Following its initial announcements of updates to Photos, Home and Assistant, Google finally got around to Android O at its main I/O 2017 keynote. While there's not a whole lot new visually in Android O, there's plenty that will help improve it in very important ways.
Google updates its mobile operating system every year, and although we're still a few months away from the next version rolling out to our devices, Google has already pushed out the first beta version for the public, which follows just a few weeks after the initial Developer preview release.
Here's everything you need to know about Android O.
What is Android O?
Android O is the next major update to the Android. It follows the release of Android Nougat from last summer. Android O will also likely be labelled Android 8.0. After all, Android Marshmallow got the numerical designation Android 6.0, and Android Nougat got Android 7.0-7.1. However, older versions of Android, such as Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, and KitKat, were all labelled 4.x updates.
What will Android O be called?
Google usually names its major Android OS updates after tasty treats - and in alphabetical order. So far, the company has released Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, and Nougat. It's safe to say that Google will release Android O in 2017 with a sweet treat-themed name that begins with the letter O.
Google's Hiroshi Lockheimer tends to tease Android update names on Twitter, and most recently, he's been suggesting Android Oreo is the likely candidate for Android O. He may be kidding, though, considering he also tweeted an image of Pocky with the caption #2018. He also teased the name "Nutella" for Android N a number of times, and was plain just trolling everyone.
What does Android O feature?
The key message from Google is that this update is all about "Fluid Experiences" and "Vitals". That essentially means things overlap, and flow together better on screen, and that it's far more efficient than Nougat.
The first Android N developer preview from last year had a picture-in-picture mode, like you'd see in Apple's iPads, but it was for Android TV.
Now, Google has announced this feature will be widely available in Google O for smartphones as a baked in feature. We know that picture-in-picture display - also known as PIP - is coming to phones and tablets, so you can continue watching a video while, for instance, answering a chat in another app.
Launching it is as simple as pressing the home button while a video is playing. The video then becomes a small window on the home screen and you can move it around the screen so that it's not in the way of what you're doing. Then continue doing whatever else you need to be doing. When you're finished, swipe it away, off the screen.
Google billed Notification Dots as "a new for app developers to indicate that there's activity in their app". On the surface, it looks similar to the app badges we've seen on the iPhone's operating system for years. It's essentially a little dot that appears on the app icons when there's a notification.
To interact with it, you can long-press on the app icon and a pop-up bubble appears showing the notification, right above where the app icon is on the screen. That means - while you still can - you don't have to drop down the notification shade from the top of the screen to see your alerts.
And, thankfully, the dots disappear as soon as you dismiss the notifications from the drop-down shade.
Autofill with Google
We use Autofill every day in the Chrome browser, and now Google is bringing a system-wide iteration to Android. If you've ever told Google Chrome to save details in browser, you'll be able to use that information to automatically fill in fields in Android O.
As an example, you can log in to the Twitter account on your phone using the suggested account name and password that Google remembered from your Chrome browsing. It will work for most applications, presuming you opt-in to the feature.
Smart Text Selection
Smart Text Selection is another new feature that's designed to make daily interactions with your phone less tedious. For instance, if an email contains the name of a restaurant or cafe with more than one word, you can double tap any of the words, and it'll select the whole name.
More importantly, it can detect entire addresses; so double tapping any part of an address will automatically select the entire thing. What's more, when it is selected, the system knows it's an address and offers you the option to navigate there using Maps, along with the usual cut, copy and format options. It's the same for phone numbers or email addresses, automatically giving you the relevant functions for those.
Google Play Protect
Google has decided with Android O that it wants to make its efforts to keep your phone secure more visible. With O, in the apps and games screen, a small card appears to let you know that it's scanning all your apps to make sure they don't contain anything harmful.
With Android O, Google has done some serious work on the backend to improve speed. That means, booting up your phone will take far less time than it does currently. With the Pixel, Google claims it boots up more than twice as fast. It will also mean that apps load faster and smoother by default, without any work needed by the developers.
To improve the battery life of Android devices, Google plans to reduce the background activity of apps in Android O. Android can now limit how apps function in the background, thus improving a user's battery life and the device's interactive performance.
Google added a "reliable, predictable model" for "arrow" and "tab" navigation that helps both developers and users, the company said.
Android O supports Bluetooth audio codecs like the LDAC codec. There's also a new "Wi-Fi Aware", which was previously known as Neighbor Awareness Networking. On supported devices, apps and nearby devices can communicate over Wi-Fi without an internet access point.
Support for wider colour gamuts
Android O will make it possible for app developers to take advantage of support for a wide-colour gamut displays. There's a growing trend for improving displays by making them HDR compatible (both on Android TV, but also in smartphones and tablets). A large component of HDR is supporting wider colour gamuts, which goes hand-in-hand with this aspect of Android O. Google says it's aimed at imaging apps, however, with support for profiles like AdobeRGB, Pro Photo RGB or DCI-P3 to get the most out of the display.
Are there any Android O rumours?
Thanks to Venture Beat and a few other reports, we know Google has been developing new "assistive features" for Android, and some of those features might make it to the final version of Android O that releases later this year. Here's a look at what's rumoured:
The first feature is called Copy Less, and it's designed to "cut down on the annoyance of copying text from one app and pasting it in another". It works like this: imagine you and a friend are having a conversation in a chat app and you open Yelp to find a restaurant. When you go back to your conversation and type “it’s at,” the address of the restaurant will appear. You can then add it to the text box.
The feature may end up in Google’s standard-issue Gboard virtual keyboard app or the Android OS itself. Google is also working on ways to enhance certain types of text in messaging apps. So, if someone sends you a message containing an address, Copy Less will allow Android (or maybe Android's stock Message app) to recognise the text is an address, and tapping on it will open it up Google Maps.
Google has reportedly found a way to let people use finger gestures to trigger actions in Android. For instance, when you draw the letter C onscreen, Android will show a short list of recent contacts. Gesture triggers could get delayed or might not ever ship, VentureBeat said.
Can you try Android O beta?
The short answer is yes. If you have a compatible device, you can install the public beta. It's as simple as enrolling your device in the public beta program and waiting for the OTA update to hit your phone.
Google surprised everyone in 2016 by announcing a Developer Preview of Android Nougat in advance of Google I/O 2016. It didn't roll out the final release to consumers until August 2016. Google had previously announced a new Android OS with new hardware, but that was no longer the case last year, as Android Nougat didn't land for new hardware until Google released its own Pixel flagships in late 2016.
Just like last year, the Android O Developer Preview was announced ahead of Google I/O, which kicked off on 17 May, and true to form. Since then, the second preview and the first public beta have been released.
For developers, the preview includes an SDK with system images for testing on the Android Emulator, as well as Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Pixel, Pixel XL, and Pixel C devices. Developers building for wearables can now use an emulator for testing Android Wear 2.0 on Android O.
Google offers instructions on how to install the preview on its developer website. It said the developer is in "early days" and cautioned the early developer preview should only be downloaded by developers. Google said it will release updated developer previews in the coming months, and will be "doing a deep dive on all things Android at Google I/O in May," Google wrote in a blog post.
When is Android O coming to my phone?
The final release of Android O should be available in late summer 2017 - prior to any new hardware releases from Google. At least, if the company follows the same strategy as 2016. Google phones and tablets are the first to get new operating system updates, and security updates are provided for three years following the device's release.
In other words, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P will be supported by Google until September 2017. That means they get Android O. Last year's Pixel and Pixel XL are also on the list of phones to be updated to Android O. If you have a recent flagship phone or tablet, you'll likely see the update rolled out within the first few months of 2018.
In its marketing of the Moto G4 Plus, Motorola teased that it will receive both Android Nougat and Android O.