12 Mar 2016

Google announces the next version of Android

Google releases Android N Developer Preview

Six new features you need to know:

When it comes to popular tech companies, it is quite difficult to keep a product release a secret, and that’s why Google has managed to surprise us all with the Android N Developer Preview. Yes, most of us woke up to the official announcement from Google about the Android N Developer Preview, something we didn’t expect until Google I/O.

Interestingly, it is available as an over-the-air update and Google has made it easier as you just need to sign up at g.co/androidbeta starting today to get the update onto your Nexus device. Now, Google does recommend that the preview is “not intended for daily use or consumer use”.

The N Developer Preview features an updated SDK with system images for testing on the official Android emulator and on Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Nexus 9, and Pixel C devices. Google says to help test out these features on a tablet, developers can get a $150 discount on Pixel C.

Well, now let’s see what to expect in Android N.

Split-screen multitasking

The highlight of Android N is split-screen multitasking. This means, the device screen can show two different apps simultaneously, and video apps will support picture-in-picture. Needless to say, something we’ve already seen in Apple and Samsung devices.

The system fills the screen with two apps, showing them either side-by-side or one-above-the-other. The user can drag the dividing line separating the two, in order to make one app larger and the other smaller. Manufacturers of larger devices will be able to choose the freeform mode, allowing users to freely resize each activity. If the manufacturer enables this feature, the device offers a freeform mode in addition to split-screen mode.


The new feature set also includes updated notifications. So, you can now reply directly from notifications and the interface will let you see more app information than what you did previously.

Now, the Direct Reply feature will let you quickly respond to text messages or update task lists within the notification interface. The inline reply action is an additional button attached to the notification. “When a user replies via keyboard, the system attaches the text response to the intent you had specified for the notification action and sends the intent to your handheld app,” adds Google.

“We’re updating notification templates to put a new emphasis on hero image and avatar. Developers will be able to take advantage of the new templates with minimal adjustments in their code,” Google explains on the developers page.

There is something called ‘Bundled Notifications’ that groups notifications from the same app together. For instance, individual messages from a messaging app. Grouped notifications can be expanded into notifications by tapping the new expansion button or a two-finger gesture.

A user can take actions, such as Dismiss or Archive, on them in place. Those who have implemented notifications for Android Wear will be familiar with it.

Remember the battery saving Doze feature introduced in Marshmallow? Google has decided to further improve it. So, instead of turning off the power-draining features while your phone is stationary, it will work even when the screen is off.

Project Svelte – reducing RAM usage

“Also, we’re continuing to invest in Project Svelte, an effort to reduce the memory needs of Android so that it can run on a much broader range of devices, in N by making background work more efficient,” writes Google.

Project Svelte is an ongoing effort by Google to minimize RAM use by system and apps across the range of Android devices in the ecosystem. In Android N, Project Svelte is focused on optimizing the way apps run in the background.

“In Android N, we’re removing three commonly-used implicit broadcasts — Connectivity_Action, Action_New_Picture, and Action_New_Video — since those can wake the background processes of multiple apps at once and strain memory and battery. If your app is receiving these, take advantage of the N Developer Preview to migrate to JobScheduler and related APIs instead,” Google writes on the Android developers page.

Quick Settings

In Android N, Google has expanded the scope of Quick Settings and added more room for additional Quick Settings tiles that can be accessed from a paginated display area by swiping left or right. Google also lets you choose which Quick Settings tiles appear and where they are displayed, allowing users to add or move files just by dragging and dropping them.

Android TV

Android N will add the ability to record and playback content from Android TV input services via new recording APIs. “Building on top of existing time-shifting APIs, TV input services can control what channel data can be recorded, how recorded sessions are saved, and manage user interaction with recorded content,” says Google.

Android for Work

Android for Work has been updated with a new feature and APIs for devices running Android N. Profile owners can specify a separate security challenge for apps running in the work profile. So, they can set distinct password policies for the work challenge – how long the PIN needs to be, a fingerprint can be used to unlock the profile and likewise. Users can turn off Work mode, which will shut down the work profile and related activities. It now also includes the Always-on VPN feature to ensure the work apps load only via a specified VPN.

Other changes

Android N allows the default phone app to screen incoming calls and has also improved support for bilingual use-cases. Google is also adding in support for Java 8. “With Android’s Jack compiler, you can now use many popular Java 8 language features, including lambdas and more, on Android versions as far back as Gingerbread,” writes Google.

The direct boot will improve device startup times by allowing registered apps to have limited functionality even after an unexpected reboot. “If an encrypted device reboot while the user is sleeping, registered alarms, messages, and incoming calls can now continue to notify the user as normal,” explains Google.

Google offers more information for developers on how to get started here. As for casual Nexus owners, they can head over here to check out options to install the new Developer Preview on eligible devices.


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