There were a number of announcements from Google this week about the status and features of Android N, the code name for the operating system’s newest version.
Dave Burke, the VP of engineering for Android took the stage at Google I/O 2016 to discuss a number of the new features of the platform. “We wanted to achieve a new level of product excellence,” he said during the keynote. Some of the features are more directly consumer facing such as split screen functionality similar to some Samsung phone models. This will be activated by holding the square button on the bottom right of the Android dock.
“We wanted to achieve a new level of product excellence,” Burke said
A picture-in-picture mode will also be coming to Android TV, allowing users to keep media open and running while using other parts of the system.
Burke also received a vigorous applause when he talked about changes coming to the update system, making it seamless. This feature, originally available on Chromebooks, is handled by automatically downloading a second updated system file, which the device will then switch to when restarted. “I think the best feeling in the software industry is actually deleting code,” Burke joked during the presentation, referring to removing the update dialog in current Android versions. One caveat is that this feature will not come to current Nexus devices, according to Android Police.
The company will also be added a clear all button to the recent apps carousel, a featured added “by popular demand” according to Burke. The carousel itself will also periodically remove unused apps as well, letting the system run more efficiently.
Other usability features include:
- Direct Replies, which will allow users to reply to messages without entering apps. This feature has been available in the company’s Hangout messaging app, but will now be expanding to all of Android N.
- Unicode 9 emoji, the more standard seen on other products.
- Grouped notifications for when multiple come in from the same app.
- Updated quick settings, allowing users access to them with a single swipe. The settings that appear on here will be user selectable.
Google is also using Android N to move into the growing virtual reality landscape announcing Daydream, a VR platform built into the new version. This includes the Play Store as well as apps including YouTube. The company announced partnerships with streaming media brands as well, including Netflix and Hulu.
One of the larger under-the-hood changes to the platform includes the introduction of a new graphics API called Vulkan. Burke billed it as “a modern 3D graphics APU, designed to give game developers direct control over the GPU.” This will give the OS a lower overhead for graphics requirements. The API is also cross-platform, running on both Android and Windows. Vulkan was demonstrated using Need for Speed on an upgraded Nexus 6P. Burke pointed out subtle details such as reflections on the vehicle, motion blur, and the wet look of the road as examples of its capability.
A number of security functions have also been added to version N. These includes file-based encryption, as opposed to the previously block-based encryption. Burke claims this will be better for individual users.
The company is opening up naming the newest version to the users, a first for the system. N is the code name has been in place since the product’s announcement in March of 2016. It falls in line with the company’s alphabetical naming structure, starting with version 1.5 “Cupcake” up to the most recent 6.0 “Marshmallow”. These, and all the ones in between, had taken on some kind of dessert name, but it remains to be seen if version N (whose version number has also not been specified) will keep this trend.
Users will have the opportunity to name Android N
Burke took the time during his portion to bring up some milestone stats for the platform. Over the past year, over 600 Android phones have been released by various manufacturers. “Millions” of Android TV devices also went out into the wild. 100 models of stereos and cars from Android Auto partners were also announced. A dozen partner brands came on board for Android Wear. Google Play has also received 65 billion app installs.
During the presentation, Google touted over 250 new features coming to Android N. The beta is available for users of Nexus devices and the Pixel C tablet today, earlier than normal so that Google can get feedback from users and developers. A specific release date for the upgrade has not been specified, Google said it will be available later this summer.