Package installation unit for Android’s developer preview gets a visual tweak
Android N is set to be the best Android release yet with tons of improvements and new features. Here’s everything we know so far about the next iteration of Google’s mobile operating system.
Android N latest news
24/05/2016: The latest developer preview of Android N includes a new user interface for its package installer.
The revamp, spotted by Darin Menezes, makes minor tweaks to the Android package installer. The permission screen remains largely unchanged. But the installation screen lists which apps are updating, switches the progress animation to the centre of the screen, and now includes an Android logo.
The package update screen is displayed when sideloading an app, which is can be frequent for some developers.
Preview builds of Android N are currently supported on the Nexus 6, 6P, 5X, Pixel C, and other selected devices.
23/05/2016: Seamless updates won’t be arriving on older Android handsets, it has been suggested, meaning existing users won’t be able to update their device without interruption.
Android N’s Seamless Updates function mean the operating system of the device is updated in the background, while the user continues to use the device. However, it requires changes to be made to the phone or tablet while it’s running, which is a tricky feat to do without bricking the phone. This is why most updates only happen when a device is turned off and you must not do anything while it’s updating.
However, Seamless Updates creates a new partition on the device’s hard drive while you go about your business, only rebooting when the update is fully installed. When the phone or tablet is rebooted that it then launches the new update from the partition.
Neowin explained that for this to happen, the handsets must have more than one partition, which most devices do not have. Although it could pretty simply be added to Google-branded devices, even Android’s parent company is unlikely to modify its handsets to utilise this, so instead we’ll have to wait for new phones and tablets to launch, with the feature built in.
18/05/2016: Google has unveiled more details about Android N at its Google I/O developer’s conference. The still as-yet-unnamed release will allegedly have better performance, security and productivity as well as Google’s home-grown VR standard called Daydream.
Performance in Android N 7.0 will get a boost from the Vulkan graphics API, the successor to OpenGL and thus a competitor to Microsoft’s DirectX and Apple’s Metal. The latest version of the Android Runtime environment for apps, the successor to Dalvik, is now allegedly faster and more efficient than ever leading to to less time-consuming app installations and smaller, less storage hungry apps.
Encryption in Android N is now file-based rather than block-based. More instantly relatable is the hardened media framework – almost certainly a response to the Stagefright vulnerability. Intriguingly, Android N will also benefit from SafetyNet – a cloud-based machine learning system that can predict when apps will misbehave and even uninstall them even if they weren’t installed from Google Play. SafetyNet is an intriguing development – we’ll bring you more details as soon as we can.
The multitasking elements in Android N will be revamped too. As previously revealed, iOS 9 and TouchWiz-style split view and picture-in-picture capabilities will let you use more than one app onscreen simultaneously. More surprisingly, the app switcher gets a revamp – unused apps will be removed from the app switcher list, while quickly double tapping the app switcher button quickly jumps back to your last used app. Plus, the app switcher list finally gets a ‘close all apps’ button familiar to users of third party Android skins.
Notifications in Android get retooled too. You can long tap on a notification to adjust the the visibility settings for that app’s notifications. Plus, for messaging app notifications, you can reply to a message without leaving your current app directly from the notification. This feature will be familiar to iOS veterans.
Excitingly, a reference design for Android-based mobile VR called Daydream will be a part of Android N. There will be a standardised interface for buying and launching VR apps while you’re actually in VR – effectively a VR home screen and Google Play store. Google has promised a host of VR apps including its own YouTube and Google Play Movies as well as CNN and Netflix plus games from Ubisoft and Netflix.
Complimenting the software will be reference designs for VR-optimised smartphones, headsets and controllers. Daydream-compliant smartphones and headsets have been promised for this autumn. The controller is especially interesting, looking like a Wii-style wand with a small touchpad built in too.
09/05/2016: An update to WhatsApp improves its compatibility with the latest versions of Android, including Android N and, for the first time, Android Wear, according to SlashGear.
The update has introduced a slight redesign as well as Quick Replies in the Notifications panel, the ability to archive, mute, and delete multiple chats at the same time and a new Quick Camera button added to chats.
Users can add formatting to their messages, such as bold, italicise and strikethrough. Conversations can also be customised with a solid colour.
The update is available from the Google Play store now, but requires Android 2.1 or higher.
22/04/2016: The Sony Xperia Z3 has become the first non-Nexus device to get access to the Android N developer preview.
The Z3 joins Google’s first-party Nexus range in having access to the company’s pre-release software builds, which include new features and functionality.
The second Android N developer preview is available for both the D6603 and the D6653 Z3 models, and must be downloaded from Sony’s website and manually flashed to the device.
It’s somewhat strange, however, that the software preview is available only for the 18-month-old Xperia Z3, rather than newer models like the Z5.
It’s especially odd given that the Z3 is missing key features like a fingerprint scanner, which are becoming more integrated into the Android OS.
Google has also indicated that it has plans to bring the preview to more devices, stating that it is “continuing to work toward giving you more options for early testing and development on N developer preview”.
18/04/2016: Google will be bringing 3D Touch-style interaction to Android N, reports have confirmed.
The second iteration of the Android N developer preview, which rolled out last week, contained support for ‘launcher shortcuts’.
The feature was widely expected to mimic the pressure-sensitive contextual functions introduced by the iPhone 6s, allowing users to launch specific app sub-functions by pressing harder on the screen.
According to The Verge, Google has officially confirmed that this is the case, stating that the feature will be built in at the OS level, allowing manufacturers to take advantage of it if they wish.
While it’s unlikely to become a ubiquitous feature within the next few years, manufacturers like Huawei are already building it into their devices, with pressure sensitive screens on both the Huawei P9 Max and the Mate S.
However, as it’s not currently a widespread feature, it’s still unknown how many apps will end up supporting it.
14/04/2016: Google has released the second iteration of its Andriod N developer preview, and it boasts a method for improved graphics processing.
The first developer preview for Android N was released last month.
The headline feature is support for the Vulkan graphics API, a low-overhead API for GPUs which provides a method for graphics card drivers to reduce the amount od background processing power drawn from a CPU during running intensive 3D apps.
“Combined with a threading-friendly API design which allows multiple cores to be used in parallel with high efficiency, this offers a significant boost in performance for draw-call heavy applications. With Android N, we’ve made Vulkan a part of the platform; you can try it out on supported devices running Developer Preview 2,” said Google on its Android developer blog.
There is new set of emojis designed to be more “human-looking” and also be more reflective of different ethnicities. Apple previously did the same with its built-in emoji set this time last year.
A shortcuts launcher has also been added, along with select API changes and bug fixes.
07/04/2016: The Android N Developer Preview could be coming to OEM partner devices as well as Nexus models, it has been revealed.
Since the 2014 release of Android Lollipop, the company has allowed Nexus owners to try out pre-release versions of its new operating systems, so developers can see how their software and apps work on the new OS.
However, while access has previously been restricted to its first-party Nexus devices, Google may be about to open up the Developer Preview to other manufacturers’ phones.
This is according to Reddit user FUNExtreme, who discovered text from a ‘what’s new’ section hidden in the HTML code of Google’s Android N Preview page.
The text stated that the Android N Developer Preview would be coming to “more supported devices, including devices from OEM partners”. It also promised “seamless OTAs for your devices, from initial release to final N release without flashing”.
Google has yet to confirm any plans to open up its preview program, but if it does, the most likely candidates are manufacturers that stick very closely to ‘stock’ Android builds, such as Motorola.
17/03/2016: Android N may allow users to resize apps’ windows with the inclusion of a so-called freeform mode.
This mode, detailed in the operating system’s guide for developers, lets users change apps’ default window sizes and positions, and is designed to be used with larger devices, where making an app window smaller would not make it unreadable.
The document reads: “Manufacturers of larger devices can choose to enable freeform mode, in which the user can freely resize each activity. If the manufacturer enables this feature, the device offers freeform mode in addition to split-screen mode.”
The feature is not included in the developer preview, according to Ars Technica, which speculates it could be used should Google decide to merge its Android and Chrome OSes into a single desktop OS.
The preview version of Android N was made available on 9 March by Google. Usually, the first look at a new Android OS normally happens at Google I/O, which is scheduled for 18 May 2016.
Despite the preview coming far earlier than anticipated, we will no doubt see some more features of the new OS at the show. Google said that the final preview version of Android N will be ready by the summer. Far quicker than in previous years.
The final version of the code that consumers will get their hands on will be released around October, around the same time as a new Nexus device.
The rollout of Android N to existing Nexus devices will occur in the next few weeks after that. We would expect Android N to land on a Samsung S7 sometime in 2017.
As is a long-established tradition, the name of the Android operating system has a confectionery connotation. We can only speculate on what the name will be; either a dessert or a type of sweets.
These names are generic with the exception of KitKat, which, of course, is a brand. Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP Android, Chrome OS & Chromecast at Google hinted in a Medium post that the next version of Android could be named after another brand of confectionery; namely Nutella.
“So, the burning question that’s on everyone’s mind: what will the N release be named? We’re nut tellin’ you yet,” he said.
There is a developer preview available to download. It sports a number of features, such as multiple window support and enhancements to notifications.
Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of engineering, described the preview as a “work in progress”, so expect it to be a little rough in places.
“We’re doing something a little different this year by releasing the preview early… really early,” Google vice president of engineering Dave Burke said in a blog post.
Multiple window support
Android N will sport a new feature, dubbed Multi-window, which allows multiple windows on a single display. The attribute called android:resizableActivity is available for apps targeting N and beyond. With this enabled, a user can put apps into a split-screen mode. The feature is said to work when users switch from landscape to portrait mode. The apps should be able to handle the reconfiguration themselves. Apps can also go into picture-in-picture mode on devices like TVs.
There are a couple of enhancements to notifications. First, Android N allows users to receive incoming message notifications quickly and conveniently, without leaving the notification shade. There is also a feature called Bundled Notifications. This, as you can work out, groups notifications from the same app together – for example individual messages from a messaging app. Grouped notifications can be expanded into individual notifications by using a two-finger gesture or tapping the new expansion button.
Android N hopes to eke out more life from your device’s battery when the screen is turned off, like with Doze in Marshmallow, which saves battery when your device is stationary. Doze has a new feature to save battery life as part of 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, the feature makes background work run more efficiently.
Improved Java 8 support
Android N brings Java 8 language features to the OS. The latest update means users can access Java 8 language features, including lambdas and more, on Android versions as far back as Gingerbread. This is said to reduce “boilerplate” code. For example, lambdas can replace anonymous inner classes when providing event listeners. Some Java 8 language features – like default and static methods, streams, and functional interfaces – are also now available on N and above.