One of the biggest announcements at this year’s somewhat underwhelming Google I/O event was that of the latest iteration of the Android mobile platform, Android 6.0. It has been codenamed Android M (keeping with the alphabetical chronology), and although speculations are rife among tech enthusiasts and app developers alike regarding whether the final name would be ‘Marshmellow’, or ‘Milkshake’, or any other dessert – the general opinion is that, Google has done a good job of making the Android platform more efficient and user-friendly with this version. Let’s check out some of the interesting new features of the upcoming Android M platform right here:
- Google Now gets ‘Now On Tap’ feature – Siri 2.0 on iOS 9 is getting smarter, and Google has ensured that its arch-rival, Google Now, will get a facelift in the new Android OS version as well. The best addition to the mobile digital assistant’s features is ‘Now On Tap’ – which allows users to access Google Now services simply by long-pressing the ‘Home’ tab on their devices (irrespective of where they are, and what application(s) they might be using). Like Apple’s Siri, the new and improved Google Now would also have the capacity to ‘understand’ people’s commands better, and provide a more intuitive experience.
- Opening links from apps becomes easier – The beta preview of Android M has already been seeded to app development experts, and according to reports, the new platform handles app links more efficiently than before. The OS has the capacity to understand whether a link should be opened within an app, or in the mobile browser – unlike in previous Android versions, where a popup used to be generated for this. Deep-linking within Android applications is also facilitated with the help of additional autoVerify attributes (to be included by developers).
- App Drawer gets redesigned – Although the first look of the app drawer in Android M has drawn some flak, it has the potential to make things simpler for final users – especially those who have loads of apps installed on their devices. The rather awkward horizontal scrolling system has been ditched in favor of the easier vertical scrolling (it used to be present till the 2nd generation of the Android platform). People would find the apps that they use more frequently in the top row of the drawer, while the alphabetical arrangement has also become more systematic. Android developers feel that the searchability feature of the revamped app drawer will also come in handy.
- Android Pay expands its range – The poorly received Google Wallet is not going to be discontinued anytime soon, but the focus of those up top at Mountain View has clearly shifted to upgrading and popularising Android Pay. With Apple Pay off to a fairly fast start, Android Pay has a bit of catching up to do – but going by the promised features, it should prove to be a more-than-decent mobile payments platform. Built-in with the Android M OS, Android Pay will be compatible to any Kitkat (or later)-powered devices that has near-field communication (NFC) support. In the United States, Android Pay will be usable at nearly 800000 stores, with American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa cards being supported. It remains to be seen which one wins the Apple Pay vs Android Pay tussle – but contactless payments technology is going to get a boost, that’s for sure.
- Custom Tabs arrive in Chrome – Dave Burke’s announcement of Chrome Custom Tabs being a feature of the Chrome browser in Android M met with enthusiastic response at Google I/O 2015. Android app developers have confirmed that the Custom Tabs allow better and faster access of web services for users, directly from the applications they are using. If a link is tapped in an app, the screen that opens matches the design and feel of the application – which retains an air of familiarity. The Chrome Tabs would also ‘remember’ the login information of users, ensuring that people do not have to go through the process of signing in each time.
- Uninstalling/Moving apps is simpler – Remember how you had to go to ‘Settings’ on your Android phone, and remove apps from there (as and when required)? Well, Google has made the task simpler in Android M. All that users will have to do is bring the application to be removed on the home screen (drag-and-drop), and then uninstall it. The same principle works for moving the location of any application from one folder to another. Customization has always been a high point of the Android ecosystem (something that cannot still be said about iOS), and Android M looks to build on that further.
- Arrival of the Doze Mode – Anyone who owns a smartphone (any OS) would know the unavoidable problems of battery life. The Doze Mode, which would be present in Android 6.0, should, hopefully help in increasing the battery performance of handsets significantly. When a device is not being used for some time, it goes into a long-standby (think of it like a ‘deep sleep’) – which does away with unnecessary battery-wastage. Particularly for Android smartphones with non-removable battery, the Doze Mode will be helpful for extracting just that bit more of battery juice. Don’t hope for a five-fold increase in battery life though!
- Greater user-orientation in app permissions – Professionals from mobile app companies who have already checked out the developer preview feel that this is one of the best features of Android M. The existing system of app permissions has been tweaked around – and users will now be asked for permissions whenever an app tries to access any phone feature. In essence, the app permissions structure has been broken down into separate categories. This promises a smoother app-using experience and, more importantly, greater security while using third-party applications.
- MicroSD cards to get native support – Android KitKat removed it, Lollipop brought it back, and ‘M’ will increase it. We are talking about the native support for external storage options on Android handsets – which will ensure that data stored on microSD cards will be treated just like the items saved in the internal storage of handsets. Users will be able to seamlessly transfer apps and other software to and from the expandable memory. Interestingly, the Samsung Galaxy S-series phones no longer have external storage options. Many developers are of the opinion that this is another proof of the growing differences between Google and Samsung.
- Charging will be faster – At least it should be. Along with better battery performance (thanks to the presence of Doze Mode), Android M phones will be quickly chargeable as well, since the newest iteration of the platform will have in-built support for USB Type-C charging. What’s more, other compatible devices can also be charged by connecting to smartphones running on Android M. Users would certainly like not having to tag along their phone chargers with them all the time!
- Standardized fingerprint scanning – Right from unlocking devices and accessing Android apps, to authorizing purchases and enhancing the security of Android Pay – the beefed up fingerprint reader of Android M will serve multiple purposes. All devices with fingerprint scanners in the hardware setup will get this standardised support. This feature would help in authenticating app downloads from the Google Play Store too. The number of devices with this fingerprint scanning feature is expected to increase over time.
- Presence of new Do Not Disturb feature – Android M comes with high-level granularity, with ‘Do Not Disturb’ being the most important addition in the ‘Notification Priorities & Downtime’ standards of the platform. For specific events, users can turn off all notifications for a certain period of time, while setting up separate ‘quiet hours’ for different days of the week is also an option. Owners of new Android phones will get to see only the notifications they want to…and if they so want during any period, no notifications at all. The sliding heads-up notification feature can also be turned off in Android M.
- Sharing becomes faster and easier – The revamped ‘Share’ menu option in Android 6.0 will include the names of the people with whom you share stuff (photos, documents, web links) on a regular basis. This, in turn, will make the entire sharing process less cumbersome and time-consuming. In addition to this ‘Direct Share’ feature, software experts and Android app developers have pointed out the floating toolbar (for copying/pasting) and the word selection tool as extremely useful. Android M will support direct A2DP Bluetooth streaming as well – yet another powerful boost to the sharing capability.
- Customization option in the pull-down bar – The pull-down notifications bar offers fast access to a vast range of settings and modes – and on Android M, the position of these settings can be personalized as well. The System UI Tuner of the operating system will allow users to remove items from the Quick Settings list of the notifications bar as well. Shortcuts that get removed in the developer preview version cannot be replaced in any way though. When the OS is finally launched, this would be added.
- New RAM manager – On Android M-powered devices, finding a rogue app that is hogging too much of memory space, or causing excessive battery drain, will be a breeze. There is a dedicated RAM manager present in the OS, that rates individual applications as ‘average’ or ‘good’ – based on the amount of memory it takes up. In the developer preview of Android M, the RAM Manager can be seen under Settings → Apps → Options → Advanced. The Memory Manager of Android will get more informative with this RAM manager now in place.
Android M will support tethering speeds (for broadcasting signals) of up to 5GHz, a considerable increase over the 2.4 GHz supported by the earlier versions. Volume control has become more personalized, with three different sliders for adjusting notification alerts, music volume and mobile alarms. Android developers have also hailed the provision of automatic app backups that the latest version of the platform will provide. For those who do not dig the bright white default interface of Android Lollipop, there’s some good news – Android M will allow users to switch over to a dark theme (in the developer preview, it can be activated by tapping Settings → About Phone → Build Number (7 times)). Settings and Google Settings are no longer separate, which is a relief for many too.
The Android M developer preview has been made available on Nexus Player, and the Nexus 5, 6, and 9 devices. The final release is expected to happen sometime in September this year. The adoption rate of Android 5.0 Lollipop is still way below 15%, and it remains to be seen whether Android 6.0 packs in enough punch to become more popular. It certainly seems like having the potential to do so!
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