For Android fans, it is that time of the year again. Last week, the first developer preview of Android O was released (Android Oreo, maybe?) – keeping with the tradition of launching preview builds of new Android updates around eight weeks before the annual Google I/O event, which kicks off on May 17 this year. While the latest version of the Android OS has its fair share of interesting new features, Google has clearly gone for improving the overall Android-using experience with the new update, instead of bringing in revolutionary changes. In today’s discussion, we will look through the most noteworthy new features of Android O:
New Autofill API
The alpha preview of Android 8.0 has showcased the presence of a dedicated ‘Autofill’ application in the build. This app would take the autofilling functionality of Android devices to an altogether higher level. Instead of depending on password managers to avoid repetitive work (i.e., entering the login credentials each time an app has to be used), users will be able to store all details – right from usernames and passwords, to even addresses – in the ‘Autofill’ app. There will be a new ‘Autofill API’ as well, to implement this feature for the apps that require it.
Android 7.0 Nougat already brought split-screen multitasking to the table, and the latest OS update builds on that – with an all-new Picture-in-Picture (PiP) functionality. Two tasks – say, voice calling and media player app – can be used simultaneously with PiP, and end-users have the option of adjusting the aspect ratio of videos as well. Media controls are built-in, while applications can be put in the PiP mode in the active (playing) or ‘resumed’ state. Picture-in-Picture will be available on both phones and tablets.
Note: Android O will also have a robust multi-display window to support remote displays.
More adaptive app icons
Unless you are a Google Nexus or Pixel phone user, you are not likely to get a ‘plain vanilla’ Android experience. Most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) do their own bit of customization on the platform – resulting in a lack of uniformity in the OS. The Android 8.0 update looks to tackle this issue effectively, by supporting app icons that are more adaptive, and are not significantly affected by the platform customizations done by the OEMs. General users as well as professional Android app developers expect that this would make the overall visual features of the OS more cohesive across handsets.
Google, with the upcoming version of Android, will provide more personalization options to users, for handling all notifications. The Notifications Channels – which, in essence, are a category-wise distribution of notifications – makes this easier than ever. When a notification is slightly swiped to the side, a clock icon appears (apart from the Notifications toggle icon). Tapping the clock sends the concerned notification to a 15-minute snooze. The snooze period can be expanded to 30/60 minutes through the drop-down menu. In addition, all notifications from a particular Android app can be disabled by doing a long press on a notification (which pulls up the Notifications toggle).
Note: Compared to Android Nougat, the Notifications Shade in Android 8.0 occupies a little more screen space (there are 6 toggles present on top). For the date/time display, a new, more condensed font has been used.
Wifi Aware and support for Bluetooth HQ audio codecs are the two biggest new features of Android O on the connectivity front. The former does away with the need for specific internet access points every time apps or nearby devices have to interact, and establishes this communication via wifi and supported hardware. The Bluetooth codecs, on the other hand, will enhance the audio fidelity levels of devices upgraded to the latest Android platform.
Staying with the audio-related improvements in Android O, this is a new API (native API for Android) that allows applications to deliver audio performances with minimal latency and smoother streaming options. The API works through streams, and is expected by developers to be extremely useful for creating Pro-level audios. All apps that require high-quality audio with very low latency can collaborate with the AAudio API.
Better battery life with background limits
Every Android update promises improved battery performance, and the new version comes in with an all-new feature – background limits – to ensure this. There will be clearly specified limits on the background services, the location tracking (GPS) resources and the implicit broadcasts from an app in Android O. These limits, in turn, will ensure that there are no excessive battery drainages due to a particular app. Those who make Android apps will have to keep these limits under consideration while defining the functions of new mobile software.
In the first Android O developer preview (released on March 21), both the hamburger menu icon as well as the navigation drawer were not present in Settings. A new color theme (black and white for the Pixel/Nexus phones) has been introduced – although the AOSP settings are likely to undergo further changes prior to final release. Pixel-users are going to get two alternative options under ‘Device Theme’ (Pixel and Inverted). In general, Google has done a good job by overhauling the existing Settings menu and bringing in more descriptive categories here (no more blanket categories like ‘Personal’, ‘Wireless & Network’, ‘System’, etc.). A new battery and storage info section will also be present.
Note: Night Mode and Dark Mode have been in the radar for Android devices for long, without being able to make their way into the final versions of Android 6.0/7.0. Android O will introduce a Night Light feature (in the Display settings) in Pixel phones.
More ‘colourful’ apps
The new generation of Android phones will have wide-gamut colour array support – and on these Android O-powered devices, third-party developers can easily customize their imaging applications. Within the app manifest, a flag has to be enabled (each activity needs one) – to show the the entire colour gamut in the application. Practically all popular color profiles, including Pro Photo RGB, AdobeRGB and DCI-P3, will be supported. For the wide-colour gamut display, apps will also have to load bitmaps efficiently.
Powerful WebView enhancements
In the upcoming Android 8.0 platform, the webview is all set to become more stable and offer greater security. All types of online content present inside WebView will be multi-processed by applications – to keep things glitch-free and fast, while cutting down on the chances of crashes. What’s more, there is a new API in Android O as well, for handling every form of crashes and errors in WebView.
This is yet another interesting feature for Android app makers. On the upcoming Android platform, each app icon will have a badge/bubble – which will show the number of unread notifications from it. These app badges can be adjusted from the notification settings of the individual applications, ensuring that users retain the final control. Of course, for incorporating other personal preferences, users can always tweak around in the System UI Tuner (Settings → System → System UI Tuner in Android O).
Predictable keyboard navigation
Two new predictable models have been built by Google in Android O – both for refining the keyboard navigations. The models are named ‘tab’ and ‘arrow’, and they will offer advanced predictable navigation experiences across interfaces. Since all applications present in the Google Play Store can now be accessed by Chromebooks, there is also a chance of physical keyboards rising in importance (with the same predictable standards).
Note: Project Andromeda, Google’s ambitious drive to merge Android with Chrome OS, is in the offing for long now. While the alpha preview of Android 8.0 has nothing related to it, there can be changes in later builds.
13. App downloads from unknown sources
Once again, an upgrade on an existing feature instead of being something absolutely new. The previous versions of Android already made it necessary for users to enable ‘Unknown Sources’ from the security settings – whenever they wanted to download apps from any source other than Google Play. Android O has made this activity even more safe – by requiring people to grant permissions for downloading the APK of an application (that has to be downloaded from another source). For each app, this permission has to be given only once, and it can be revoked in future as well.
14. XML font resources
In the latest edition of the Android OS, XML layouts can be used to configure the weight and the style of fonts. As a result, app developers will have greater control over the fonts that they opt to use in their new mobile applications. All that they have to do is bundle the font(s) to be used in an app – and the fonts will be configurable with XML, and be usable anywhere in the application.
In addition to being adaptive, the app icons in the new Android iteration would support custom animations and operability from Settings and launcher. The runtime is reported to be almost 2X faster than that of Android Nougat, and support has been extended to multiple new Java 8 Language APIs. There are more options present in the Lock Screen, while the Ambient Display has been changed as well.
A total of 4 developer previews of Android O will be released by Google (in March, May, June and July), leading up to the final release of the platform in 2017 Q3. The update will be available on Pixel C and other Pixel and Nexus handsets (Nexus Player, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P). More information about Android O should become available at this year’s Google I/O – and it remains to be seen how many of the features showcased in the alpha developer preview actually makes it on the final version.
But first things first – which tasty dessert will Android O be named after?
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