systems, not destinations. If you want users to live in your app, and have that app be an island, separated from their other apps and the Web, your app is unlikely to succeed.
I suspect we’ll learn from the Apple Watch experience. As I’ve written, until the Apple Watch has built-in GPS it’s worse-than-useless for me, and it may not work for you, either.
But what it will do is teach us to think in terms of notifications, not apps. With such minuscule screen real estate, learning to engage users with notifications will become key. And, just as iOS has impacted the Mac OS X experience so, too, will the diminutive Apple Watch experience bleed into smartphone/tablet and even desktop development.
It’s a push-based future, but you can start on it now.
Lead photo by Jason Howie
Founded by Dropbox and MIT alums, a new startup called Inbox is launching out of stealth today, hoping to power the next generation of email applications. Similar to the newly launched Gmail API, Inbox offers a more modern way to build apps that access end users’ inboxes. But instead of being limited to Gmail, it also works with Yahoo, Microsoft Exchange and others, the company says.
In addition, jabs the company’s website, “Inbox is an email company. Google is an advertising company. This product is our focus, and will not be ‘discontinued’ unexpectedly.”Burn!
Google made waves with the announcement of a new “Gmail API” at its Google I/O developer conference earlier this month, which offers developers who build email applications new tools to access messages, threads, labels and other parts of the Gmail inbox without requiring full inbox access. The idea is to reduce the reliance on older protocols, like IMAP, when apps don’t have to work as an email client, but are rather focusing on a specific feature set – like snoozing messages, or only sending emails on behalf of an end user, for example.
Similarly, the idea with Inbox is to offer an upgrade of sorts from the “archaic protocols and formats” that developers would otherwise have to learn today in order to work with email. However, it supports a wider range of developers, from those who only need a simple feature to those who want to build full-fledged email clients for end users.
The company was co-founded by MIT alums Michael Grinich, previously an engineer at Dropbox and designer Nest, and Christine Spang, an early Linux kernel engineer at Ksplice (acquired by Oracle). The core team at Inbox also includes several other MIT alums, plus those with experience from Google and Firebase, as well as two graduates from the Parallel and Distributed Operating Systems group at MIT CSAIL, which spun out Meraki (acquired by Cisco).
“I actually wrote my thesis at MIT on email tools, and discovered how difficult it was to add features to email apps,” explains Grinich of how Inbox came to be. “One big issue was the underlying plumbing – IMAP, MIME, character encodings, etc. – which is what Inbox fixes for developers.”
But the larger goal with Inbox is not just to offer a suite of developer tools, but to create a new email standard. That means, Grinich says, the company has to provide the fundamental infrastructure as an open source package.
“The sync engine is available for free on GitHub, and we welcome discussion and pull requests,” he says. Currently the open source sync engine works with Gmail and Yahoo mail, with plans to expand soon to all IMAP providers. Meanwhile, enterprise users on Microsoft Exchange can request access to the Inbox Developer program, which supports ActiveSync, and is now in private beta.
Today, developers can download the Inbox engine, sync an account, and begin building on top of the platform in a local development environment. In the future, however, the company will release a hosted version of Inbox that will allow developers to create applications without needing to also scale their own infrastructures.
San Francisco-based Inbox is backed by Fuel Capital, SV Angel, CrunchFund (disclosure: TechCrunch’s founder also founded CrunchFund), Data Collective, Betaworks, and others, but funding details are not disclosed.
One of Google’s primary goals is to spread its Android operating system to any device that you may touch, and that’s going to be a major theme this week at Google’s I/O 2014 developer conference. Android Wear smartwatch development will be front and center. Android TV—a rumored entertainment service from Google—may make an appearance. Android is the prime delivery mechanism for Google’s advanced search product, Google Now.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once infamously chanted “developers, developers, developers!” at a Microsoft event. (A developer event, naturally.) Google’s head of platforms Sundar Pichai might as well come on stage at I/O 2014 and chant, “Android, Android, ANDROID!”
If Android is central to Google’s overall mission, Android Intents—a developer feature that lets Android apps interact with one another—is core to what makes Android unique. As mobile devices have proliferated, the basic infrastructure of how we access information on the Web—namely, websites connected by links—is being supplanted by apps that frequently just don’t talk to one another well, if at all.
That change hasn’t been to Google’s liking, both because it cuts against its long-held mission of indexing the world’s information and because it undermines its core search-advertising business model. So it has quietly built out an infrastructure based on Intents that in some ways replicates the functionality of hyperlinks in the world of apps.
In fact, Google embedded Intents in Android at its inception. They’re easily overlooked, but if you want to get a sense of how our access to the world’s online information will evolve over the next few years, Intents are a pretty good place to start.
What Are Android Intents?
Android Intents are a developer-level technology let apps “shake hands” with one another to help a user complete an action—opening a map, say, or sharing a photo. Unlike similar capabilities in Apple’s iOS and Windows Phone, Intents allow developers to easily create features that connect multiple apps together without having to build each integration separately. (They also make it possible for Android users to choose alternatives to various default apps such as the browser, the mapping application, or the interface theme.)
Example of Android Intents with Link Bubble browser
Intents is used by over 90 percent of Android apps in the Google Play app store. They allow developers to share data between apps without having to hard-code that behavior into the apps themselves. Intents live deep within Android and serve as a kind of plumbing system that shuttles all manner of media and other data into and out of apps in a consistent and universal way.
Have you ever clicked on a link or a video in an app in Android and had a screen pop up asking you which app you would like to use to complete that actions? For instance, if I clicked on a video in an email, a box pops up and asks, “Complete this action using …” and then lists a series of apps such as YouTube or Chrome.
That’s what users experience from Intents. It’s less cumbersome than it might sound, as you can choose a default option and then never see the dialog box again unless you clear the default in settings. The important thing is that the system provides the choice in the first place.
For developers, Intents means that they don’t need to get the cooperation of every other app maker in order to make a feature work across apps. The Intents system includes a long list of actions it can complete; developers simply register a new app with the appropriate capabilities in the Intents system. If an action doesn’t exist in the Intents directory, it’s possible to define it and build it into Intents so any other app developer can use it.
For the last several years, Android Intents was pretty much a unique developer feature. None of the other major mobile operating systems had anything quite like it.
Apple’s own home-grown apps could communicate with each other, but third-party apps were largely left out in the cold. Apple’s control over iOS gave consumers few options beyond Apple’s default apps. Microsoft’s Windows Phone also doesn’t have many developer hooks for cross-app communication and functionality, letting apps live in their own hubs and tiles on the home screen.
Android has never been the easiest operating system to develop on—oddly, the consensus among developers I have asked is that Windows Phone is the easiest on which to code. But Android-first developers and designers have embraced and evangelized features such as Intents as important and unique aspects of the operating system. The fact that nine out of ten apps in the Google Play store have adopted Intents is a good indication of just how deeply ingrained they are in the Android app development experience.
Apple has belatedly recognized the value of letting apps communicate among themselves. One of the biggest new features in its forthcoming iOS 8 operating system is what Apple calls “extensibility.” This is a feature that allows apps to share data and communicate with each other despite being isolated in “sandboxes” for security.
One consequence of extensibility is that iOS apps will, for the first time, be able to receive and handle data that would normally be the province of a designated default app—such as, say, the iOS keyboard. If the popularity of Android Intents is any indication, extensibility is likely to be a big hit among iOS developers.
Cross-Linking For Android Apps
On the Web, the link is king. Site addresses in the form of uniform resource locators (URLs) have long been the standard for how users navigate the Web, clicking through from one page to another.
Smartphones and tablets are beginning to change that basic paradigm. On mobile devices, the app is king—and that means URL-based links often just won’t work for many purposes. Google built Android Intents to offer an app-based alternative that offers something like the universal access to information we normally associate with the Web.
Android Intents may not even register in the mind of the average smartphone user. They are just bopping between apps, reading a Tweet and sharing a picture and reading an article and watching a video and sending an email. But the app-to-app sharing is taking place nonetheless.
One good example of Intents user interaction is seen in an app called Link Bubble, built by independent developer Chris Lacy out of Australia. Link Bubble is essentially a mobile browser, reimagined for the modern smartphone users.
Link Bubble essentially “grabs” links that users click in various apps. Instead of then opening a browser and forcing the user to wait while a page loads, it loads pages in the background, showing the link as a bubble—something like a Facebook Messenger chat head—right there on top of the app user interface.
Users can tab on a bubble to expand it immediately, or share the link by flicking it across the screen (to the right for Facebook, to the left for the read-it-later app Pocket, for instance).
Link Bubble will also automatically open apps from links you click on in other apps. For instance, if you click an Instagram photo on Twitter, normally you’d be redirected to the Instagram website before going into the Instagram app itself. With Link Bubble, you’d click from Twitter and be taken straight to the Instagram Android app.
The ReadWrite team will be at Google I/O this week, bringing you all the news and analysis that you will need from Google’s biggest week of the year.
Dropbox now has 275 million users, most of them consumers who use the service to store their personal files and images. But it’s precisely its popularity at home that could help Dropbox at work, as the company pushes out its latest Dropbox for Business update on Wednesday.
All Work And All Play
Last November, Dropbox announced some long-awaited updates to Dropbox for Business. The most crucial one was a tweak to Dropbox’s familiar, simple interface: In place of the single desktop file folder labeled “Dropbox,” business users would find two folders, one labeled “Personal” and one named after their employer.
Those updates are now live. Dropbox users whose workplace has paid for the service can share pictures, videos, documents and other files, switching between work and personal files without having to juggle two accounts. At the same time, their employers can manage their work files without touching their personal files.
In the past, Dropbox customers had to switch accounts, use kludges like Chrome’s incognito browsing mode, or just mix together personal and business files. While it seems obvious that people might want to share all kinds of files with Dropbox, accommodating this scenario was actually quite a technical problem for the company. It required a full-scale rebuild, according to Ilya Fushman, head of Dropbox for Business.
That rebuild frees up Dropbox to build new features, while keeping most of the simplicity Dropbox is known for. In the place of one folder for all your files, there are now two.
Its rollout comes at a critical time. While Dropbox retails storage services to consumers and businesses, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are slashing prices for wholesale storage. In the short term, this seems like it should be good for Dropbox, dropping the price it must pay Amazon and other service providers for storage and bandwidth. In the long run, though, it seems inevitable that those savings will get passed on to consumers, challenging Dropbox’s pricing.
Box, a Dropbox competitor who recently filed to go public, is emphasizing its collaboration features and industry-specific apps built on its platform. Meanwhile, Google and Microsoft have their own Dropbox competitors, Google Drive and OneDrive, which they are weaving closely into their own suites of online apps.
Dropbox’s account-linking strategy takes full advantage of its biggest asset—its 275 million users, whose ubiquity is a big reason why it’s worked its way into businesses in the first place. People use the tool they’re familiar with in the workplace, and when they need to share with contractors, partners, or other outsiders, the odds are good that they, too, have a Dropbox account.
All those consumer accounts—most of them free—still have value for Dropbox. They are word-of-mouth marketing for the brand and built-in leads for its salesforce. That’s why Dropbox is a prime example of how a consumer-friendly tool can work its way into businesses.
Still, some workplaces ban Dropbox, fear that files will leak out through it. Can Dropbox find its way into these locked-down environments with complex security requirements?
It already has in some cases. Here are some of the features Dropbox has rolled out, in the hope of getting a slice of the IT budgets currently going to giants like IBM and Microsoft:
- Remote wipe: Systems administrators can automatically wipe a business account if they think the account may be compromised—just the business files, leaving personal files untouched.
- Downloadable audit logs: Customers can have more visibility into who is sharing which documents. Those logs can then be put into an analytics system like Splunk for deeper probing.
- Account transfer: Turnover is a fact of business. Account transfer—a feature already seen in Google Drive—moves files from an ex-employee to a current employee.
Even with these new features, Dropbox faces an uphill battle in courting businesses against Box and Microsoft, which have more feet on the street calling on large businesses.
Microsoft is the real power when it comes to documents, thanks to its Office suite, where so many work documents begin. Office is increasingly tied into OneDrive, the company’s file-sharing and -storage service.
It seems unlikely that Dropbox will hire a large army of salespeople to respond. It still has more jobs listed for engineers than for salespeople—and its sales openings include titles like “sales engineer” and “solutions architect.” While others sell, sell, sell their products, the updates to Dropbox for Business represents a bet that the company can engineer its way to customers’ hearts—at home, and at the office.
Really terrible Photoshop, for which he apologizes, by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite
Responsive design is rapidly becoming the new standard in our industry, along with its evolving carousel of best practices, platforms and tools. The movement has caused a shift in thinking, especially as we adapt our workflows for a more efficient project process.
From content structure to scalable images, we’ll cover seven techniques to consider in your next responsive design.
If you are a designer or developer, what are some of your strategies for responsive web design? Please share your recommendations with readers in the comments below.
1. Mobile First
Starting with a mobile first approach and designing with progressive enhancement covers all bases, helps you focus and prioritize the constraints of mobile design, while you build new innovative experiences and capabilities.
It means the default presentation and base content is mobile, optimized for the simplest devices first. Devices with small screens and media query support is then served an advanced layout. Finally, the content and layout are then enhanced for the “desktop.” It’s an approach even Google has adopted, as the number of people perusing the web on mobile devices continues to grow at an incredible rate.
Designing for the mobile experience should now be our starting point, not the end. It forces us to focus on the essential content, to build optimized, fast-loading mobile experiences that are progressively enhanced, with the user at the forefront.
As ZURB, the team behind the popular responsive CSS framework, Foundation, noted, “A mobile first approach doesn’t just concentrate on developing for mobile phones; it is also used to develop better usability of sites, develop better use of web real estate and better reduce the amount of unnecessary elements from web pages.”
While the mobile first responsive design technique is still in its infancy, and presents a variety of technical challenges, embracing it means you are building on an adaptive, focused, lean, uncluttered future-friendly foundation.
Read the full article: Mashable