What's new with Android L? Seven things to be excited about
Google has kicked off its I/O developer conference, with an event that previewed the next version of Android.
The company is really excited about the upcoming upgrade to its mobile operating system. And you should be too. We were on hand at the event, covering everything live, and have just rounded up all the best features and changes coming to your Android device soon.
Want to know what the next version of Android is called? Interested in learning more about how the upgrade will affect your battery life? Is there a new look or design? Keep reading to find out.
Android L: What's with the name?
Sundar Pichai, a senior vice president at Google who oversees Android, has just shown off a preview of the upcoming "L release" of Android at Google I/O.
It's not clear if L is the final name of the next version of Android or if the mobile operating system will in fact get a sweet name starting with the letter L when it eventually releases to the public.
Google typically goes with the names of treats when naming Android, and it was assumed the company would continue this pattern for some time to come.
Android L: New features
Staring with design, Pichai claimed Android L is one of the most comprehensive releases Google has ever done.
"One of the things as we thought about L is that we wanted to take a radical new approach to design. User experiences are evolving rapidly and we wanted for rethink the user design experience in Android to have a fresh, bold, and new look," Pichai said.
Matias Duarte, vice president of design at Google for Android, further explained on stage which design elements are new in Android L. The design team developed a design not just for phones and tablets but also Chrome and all of Google.
Duarte said the team wanted to craft a uniform design for "mobile, desktop, and beyond". The new look features bright colours, updated iconography and typography, and a more consistent interface hierarchy.
The design is in fact called Material Design, and it's based on what Google called a "unifying theory of a rationalized space and a system of motion." Specifically, Material Design will include (at least for mobile devices) new animations, themes, 3D views with real-time shadows, activity transitions, etc.
An example includes a slight ripple when touching the phone dialer. The video above, released by Google, is a more thorough demonstration of the new look.
Duarte emphasised that elements, transitions, and animations should appear as if in real life: "Our material is grounded in tactile reality, inspired by our study of paper and ink, yet open to imagination and magic," he said, noting again that the new effects will react to your touch.
Update: According to Avni Shah, the Director of Product Management at Google for Chrome, the Material Design look in Android L will also be present in the Chrome app on your mobile device.
Search results will be smoothly animated, for instance, as well as fast and fluid at 60fps. Touch latency has also been improved, and the Recents feature in Chrome for Android will get Material Design elements too.
Google has improved the user experience with Android L by enhancing notifications.
According to Dave Burk, the Director of Engineering at Google for Android, people mostly take their phone out of their pocket to check notifications: "So we wanted to streamline the process, everything from the phone buzzing to you acting on that notification," he explained.
With Android L, full notifications will appear on the lock screen. You will be able to double tap them to launch apps, or you could just swipe them away. To see the full list of notifications, just swipe down.
But that's not all: Android L will analyse your behavior and habits to only present the most useful and relevant notifications first.
There's also a new type of notification in Android L called Heads Up. It basically provides pop-up notifications at the top of your display, whenever you’re inside of an app. You can accept them or dismiss them. They're meant to show what you've received - without taking up your whole display or interrupting.
Burk quickly moved from enhanced notifications and straight into how we unlock our screens: authentication.
"You waste many minutes a day cumulatively on that fiddly task of entering a pin," he said. "So we figured there's gotta be a better way. In L, we're introducing a new concept we're calling 'personal unlocking'."
Personal unlocking enables your phone to determine if it is in a trusted environment. It can detect whether the person swiping the lock screen is the owner of the device, for instance. The feature uses data like location, nearby Bluetooth devices, or unique voice prints to authenticate and then unlock your device.
You can therefore unlock an Android L device without ever having to enter a PIN code or pattern lock. And if a device running Android L cannot successfully authenticate you, it will present a PIN lock.
CPU performance boost
Android L will feature ART, a new runtime complier that processes applications more efficiently.
Google claimed that by switching to ART, Android devices will have 2x performance over Android device running the older Dalvik runtime complier. ART will further support ARM, x86, MIPS, and 64-bit instructions as standard, meaning it's cross-platform.
This new feature might sound a bit too techy at this point, but don't fret. All you need to know is that your applications will stutter less (hopefully not at all), and your device will be more efficient. Specifically, ART in Android L could save you several megabytes of memory.
GPU graphics boost
Android L will feature an Android Extension Pack. High-end phones and tablets shipping in autumn will support this new graphics capability.
All tech jargon aside, the Android Extension Pack will improve how graphics look and run. You will notice - in games, for instance - more realistic environments and characters and vastly improved lighting.
"Quite literally, this is PC-gaming graphics in your pocket," Burk explained, after a video game demonstration of a title running Epic Game's Unreal Engine 4.
With major CPU and GPU changes coming with Android L, Google had to reevaluate battery life to make sure it keeps up with performance.
Android L will feature something called Project Volta. It optimises battery life. It's kind of like the Project Butter effort for UI smoothness that Google unveiled two years ago, only newer and better.
"The goal of Project Volta is to optimize how the expansive subsystems of the device are used and to improve overall battery life," Burk explained.
Project Volta will include a tool called Battery Historian. It offers a thorough breakdown of the what is taxing your device battery. If you're having battery life problems, you could use Battery Historian to identify and even stop (whether software or hardware) whatever is draining your battery.
There's also a Battery Saver mode.
Battery Saver allows you to clock-down CPUs, turn down refresh rates, and even shut off background data to conserve battery. You can trigger this mode manually or set it to switch on when your battery level is low. Battery Sacwe mode could save a Nexus 5 up to 90 minutes of use. Awesome, right?
Android, for work
This next one is a bit of a cheat, because it's not just for Android L.
Google announced a new feature for Android that will make it easier for businesses or companies to give Android devices to their employees. The feature enables data separation, so both corporate and personal applications can run securely together on one device...without sharing data. And that's the key.
The feature also lets companies control Android devices remotely, so your IT department at work can deploy apps in bulk and manage data. Google said you could thank Samsung for these new capabilities. It actually contributed a lot of technology to make the feature possible.
What's more: The feature will be made available as a data separation app compatible with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and above. It's not limited to Samsung devices either, as it includes support for handsets made by Motorola, LG, HTC, and Sony.
And finally, Google quickly mentioned Android L will feature a new keyboard UI, new wuick settings, a Do Not Disturb mode, better multi-tasking, and "much more". The company didn't provide a demonstration of these changes however.
Android L: Release date
Google will release the developer preview SDK of Android L on 26 June. The consumer version won't release until sometime this autumn however.