How Google Plans On Conquering Fitness While Apple Focuses On Health

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: despite the popular lexicon, health and fitness are two very different categories.

Google wants to own your fitness data. Apple wants your health data. The battle between the forthcoming Google Fit and Apple’s HealthKit is an extension of the war between Android and iOS and two fundamentally different approaches.

Health is a messy world reigned by old laws and government regulation. Any entrepreneur that thought they can make a huge dent in the world of health—how doctors and healthcare professionals conduct their business—has been met with a rude awakening. Doctors don’t like change and the rules around the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) make it difficult to build the next generation of health and medical applications. If you want to see everything that is wrong with the health software development system in the United States, just take a deep look at what really happened with the rollout of Obamacare in 2013.

Fitness is a much more open and technologically advanced ecosystem, at least in the realm of consumer electronics. Fitness software is not governed by HIPAA or subject to stodgy rules by physicians or insurance companies. Wearable fitness trackers devices like the FitBit, JawBone Up and Nike FuelBand are common and socially accepted and do not take a doctor to set up and understand. Fitness is unencumbered by the restraints of the medical system and plays to the ego of the user, a combination that makes it a much more appealing (and profitable) target for app developers.

Google is well aware of the difference between health and fitness, especially from an app development perspective. It has already been down the tangled web of health and medical software when it launched Google Health in 2008 as, “a safe and secure way to collect, store, and manage [your] medical records and health information online.”

Keep this tag line in mind.

Google shut down Google Health in 2011 and the company was forthright in saying why.

Google senior product manager Aaron Brown wrote at the time:

Now, with a few years of experience, we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would. There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people.

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How Google’s Material Design Is A Massive Modification Of Android

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Design is often the neglected stepchild in app development. How it looks and feels, how a user experiences an app is often forgotten when developers start creating the futuristic capabilities of their dreams.

Google long eschewed design in favor of development. A company founded by engineers, design has always tended to the simplistic at Google. The de-prioritization of design showed in the first several years of Android. But that has changed in recent years. Google has placed an emphasis on design in the Android L Developer Preview, fundamentally changing the aesthetic principle of how Android apps are made.

At first glance, Material seems like the least interesting aspect of the Android L. Throwaway comments abound about Material, calling it a direct copy of Apple iOS and Windows Phone. Many people find it hard to get excited by anything described as “guidelines,” especially if it is about app or Web design. Beyond the surface-level examination of Material, a more in-depth investigation reveals that Google’s new design language contains great depth mixed with a sound strategy.

Material suffers from a bit of a naming issue—the word Material has many different interpretations and therefore can cause different reactions based on what definition a person attaches to it. In one early account of Material, an author thought it referred to being actually tactile—as in something you could feel with your fingertips.

Google describes Material as:

“A material metaphor is the unifying theory of a rationalized space and a system of motion. The material is grounded in tactile reality, inspired by the study of paper and ink, yet technologically advanced and open to imagination and magic.”

Google’s description might sound a bit pretentious and precious, it is actually a very accurate description. “Material” doesn’t mean it is something you can feel. Rather, Material is something that behaves like it is made of real stuff—real substance that exists in the physical world. That means that interfaces and objects live on “paper” and react as real objects would; with a sense of mass and size. Objects appear and disappear with some sense of logic, because, in the real world, objects do not appear and disappear (generally) in a random fashion. Material is an interface with intent.

My colleague Dan Rowinski covered the basics of Material in his primer on Android L Developer Preview. If you haven’t read it, you should start there as it provides a good understanding of all of the components of Android L. This article, however, will concentrate on a specific portion of Material: Layout. Specifically, the Paper metaphor for constructing basic layouts and user interfaces.

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The Present (And Future) For Android Wear Apps

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Wearage is what brings us together, today. Android Wear, that is.

Google and its Android manufacturing partners have fired the first major salvo in the smartwatch Arm Race to control the computers we will strap to our wrists. Android Wear is just the beginning of popular wearable technology. Apple will eventually get in on this game and so will a plethora of would-be contenders, some which may actually ride the wearable wave to a seat at the big table in Silicon Valley.

But we must remember where we are in the evolution of the wearable computer: the very beginning.

Android Wear is a perfect example of this nascent wearable world. At its most basic level, Android Wear and its first two smartwatches—the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live—are notification devices with simple hardware, development and design principles. Android Wear devices are not the culmination of years of advancement in computer science and technology … they are flawed first-generation consumer products that will continue to grow in features and functionality over time.

As we are at the beginning of this road, it is a perfect time to take stock of the current landscape and offer a little insight into what is coming on the horizon.

What Android Wear Apps Can Do Right Now

To get started with Android Wear development you are going to need an Android smartphone with Android 4.3 (API Level 18) or higher, the latest version of Google Play Services and an Android Wear Device or a Android Virtual Device (AVD) available either in Eclipse or Android Studio integrated developer environment.

Android Wear smartwatches are fundamentally notification devices paired via Bluetooth to an Android smartphone. That is how Google designed the software and that is how smartwatches are being used by the handful of people that have bothered to pony up the money to get a ticket on the early adopter barge.

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The App Developer’s Primer For Android “L” Beta

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Android developers always play catch up. But that may be about to change.

Over the past six years, Google has released a new version of its Android mobile operating system once or twice a year. Then most everybody that makes Android smartphones, tablets and apps had to scramble. Google gave developers no lead time, no advanced warning that a new version of Android was about to drop. Three to six months would pass before state-of-the-art Android smartphones and apps were optimized to the newest version.

In 2014, Google is finally breaking this cycle of release and scramble. Instead of unveiling the new version of Android and making it immediately available to the public, Google has released Android into a beta period—a developer preview—where app makers and manufacturers can build new devices and apps before the new version of Android is officially ready for the public. It is a simple tactic that both Apple and Microsoft use for iOS and Windows Phone and should ease the burden on the entire Android ecosystem.

Android L—as the beta period is called—should go live in the autumn this year. Last year Google announced Android 4.4 KitKit on October 31st. The “L” Preview looks like it could be on a similar timeframe after being unveiled at Google’s I/O developer conference in late June.

Why Android “L?” Google names each successive version of Android after a dessert in alphabetical order (Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat), so Android L will be a tasty treat, maybe Lollipop or Lemon Pie.

Android is beginning to be defined not just by what it can and cannot do on smartphones and tablets, but on any variety of devices. Google has announced various extensions of Android, such as the new Android TV, Android Wear, Android Auto and Google Fit. We will focus on the varying aspects of Android this week, starting today with the L Preview.

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