That time of the year has come; Google I/O is in full swing. Android enthusiasts got a pretty big spoiler some months ago when Google decided to drop the new Android N build out of the blue. No one knows why it happened that why, but no one complained either.
If you couldn’t help but jump the gun (eager beaver, aren’t you?), you know that Android N still had plenty of rough edges to work out. This kind of turned its Google I/O discussion into a progress report. Is Android N ready for prime time? Almost! Let’s run through what we learned from the keynote.
First things first, the name. It’s always fun to anticipate the next sweet name for the latest Android version. What I love is that it doesn’t really matter, it’s just fun. And in that spirit, this time Google is letting the fans pick the name. You can head over to Android.com and submit what you think the “N” dessert should be. Sweet!
You’ll have until June 8th to cast your suggestion. After that time, Google will initiate an online poll with the top choices. So what will it be? Nougat, Nutella, New York Cheesecake? You decide!
Two areas of focus to improve Android’s efficiency are graphics and runtime. Google has incorporated the Vulkan graphics API into Android N, which contains tools for developers to create not only higher quality graphics but also faster/smoother playback. It gives developers direct control of the GPU and has techniques to reduce CPU overhead. Less strain on the system also means improved battery life.
Additionally, Android’s app processing (runtime) will receive a performance boost. App installation will be faster, and their compiled code will reduce in size (reducing the amount of needed storage).
Google takes Android security very seriously. Two improvements coming with Android N are in file-based encryption and hardening of the media framework. Google has had to patch the mediaserver a few times in the past, as attackers could exploit it with malware.
Google also talked about improving the software upgrade process. In Android N, updates will download behind the scenes and install at an appropriate time. Additionally, that “Android is updating” prompt (which takes forever) after the software update will be no more.
There’s some cool features being added to the Recent Apps function. Google recognized that most users don’t swipe past more than a handful of apps in the carousel. Therefore, it will automatically clean it up and remove apps that haven’t been used in a while. Also, a Clear All button is finally being added. One other nifty addition is if you double tap the Recents button, it will jump to the last app you were in. So you can quickly switch between two apps.
You’ve already known about this feature if you followed the Android N Preview coverage. Fans have been clamoring for app split-screen, multitasking capability for a while now, and Google is finally delivering. Simply long-press on the Recent Apps button toggle the function
Developers are now able to code multi-window support in with their apps. Although Google is a little behind third-party software (custom UIs have had this feature), the native support in Android should give it the upper hand. A problem that plagues custom UIs with multi-window functionality is that only select apps can do it. Google baking it into Android should eventually eliminate that limitation.
Google also showed off “picture-in-picture”. This shrinks a window (similar to what you can do in the YouTube app), so that you can still see it while you do something else in another app.
We heard from the Android N Preview that notifications were improving, one of which was grouping of notifications from the same app. Today, Google talked about the Direct Reply straight from the notifications – another way to save you a little time.
Another feature is long-pressing on a notification allows you to change its visibility (silence or block notifications).
Google has worked on an evolution of the “Ok Google” voice command, and it’s coming to Android N. The goal is a two-way dialogue, or conversation. Google undertook an ambitious effort to make your voice inquiry follow-up with additional information/actions. For instance, if you ask “What’s playing tonight?”, Google will return movie results like normal, but then await a related follow-up question or command (i.e. respond with “My family is coming” and Google will display family-oriented movies). Assistant will also ask you questions (simulating a conversation), such as “Should I buy tickets?”
It’s important to know that Assistant is smart. Once a subject is initiated, it will tie it together with the following instruction/question that you ask. Additionally, Assistant will be utilized across the OS, such as in Google’s new messaging app and Home device.
In Android N, you’ll be able to access Android apps without having to install them. This is another initiative by Google to make the Android experience easy and seamless. We don’t have every app out there installed, so the power behind this capability is that you’ll be able to access benefits within apps without interrupting what you’re doing. The functions of the app simply pop up. When the app is pinged, there will also be a shortcut to install the app, but you don’t have to.
A new way to Daydream
One of Google new initiatives is VR integration into Android. VR is the future, so we’re glad that the software giant isn’t wasting any time. The movement is dubbed Daydream, and it covers the entire VR package – hardware and software.
Daydream can be thought of a matured Google Cardboard. Google still plans to offer low-cost VR (with a smartphone attached to your face), but the experience will be improved on all fronts. Android N will have the support to harness and power Daydream. VR optimizations like image quality, responsiveness, and improved latency are coming.
Google dropped a new software development, called Allo. In short, it’s a cross-platform messaging app. It’s a dubious move, as messaging apps are aplenty, but this is Google we’re talking about, so it will be smart.
Allo not only messages text and media, but can ping information directly from the app (so you don’t have to move out of it). This can be thought of as an evolution of Now on Tap, which queries information from whichever app you’re in (by long-pressing the Home button, since Android 6.0). It will additionally incorporate Google Assistant, by intelligently suggesting replies or providing information/pictures/links based on what is said.
Google also tries to one up other messaging services with efficiency. Allo will be able to intelligently suggest replies (based on the conversation) and be able to indicate writers’ tones (i.e. shouting or whispering).
Android’s video chatting will see an improvement too, with Duo. You’ll quickly be able to ping your friends with a live feed of yourself, a feature that’s dubbed “Knock Knock”. Duo additionally provides better image and audio quality. Allo and Duo will both arrive sometime this summer
This was all good stuff and the discussion should have been enough to get any Android enthusiast giddy with excitement for the future. What do you think about the Android N keynote? Did you hope to hear more, or is Google doing a bangin’ job?
Android N is said to drop later this summer. However, if you have a Nexus device or Pixel C, you can grab the beta version right now.