Android Q for Quick Release

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Android Q for Quick Release

You may think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but Android Q is already on the horizon.  Yes, we just finished covering the release of Pie a few months ago.  But it looks as though rollouts are starting to pick up more speed in the Android community.  Android Q’s full scale release is slated for 2019, and last week it was hinted that it will be available on a wider scale than we’ve seen before.

Android’s History:

Unless you own a pixel device chances are there’s been a time where you were waiting for your phone to have the newest software.  While Android is an amazing operating system, it’s notorious for rolling out very slowly.  Many phones just updated to Oreo as Pie was already being released.  In July Oreo was only active on 12.1% of devices.  This is somewhat understandable since Google is not the only player in the Android user experience But people still want what’s new, and that’s never going to change.

Last week at Android Dev Summit Hung-Ying Tyan, an engineer for Google’s Project Treble team, hinted that Q may be coming out on a trial basis sooner than we thought.  He said “We are also exploring ways to make future GSI available earlier than the release of next Android version.  So you will be able to try out next Android version earlier over GSI, and at the same time, we can get early feedback from you, so the benefit is mutual.”  GSI stands for Generic System Image and is a version of Android based on the Android Open Source Project.

What will Q have to offer?

Things are of course mostly speculation at this point, but predictions exist for a reason.  One such prediction is that the software is going to develop to match the ever-expanding tablets and foldable smartphones.  With increased screen size and split screen functionality users are bound to want to use multiple apps at the same time.  Enter Multi-resume.  I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly frustrating when I’m trying to use split screen but one app pauses once I interact with the other.  Depending on the app, this could render the whole feature pointless.  Split screen is an amazing tool, but it needs to be perfected still.

In the Android activity lifecycle there are different states an app can be in.  Currently when an app is no longer the forefront of attention in split screen it goes into a paused state.  Then when a user interacts with it again it enters the resumed state.  In Q we may see a multi-resume where two apps can both be “resumed” at the same time.  It’s also speculated that Q will have features like multi-monitor support, but only time will tell what all is on the table.

Coming Soon to a Phone Near You:

Android Q source code will be shared with users and app developers for testing before the version officially launches.  The long term goal of this is to make users and developers more acquainted with the upcoming version.  Increased comfort equals an increased adoption rate.  I’m currently enjoying and exploring Pie, but as with the rest of you I’m looking towards the future!  What are your thoughts on Android Q?  Is there a feature it desperately needs?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

Details of Foldable Phones Unfold

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Details of Foldable Phones Unfold

We covered the big release of the Pixel 3 last month, but less than a month later it’s already cast in a shadow.  The new tech casting that shadow is foldable phones.  And no, I don’t mean flip phones like Razors, I mean foldable touch screens.  This month the world’s first emerged on both ends of the globe, and they open a whole new world of possibility.

Who’s breaking ground?

Samsung released their first foldable phone this week.  But while they’re a name we all recognize they were actually came in 2nd place.  Their thunder was stolen by Royale, another consumer electronics company.  Royale released the FlexPai measuring in at 7.8 inches with a base price of 8,999 yuan ($1,300).  It has a display resolution of 1920 x 1440 when fully expanded, and it fold down the middle changing it from tablet mode to classic cellular device.  When it’s folded it’s a rather thick phone, but the screen functionality works as expected.

As for Samsung right off the back it has a cooler name.  The Infinity Flex measures in at 7.3 inches with a resolution of 1536×2152 when expanded, and a 4.58 inch screen when folded.  Interestingly enough Samsung decided to create two separate displays for when the phone is folded and expanded.  The FlexPai only has one and it wraps around the screen as it’s folded.  The phone is made from a polymer that Samsung has described as “flexible and tough”.  While not on the market yet, the SVP of mobile product marketing said “we’ll be ready to start mass production in the coming months”.

New Phones, New Experiences:

You may think foldable phones are an amazing idea, and you may think they’re just a buzz that has no real value.  Whatever the case we won’t truly know until people begin adopting them and seeing how their experiences change.  They’re definitely more than just a larger screen.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to think of a phone that can fold, but it takes a lot to predict the experiences that will come along with it.  Not belittling the invention, just saying it has a lot of potential!

As an Android developer when I first heard the idea of a screen that could fold, I instantly began brainstorming.  I began thinking about current apps that could transform to enhance their experiences.  I also tried to think of new apps altogether that could come about.  Full disclosure, I have not had any million-dollar ideas yet, but someone is sure to!  Wouldn’t it be nice to be on the front end of those discoveries and help create a whole new generation of apps?

Looking Forward:

The foldable phone market has a long way to go from here.  The first phones are only beginning to emerge, and with new materials for the folding screens I’m sure it will be a while before the experience will be perfected.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get excited about it today though.  Android software is sure to have some interesting advancements to match this new hardware as well.

What are your thoughts on foldable phones?  Do you have any interest in being an early adopter (either as a user or developer)?  Let us know in the comments below!

Searching For Privacy

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Searching For Privacy

We’ve grown somewhat used to the phrase “If you’re doing nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide”.  That being said, plenty of us don’t take it as truth that privacy has to die.  There are countless stories of security leaks, and it’s impossible to hear the letters NSA without thinking about being watched.  But taking a few simple steps can drastically improve your right to privacy in everyday life.  Step one being how you browse the internet.

You don’t have to be watched:

Yes, it’s a little-known secret, but there are ways you can search the web without giving up your privacy.  Over the years the word “Google” has become synonymous to looking something up.  And for good reason because Google has a huge market share on global searches.  But they’re by no means your only option.  At the start of 2018 Google searches accounted for roughly 70% of all searches.  The bottom line being that they aren’t going away any time soon, but there’s 30% worth of other options.

The purpose of this blog post is not to bash Google by any means.  It’s an incredible search engine that yields top tier results.  It’s grown to the size it is for many reasons.  This post is simply to inform you of options besides the traditional search engines like Google and Internet Explorer.  There are some players that do things differently.  A key difference being that your search history is just that: yours.

Some alternatives:

If you’ve ever looked into private search engines, then you’re undoubtedly familiar with DuckDuckGo.  Its CEO is famous for saying “if the FBI comes to us, we have nothing to tie back to you.”  Their motto is simple: they don’t store your personal information. Ever.  They also offer an interesting feature known as “bangs”.  Not really privacy related, but bangs allow you to quickly search results on other sites by adding a “!” to your search.  So if you knew you wanted to search for something on Wikipedia you could jump straight to it.

Another solid option is Tor.  Tor Browser secures your connection to the internet with three layers of encryption, and passes it through voluntarily operated servers around the world.  It’s goal is to make you one in a million person crowd that is indistinguishable from others, and thus untargeted for any kind of privacy extraction.  Tor’s onion services allow for users to publish things online without needing to reveal their location.  Even the U.S. Navy has used Tor for open source intelligence gathering.  Don’t worry, by that I don’t mean info on your browsing sessions!

A 3rd favorite is StartPage.  Developed by Ixquick, StartPage gets you the privacy you want but actually gives you the results straight from Google. It features a proxy service, URL generator, and HTTPS support that allow you to revisit your browsing sessions without needing cookies.  In other words, it remembers your browsing in a privacy friendly way.

More than just security:

If you’re like me, you’ve been shocked before at some of the ads you see.  They’ve become so practical at targeting you you’ll see an ad for something you had only thought about in the privacy of your own mind.  Browsing in private mode can certainly help with this as the less data there is collected on you, the harder it is to target you with personalized ads.  Or even ads in general.  Just another big perk to consider when deciding if you want to check out other browsers!

All in all, you could be perfectly happy with the way you’re surfing the internet right now, but there are always other options if you decide to give them a try.  What are your thoughts on the recent privacy issues?  Maybe you use a VPN. Do you take other precautions to keep your information secure?  Let us know in the comments below!

The EU Fights For An Open Android

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The EU Fights For An Open Android

Earlier this year we wrote about how the European Commission (EC) slapped a $5 billion fine on Google in an anti-trust ruling.  While you and I moved on with our lives this battle continued to rage.  Now it’s back in the headlines with a verdict against Google.  They’ve submitted an appeal to the Commission’s decision, but in the mean time there are some big changes to be implemented.

A Power Struggle Begins

The change coming to the EU is a major shift in Google’s traditional structure.  Instead of an all-in-one package the company will start selling “parts” of Android to phone manufacturers.  Phones that once came preloaded with apps like Chrome or Google Play can now be sold without.  Samsung, LG, etc, are now allowed to sell Android-based phones without any of the Google apps that used to come with them.

You may be thinking so what? Is it really that big a deal that Chrome doesn’t come on my phone?  I can just download another browser.  True, but what this change really means is that Google’s grip on the Android brand has gotten a little looser.  Before now manufacturers were locked into the app ecosystem Google has built, but now they have the option to release their own custom version. Samsung will likely emphasize it’s Galaxy Apps store instead of the Google Play Store, and others are sure to follow suit.

Holy Fragmentation!

Contrary to common sense, more options aren’t necessarily a good thing.  Imagine if all of these other companies begin creating their own app stores and backend services.  Development could become a mess for us 3rdparty developers (aka almost all apps) and consumers would suffer.

There’s something to be said about uniformity from an experience standpoint, and further fragmentation won’t help with this.  Think about Material Design. It exists so that anyone developing for Android can match the layouts that users are comfortable with. That doesn’t make Material Design a bad thing. It also doesn’t make this splitting of options a bad thing, but it’s something to consider.

What’s next?

Google has submitted an appeal to the ruling and argues that it has done everything in its power to create a more innovative marketplace for consumers.  We’ll see where things go from here, but until the appeal is heard, it’s likely that we’ll see some fragmentation among manufacturers.

What are your thoughts on the ruling?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

Android Isn’t Going Anywhere

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Android Isn’t Going Anywhere

There’s been a buzz going around this week that Android is dead.  Well dying actually, but everyone is claiming that Android’s reign is coming to an end and Google is moving forward.  If we take a few moments to look at the bigger picture then we’ll see Android has a long way to go before it’s no more.  The most popular operating system in the world is here to stay for a long time.

The Rumor:

The rumors pertain to the Made by Google 2018 keynote that just took place in New York City.  During this keynote the word “Android” was not said, and many have taken this as a subtle sign that Google is looking to replace the brand.  This coupled with the fact that “Android Messages” was recently renamed to “Messages” on the Play Store, and bloggers everywhere ate it up. 

Many believe that Chrome OS is set to take over Android’s claim as king since that was front and center at the keynote.  Google told a whole story about Chrome OS’s history and why it belongs on tablets. They also marketed it as a great alternative for your desktop instead of Windows and macOS.

Do the rumors stand?

While it may be true that we didn’t hear the word “Android” explicitly said, let’s not forget that there is still Android related tech coming out.  Android Auto is rolling out to a ton of new cars this year, Android Pie was released at the start of this fall, and Google just adopted Kotlin as a new official Android programming language.

Along with all these new developments we have the Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL that have just come out running Android Pie.  Sure they would have to run it since that’s the newest version to come out and it’s Google’s flagship phone.  But let’s remember that that’s the newest version to come out and it’s Google’s flagship phone.  People are discussing the death of Android less than a week after a new huge phone dropped running that same software.

Looking Forwards

Sure there are things in the works to improve the user’s experience like Fuschia, but that doesn’t mean that Android is on its way out.  The fact of the matter is Android is going nowhere.  An operating system that covers 75% of smartphones worldwide is too nested into Google’s overarching architecture to instantly remove, and there are too many new Android advancements coming out to argue that Google wants to remove it.

What do you think about the recent talk against Android?  Let us know your predictions in the comments below!

 

The Pixel 3 has been unveiled, and it looks sweet!

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The Pixel 3 has been unveiled, and it looks sweet!

We’ve talked about the Pixel 3 again and again here at RootJunky, and there have been far too many rumors and leaks about it over the past few months.  I’m happy to say that’s all come to a close.  Not because I don’t like writing about it, but because the Pixel 3 has officially been released. Earlier today Google unveiled the new phone, and the preorders have begun rolling in.

The Hype Recap:

Before we get in to what the Pixel 3 and 3XL actually are, let’s take a second to remember how much build up there was about these devices.  There were images leaked on the XDADeveloper forum showing a notched display with two cameras, as well as a glass back for wireless charging.  But hardware leaks aside, what was really interesting about this phone’s build up was the rumors about rumors.

After we’d all sat with the leaked images for a bit the news surfaces that Google was reaching out to popular YouTuber’s asking to use their clips bashing the leaked design.  The result of this was the people began thinking Google had intentionally leaked images so that they could use this footage in their grand reveal of a more impressive phone.  It was a conspiracy theory for sure, but not entirely unbelievable.

Fast-forward to October 9th’s Hardware:

Skipping to today the Pixel actually dropped, and it actually doesn’t look that different from the leaked images.  Despite what some YouTuber’s may have said I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Starting at $799, the Pixel 3 sticks to the traditional design of a split material back allowing for wireless charging (thank goodness!).  The regular phone measures in at 5.5 inches and for $100 more the XL measures in at 6.3 inches.

Pixel phones have been notorious for having great cameras, and that trend isn’t stopping with the Pixel 3. It is however deciding to avoid the current trend of a dual rear camera.  With a total of 3 cameras, one can be found on the back and two on the front.  And guess what?  For the XL these cameras are nested in a notch.  This trend seems to be sticking around for a while, and even Google’s flagship device has embraced it.  The new cameras seek to take the crown and offer incredible zoom in as well as a wide range selfie mode.

Screening the Spammers:

Remember that ground breaking release from Google I/O earlier this year called Duplex?  It seemed unreal as the Google Assistant called a barber shop, had a conversation with the receptionist, and successfully booked an appointment for its user.
Well the Pixel 3 leverages this technology to make your call screening much more enjoyable.  Using Duplex, you’ll never have to answer the phone for a telemarketer again.

The Pixel 3 can answer itself and provide a real-time transcript to you of whatever the caller says. Duplex prompts them on the other side of the line asking them to identify themselves and let you know if the call is urgent, and as they talk you can see the text appear on your screen.
Then if you want to answer you can, or you can select from premade responses to keep the conversation going and get more details before deciding to pick up or not.  Google Assistant really is becoming a personal secretary.

I’m really excited for the Pixel 3 to be out and will be getting my hands on it as soon as I can. What are your thoughts on the new device?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google Minus And Project Strobe

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Google Minus and Project Strobe

After 7 years of effort Google has decided that enough is enough for Google+.  The tech giant has admitted to failing its entrance into the social media marketplace. As both a business decision and safety concern they’ve decided to take Google+ off the web and focus on other things.

Project Strobe

Security has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds this year as privacy scandal after privacy scandal has surfaced.  Facebook’s Cambridge Analytics scandal made us hyper aware of how much data is exposed to third-parties.  In an attempt to combat privacy issues Google launched Project Strobe.  It’s a root-and-branch review of third-party developer access to Google accounts and Android devices.  Essentially it’s a research project to check up on how secure everyone’s information really is.

The findings: not the best.   Today Google announced four key findings from the project along with steps to remedy each.

1. There are significant challenges in creating and maintain a successful Google+ product that meets consumer’s expectations.

Google+ has a pretty serious bug in it that exposed user data to third-party applications that didn’t have proper access.  Google says that there is no evidence anyone else found this out before they did (hard to be sure).  But combining this with the lack of adoption among users and the end result has been to remove Google+ entirely.  I don’t think anyone is too upset at this move, and it’s probably for the best Google diverts its time towards new innovations.

2. People want fine-grained controls over the data they share with apps

When you download a new app that performs certain functions, it may need permission to do so.  Whether that’s accessing your camera to take a picture or seeing your contacts so that it can share a picture with others, apps can’t do these things until you let them.  This is a big plus for Android security, but unfortunately sometimes it’s not organized well enough.

There are some permissions that are grouped together when presented to a user, and this can potentially be a problem.  If you want an app to do one thing you shouldn’t have to grant it access to 3 permission, yet this is sometimes how things are organized.  Google has announced they’ll be launching more granular account permissions that will show individual dialog boxes for each.  Maybe a little more frustrating for relaxed users, but definitely a win for security.

3. When users grant apps access to their Gmail, they do so with certain user cases in mind

To correct the security issue of third-parties abusing contact information Google is limiting what kinds of apps are allowed to access Gmail data.  The only apps allowed will be those that are “directly enhancing email functionality”.  Basically, if there’s not real reason for your app to need to write an email, it’s banned.

4. When users grant SMS, Contacts and Phone permissions to Android apps they do so with certain use cases in mind.

3 and 4 are pretty similar to one another, but this other finding takes things past email and into the phone/contacts.  Google is limiting how many apps will be allowed to access this information.  In addition to this Contact interaction data will no longer be available vie the Android Contacts API.

The bottom line is that Google did a security sweep and decided a few things needed to change.  It seems that these changes are proactive which is always a good things, but if you’re one of the world’s Google+ user’s then I’m sorry you have to say goodbye.  For everyone else these changes should be nothing but good as security continues to improve.

What are your thoughts on Project Strobe?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Hands Up For Hands Off Hardware

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Hands Up For Hands Off Hardware

Have you ever held your phone for so long that your hand start to cramp up?  Maybe I just have a problem and need to get off mine.  Regardless I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that I could navigate at times without having to actually touch my screen.  Thanks to Google’s new app Voice Access this is becoming a reality.

What is Voice Access?

Plenty of people could benefit from using their devices while their busy doing other things.  Whether it’s cooking a meal or driving a car it’s nice to at least have the option.  Google’s Central Accessibility Team agrees with this and after years of research has release an app that lets users move to and fro in apps using just their voices.  We’ve had things like Google Assistant around for a while now, but this is taking things up a notch.

Voice Access has actually been in beta for a couple years, but non-stop development has finally made it ready for a production release.  Users are able to open and close apps, compose text messages, click buttons, watch videos (ok that one doesn’t really take touch in the first place).  Long story short there aren’t a lot of interactions that you can’t replicate using your voice.

So How Does It Work?

Voice Access offers users control of where they want to go by placing numbers on the screen near possible interactions.  Users can say what they want to click on and also issue commands such as “turn down the volume”, “turn off device”, or “scroll up”.    In other words, there are common sense interactions, and for everything else there are little paper clips floating around and if you say their name they’ll help you out.

Users can even modify their texts as they type them.  For instance if you wrote a text to a friend saying “Do you want to get dinner tonight?” but then changed your mind you could ask Voice Access to modify.  Simply say “replace ‘tonight’ with ‘tomorrow”, and the text would become “Do you want to get dinner tomorrow?” This kind of feature is particularly useful when you consider that the majority of people using hands free devices for interactions will be texting.

A larger market:

But it isn’t just for convenience’s sake.  In the United States alone millions of people have mobility impairments that could limit their hand function.  Voice Access offers people a chance to use phones to their full capacity when that capability might not otherwise have existed.  It will also be interesting to see how this develops as Fuchsia rises in popularity.  That alternative operating system is based around audio interactions so the two could certainly have some innovation in the years to come.

What do you think about hands free devices?  Have you thought of any other ways users could use their phones other than with voice commands?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Microsoft Mirrors Apps sppA srorriM tfosorciM

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Microsoft Mirrors Apps sppA srorriM tfosorciM

You’re not alone if you’ve searched for Snapchat, Instagram, or a texting app on your computer.  We all want seamless experiences and being able to share information between our computers and phones helps make this happen.  Unfortunately, in the past this has been relatively hard to come by.  Some apps have been exclusively mobile, but that may be about to change thanks to Microsoft.

Mirror Mirror On The Screen:

The tech giant has just announced a new feature for Windows 10 that will let Android users view any app from their phone on a Windows desktop.  If you’re wanting to watch a video from a friend pulling it up on your computer will be a breeze.  And if you’re engaged in a rapid-fire text session then a full keyboard is at your disposal.  For some apps this won’t mean much, but for others it could completely change the experience.

The feature is being referred to by Microsoft as “app mirroring” (aptly named) and can be opened on your computer as an app called Your Phone.   The Windows YouTube channel features a video showing a user drag images from their phone gallery into a PowerPoint presentation.  After doing this they copy a sentence from a text message and paste in elsewhere on the screen.  The idea is to give as much interoperability between the two systems as possible.

Developer Impacts:

While I didn’t lie when I just said everything will be a breeze, I may have overemphasized Your Phone in its current state.  It will be a breeze, it’s just not ready for everything yet.  Microsoft says the feature will be available with the new Windows 10 October update starting with Android stock texting and photos apps.  It’s not clear what the future holds for when exactly all apps will be integrable.  Regardless, if you’re a developer you should be paying attention because this could be big for you.

Phone-to-computer transfers are another experience that a user can go through, and as such there are sure to be new advantages and features that come about with it.  People may just be thinking about taking what’s on an app right now and viewing in on a bigger screen, but here’s an opportunity to get really creative.  I won’t go into details as to what these opportunities could be simply because I haven’t thought of any (yet).  But it’s silly to not acknowledge that interoperability can open the door for new experiences and thus new markets to capture.

What are your thoughts on Microsoft mirroring?  Are there any apps in particular you’ve been wanting to use on your computer?  Let us know in the comments below!

Let Firebase Cover the Basics For You

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Let Firebase Cover the Basics For You

When it comes to writing code, the less you have to do the better.  You want control over how your applications behave, but if you can piggy back off of other developer’s work then that’s generally a good thing.  And if you’re hoping to be an app developer, then one of the best tools for piggy backing is Firebase.

Using others to your advantage:

If you think about it even developing the most basic app takes the work of countless others.  Someone else had to develop the programming language you’re writing in, someone else had to build the IDE (probable Android Studio) that you’re developing on, and someone had to…well you get the point.  Any modern-day invention was not created from nothing, it came about thanks to the ground work being done by something that came first.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be innovative.  It means that there’s nothing wrong with using 3rd party libraries and tools to make your development journey easier.  If you don’t have to worry about the basics then you can focus on what makes your app great.  Ok enough justification, let’s talk about how you should use Firebase to make life easier.

Authentication and Data Management:

How many apps do you have that require you to sign in to fully use features?  Of those how many let you create and account through Facebook?  Users hate having to create sign-in info, a decent percentage won’t even go through the process because of the extra 10 seconds it takes.  So including an option for one-click sign in makes it more likely your app will succeed from the start.  Firebase makes this feature easy to leverage allowing you to create a sign in screen with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 

When users sign up Firebase keeps track of their info and allows user management to be easily configured.  If a user gets a new phone they can log in and Firebase will associate them with the same account.  Firebase also has a database feature allowing you to create and store JSON info, so users can interact with one another and store information easily.  Let’s say you wanted to create that new social media app which lets people post pictures and message one another:  Firebase should be your go to.

Analytics:

When you release an app it’s best to have a game plan for what’s next.  What if users love one part of the app but never use another?  Well if that’s the case then you should aim for a redesign that either brings in new features or directs the users attention to things they are more interested in.  Of course if you release an app and people in other countries start downloading it you can’t exactly track them down and ask them how they’ve been using the app.

This is where analytics come in.  Firebase gives you the capability to monitor user events (anonymously) so you can see which features are getting the most interaction.  If you have a search bar in your app that no one ever clicks on, it’s either time to drop it or move it elsewhere to try again.  Analytics can keep you in know for how your app is behaving and what should change.

Crashlytics:

And on the topic of what should change in app behavior, crashes are about the worst thing a user can experience.  You may be getting 1 star ratings in the app store because your app shuts off randomly for some users and you don’t know why.  Firebase offers Crashlytics to look at the stack trace details for every crashed application.  If there’s one button in your app that is broken and slipped through your checks when publishing, now you’ll be able to see that it’s responsible for the crashes and act accordingly.

Firebase offers a ton of other features that can make development easier and the user experience more fluid.  These are just the tip of the iceberg and features I enjoy using on a daily basis.  If you want to learn how to incorporate Firebase into your apps then checkout Phonlab’s Android Development Course!