You must have heard that Google is expected to reveal its next mobile and tablet operating system iteration, currently rumoured to be dubbed Android M when released in a developer preview (like Android L for Lollipop). The Android M developer preview was recently launched at Google I/O 2015 in San Francisco. Android M brings some much-needed stability and usability improvements which might not be as eye-catching, but may prove to be significant additions for a while to come.
Google’s Nexus devices are typically among the first devices to receive Android updates. According to the latest information, the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 will receive an update to Android M, along with the Nexus 6 and Nexus 5.They will get system update for two years and security patches for three years from the date of OS release.
Other features expected to make it into Android M include multi-screen and multi-window functionality, as well as a Theme engine, both of which have seen limited inclusion in AOSP (Android Open Source Project) in the past and we’ve even seen some major manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and HTC implementing in their own ways. Of course, more work on the Android for Work front, is also expected to be showcased.
Android M Features
App permissions have been overhauled in Android M, with users now being able to choose to accept or deny individual permissions as they see fit. Permissions have also been simplified. Permissions will now be requested the first time you try to use a feature, not at the point of installation. According to Google VP of Engineering David Burke “You don’t have to agree to permissions that don’t make sense to you,” He gave WhatsApp an example of how this works.
If you want to record a voice message, WhatsApp will prompt you with a one-time request for permission to use your mike: if you still wish to give it access and record the message, you can, but you don’t have to. Android M is giving users greater control of the information apps can access, and this is a truly positive step forward for Android.
You can modify the permissions granted to apps at a later date in your Settings, or you can view permissions by type and see which apps have that permission granted. It’s all about giving the user complete control over their Android.
Google at I/O 2015 also revealed a new Chrome feature that will change the Web experience for Android users, called Chrome Custom Tabs. Instead of embedding a Web view in an app, developers can enable a Google Chrome overlay on top of the active app. This will provide a faster and more intuitive user-experience when navigating between apps and the web.
Chrome Custom Tabs supports automatic sign-in, saved passwords, autofill, and multi-process security to assist the integration of the app and web experience. As an example, a Pinterest custom tab will have a Pinterest share button embedded in it, can include custom overflow menu options and doesn’t require the Pinterest developers to build their own web browser.
Fingerprint scanning technology on smartphones has been around for some time; though has been limited until now to select OEMs and their individual implementations. Google with its Android M release wants it to change and has added fingerprint APIs for developers to add into their apps. Google believes that native fingerprint support enhances the Android Pay feature that will allow users to confirm the purchase with their fingerprint. Apart from Android Pay, the feature will allow users to sign-in or authenticate themselves on apps, as well as on websites via Google Chrome.
Android Pay is Google’s new mobile payments system designed to make the checkout process easier and faster. Google is aiming to provide “simplicity, security, and choice,” with Android Pay, allowing you to use your existing credit cards to pay for products in more than 700,000 stores in the US.
Compatible with any device housing with Near Field Communications (NFC) in Android Gingerbread (v2.3) and Host Card Emulation in Android KitKat (v4.4). Android Pay will allow users to pay via their Android smartphones in stores or even in Android Pay partner apps.
The Android Pay platform is being supported by American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover, as well as carriers such as AT&;T, Verizon and T-Mobile. Google’s response to Apple pay is here.
The new system will securely store details of credit cards, loyalty cards, and other payment-related data on the device. Google did not reveal the timeline of Android Pay’s rollout but said it would be available on Google Play for download soon.
In the latest Android M release is intended towards handling Web links. App links are being changed in M so that Android has a greater awareness of which apps can open content directly, instead of stopping users every time with the dialog box. If you tap a Twitter link in an email, for example, the Twitter app will open automatically instead of prompting you to ask if you want to use Twitter to view it.
Thus with Android M, developers can have the operating system verify whether a link should open within an app or open via a new one. Google details that developers can add an autoVerify attribute to their app manifest so that users can be linked deep into the native app without any disambiguation prompt.
Power and charging
Every year we see Google coming up with a new feature in its latest Android release to improve upon battery usage. Last year it was Project Volta and this year Google is coming up with a new feature called Doze. By using motion detectors, Android will recognize when devices haven’t been interacted with for a while, such as when a person is asleep or a device has been left on a table, to reduce background processes.
The company believes that the new feature will make Android devices smart about managing power. Following this, Android will limit or ‘exponentially’ back off background activity of an app with the purpose of extending battery life. The best example of this can be the Twitter app which keeps on adding new tweets on top for the user to see only to use more data or Wi-Fi thus affecting the battery life. This will change with Android M.
Google tested two Nexus 9 devices, one running Lollipop and one running the Android M preview, and learned that M will provide up to two-times longer standby time. Even in Doze mode, your Android can still start alarms or notify you of priority notifications.
Android M also supports USB Type-C which provides faster charging, and lets users charge other devices with their phone.
Auto Backup and Restore for Apps
With Android M, Google will also be bringing what may be one of the most useful features for users often migrating between devices or formatting their smartphones – auto backup and restore for app data. With Android M, users will get their all apps backed up automatically to Google Drive – specifically settings and app data less than 25MB in total.
The company confirmed that the automatic backups will occur every 24 hours and will not count towards the user’s personal Drive storage share. Interestingly, the data of the app is uploaded to the user’s Google Drive account after encryption. The feature would allow people signing into their Google account on new Android devices, or on a device after a factory reset, to recover all their app settings and app data once they reinstall their apps and sign-in.
New app drawer
One of the most immediately noticeable visual changes to Android M is the new app drawer. This now scrolls vertically instead of horizontally, and is held against a white background, rather than a muted shade of your homepage wallpaper. Across the top of the menu you will see your four most recently used apps, and down the left-hand side are the letters of the alphabet.
Google gives an example of a texting app where you receive a text from a friend asking about dinner at a new restaurant – now you can ask Google Now to search about the new place without leaving the app. The company wants developers to implement App Indexing for Google Search to let users discover and re-engage with apps through Now on Tap.
New RAM manager
Google is also bringing a new RAM manager that will offer more details about memory usage than just readouts for running apps. The new RAM manager in the Android M Developer Preview will be available in Settings > Apps. The manager will now show users how much memory recent apps are eating up and will rate them “good” and “average”. Much like before, it will show individual app information. This new feature will let users recognise the most memory-hungry apps installed on the system and can help them to get rid of them.
Adoptable Storage Devices
Google has in the past tried to step away from external storage use (the reason why none of its Nexus devices house a microSD card slot), it appears that Android M is striking a compromise. Android M, Google is adding the Adoptable Storage Devices feature which will treat external storage devices such as SD cards as internal. In order to do this, Google wants you to format your microSD card adding encryption which will make it only work on your device. The company will then let you use your microSD card on stock Android devices either as a portable storage or an internal storage. If the latter, users can then choose to store apps, app data, and other data on the SD card. As for external storage devices like USB drives, the new feature will let users assign as portable storage, and use it with the native file manager and get notifications for quick actions on the drive.
In the Android M settings is a “Dark theme” option which transforms the menu background to a dark grey color rather than the normal pale shade. Currently this only affects the settings menu, not the app drawer, and its function is purely cosmetic. Still, it looks nice on Nexus 6 device
Chrome is also leaner and faster than ever before. Initially revamped with Android One devices in mind, where stable and speedy internet connections are not always possible, Chrome’s new optimizations are set to arrive for everyone.
Chrome is with network strength can modify what you see as a result. For example, if your connection is bad, you might see colored squares rather than preview images in Search results. Optimized web pages will load four times faster and use 80 percent fewer bytes. You’ll also see a memory usage reduction of up to 80 MB. Chrome will also support offline mode.
Previously a part of Google+, Google Photos is now standalone photo and video storage and sharing service that provides unlimited free storage for up to 16 MP photos and 1080p video.
The Google Photos service stores high-quality compressed versions of your photos and movies but doesn’t store anything on your device, so you can search through thousands of photos at high speed and without bogging your device down with gigabytes of photos.
Popular features like Auto-Awesome and Stories are a key highlight, accessible through a new Assistant feature, which will automatically suggest creative uses of your images and footage. Through simple pinch gestures you can see tiled images for particular days, weeks, months or even years and then zoom right back in at any point you like.
Google Photos is also powerful for search. You can search by People, Places, Things and Types, which are all automatically created, and you can scroll down in each of those categories to see, for example, every picture you have of a particular person, all without ever tagging them. If you want to share you can simply share a link that they can view in Chrome and when they are online they can easily download your photo album with second of time.