Android SDK For Multi-Device Apps
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 31 August 2022

I have enough problems dealing with a single device, let alone being able to juggle running on more than one device! A new SDK from Google tries to encourage you to go multi-device.

androidxapps

It is only a preview, but if you want to get ahead then you might want to see what it can do. The blog announcment is typically full of vague hype:

"our Cross device SDK allows developers to build rich multi-device experiences with a simple and intuitive set of APIs."

Ah if only I could figure out what a rich application was, let alone a simple API. The API is said to abstract away the tedious tasks of device discovery, authentication and protocols.

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These may be the bits that we don't want to spend time on, they are boring, they are also very straightforward in what you are trying to do. Once you have got beyond them you hit the real world of having to be inventive about what a cross-device app is actually going to do.

The documentation makes some suggested uses:

  • Complete a movie rental or purchase on your TV by using your phone to enter your form of payment.
  • Start reading a long article on your phone and finish reading it on your tablet without losing your place.
  • Share a map location as a passenger directly with your friend’s car.
  • Share your Sunday bike route with others that you’re biking with.
  • Collect items for a group food order without passing your phone around.
  • Take a group vote for the next TV show to watch together.

Take a look at the following video which is surprisingly good at getting the technicalities across:

While it is nice to have this level of support from the API, it still seems to be a lot of work to make an app that can share its state to multiple devices in a way that seems natural to the user. Some time ago, I wrote an app that let one device transfer a photo by the user simulating a throwing motion. The other user had to catch the photo to see it. This wasn't an original idea and it wasn't a good one for reasons you can probably guess.

What we really need is something more like a clipboard that the OS supports for us rather than a fine-grained API. It is also a matter for Google to make many of its "standard" apps into multi-device apps. For example, Gmail needs to transfer state so I can go from my phone to my tablet without losing my place in the email stream. The same goes of course for Chrome. If this was to happen, users might get used to the idea of cross-device apps and we might have a base to build on.

At the end of the intro to the SDK, the documentation says:

"The Cross device SDK is open-source and will be available for different Android surfaces and non-Android ecosystem devices (Chrome OS, Windows, iOS)."

Some have taken this to mean that somehow cross-device apps will automatically run on non-Android devices. This is almost certainly not what it means. The multi-device SDK will simply be part of the native app development on the non-Android device, making authenticated state transfer easier - nothing new here...

androidxapps

More Information

Announcing Cross device SDK Developer Preview for building rich multi-device experiences on Android

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 31 August 2022 )