Android O will be rolling out to the general public later this summer, but the second developer preview is out now. It’s also the first public beta of the OS, so if you’ve got a recent Nexus or Pixel device and want to try it out, now’s your chance – just head to android.com/beta to sign up.
As with all Android updates, we’re expecting this one to come to the company’s first-party Pixel and Nexus devices first, followed by devices from other manufacturers. However, the company’s new ‘Project Treble’ initiative (see below) should mean that fans without a Google-made device won’t have to wait as long to get it as with previous versions.
Google has announced that one of the upcoming OS’ key features will be a significant change to the software’s underlying architecture, dubbed Project Treble. This will make it substantially easier for OEMs and device manufacturers to push the latest patches out to their products.
“One thing we’ve consistently heard from our device-maker partners is that updating existing devices to a new version of Android is incredibly time consuming and costly,” the Android Developers Blog said. “With Project Treble, we’re re-architecting Android to make it easier, faster and less costly for manufacturers to update devices to a new version of Android.”
Project Treble will cut out some of the steps involved in the release process of Android patches, which have to be created by Google, modified by manufacturing partners and then further customised by actual device-makers before ending up on users’ phones.
The change will ensure customers get the latest Android features faster, as well as being able to more quickly plug security holes. The slow speed of updates currently means that many devices can be left vulnerable for months (if not longer) while they wait for a fix to be rolled out.
Project Treble is currently included in the Android O developer preview and will be rolling out as part of the OS’ general release.
Android O name
The official name for the next release of the OS is Android 8 but it’s known as Android O.
Google follows a longstanding tradition of naming each successive version of the OS after some form of “sweet treat” which follow an alphabetical order. Past updates include names such as Jellybean, KitKat, Marshmallow and Nougat.
There is no definite answer to what the “O” stands for in the name of the update but there have been guesses made such as Orange, Oatmeal and Oreo. Or maybe it’s the shape of a tasty treat and is in fact a doughnut?
Android O top features
Google has finally given fans their first official look at Android O, showing off the forthcoming update at the Google I/O developer’s conference at their Mountain View headquarters.
However, anyone expecting a substantial overhaul of the OS is going to be disappointed. Most of the show was given over to the company’s advanced in machine learning and AI technology, with comparatively little time devoted to Android itself.
What scant updates the company did announce were spread across two separate areas: ‘vitals’, which cover Android’s internal processes and functions, and ‘fluid experiences’, which relates to visible features like the UI and settings.
In the latter category, Google has finally introduced picture-in-picture video to Android. If you’re making a video call in Duo or watching a video in YouTube, pressing the home button will bring you back to the home screen, with a minimised window in the right hand corner displaying the video. In practise, it works very similarly to the way picture-in-picture videos are displayed within YouTube’s mobile app, although this is system-wide and compatible with multiple different apps.
The notification system has also been slightly tweaked, with new iOS-style ‘notification dots’. If you have unread notifications within an app, a dot will be displayed in the corner of its home screen icon, which you can long-press on to see a pop-up widget giving you more details on the content. This feature should require no extra effort for devs to enable – Android will even change the dot’s colour automatically depending on your icon’s design, ensuring it doesn’t spoil your colour scheme.
Android O is introducing notification channels, too. These are new app-defined categories for notification content. Channels allow users to have extra control over different types of notifications so they can block or change the behaviour of each channel individually instead of managing all of the app’s notifications together.
There are also new visuals and grouping of notifications that make it easier for users to see what’s going on when viewing their notifications.
Autofill and Smart Text Selection
A couple of less impressive (but arguably more useful) features were debuted, too – autofill and smart text selection. The former extends Chrome’s built-in autocomplete function to Android, meaning that when you set up a new phone, Android will automatically fill in your account details for apps. It’s currently unknown if this feature will allow you to use different credential storage services like Lastpass or Dashlane, however.
Android’s new smart text selection is another useful feature. It uses machine learning to identify multi-part phrases that are commonly highlighted together, like phone numbers, addresses and business names, meaning users just have to double-tap on one word to highlight the whole thing. It even brings up a shortcut for the app it thinks would be most relevant, like Maps or the phone dialler.
Performance and battery life upgrades
Moving on to ‘vitals’, the updates that govern Android’s internal systems, there are modifications to performance and battery life, including changes to the runtime that result in app performance and boot times that are up to twice as past as previous versions.
In addition, new limits have been placed on the way apps operate in the background, making sure that they don’t use too much of the device’s memory or battery power when not in active use.
Security has also been shored up. The Google Play Store has historically been known to host malware, scams and other bogus applications, but the new Google Play Protect service is set to put a stop to that, scanning apps that you want to download for malware and other threats, as well as those already on your device. The service also incorporates Android’s other security features such as remote locking and wiping of devices.
Google Play Console dashboards
It’s not just the device software that’s been updated; Android’s developer tools have been tuned up too. The Play Console now has six new dashboards to help devs track common issues, including frozen frames, excessive crash rate, slow rendering, ANR rate, stuck wake locks and excessive wakeups. The dashboards include breakdowns of how many users are affected, as well as tips for resolving the problems.
Android Studio 3.0
Google unveiled the third version of Android Studio, the company’s IDE for mobile development. Amidst a laundry list of changes and updates, the biggest news is the addition of in-depth profiling tools for real-time visualisation and troubleshooting, new Java 8 Language support and support for the Kotlin programming language, which is fully interoperable with existing Android code, and can be deployed immediately.
Font resources in XML
Fonts are now fully supported in Android O. Apps are able to use fonts in XML layouts and define font families in XML too – defining the font style, weight and font files.
Developers can now create adaptive icons which the system displays in different shapes, based on a mask selected by the device. The system can also animate interactions with the icons, and uses them in the launcher, settings, sharing dialogs, and in the overview screen.
Wide-gamut colour for apps
Developers of imaging apps can now take advantage of devices that have a wide-gamut colour capable display.
Android O supports high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs such as LDAC codec. There will be new Wi-Fi features such as Wi-Fi Aware, previously known as Neighbour Awareness Networking (NAN), which allows devices to connect directly to each other via Wi-Fi Aware without any other type of connectivity between them, such as Wi-Fi Access Point or Cellular.
Google has seen a resurgence of keyboard navigation within the apps so are building a more reliable and predictable model for “arrow” and “tab” navigation for developers and users.
AAudio API for Pro Audio
AAudio is a new native API for apps that require high-performance, low-latency audio. Developer preview has an early version of this as Google are looking for feedback.
In Android there will be a multi-process mode and an API to let apps handle errors and crashes, to enhance security and improve app stability. Apps can also opt in to verify URLs through Google Safe Browsing.