It still may be two months until I/O, but Google is too excited to wait. In a post on the Android Developer Blog today, Google pulled back the curtain on some of Android O’s new features and enhancements, and from the looks of it, it’s a jam-packed release.
In the past, Google has released the first developer preview of the latest Android version following its I/O keynote, and Google notes the change, saying it has been “pushing hard on improving our engineering processes so we can share our work earlier and more openly with our partners.” In the post, Google spotlights a number of new features, several of which were only recently leaked. It warns that there is “still plenty of stabilization and performance work ahead of us,” but developers can download and install the developer’s preview beginning today.
O happy day: While this definitely isn’t the full list of features planned for Android O, there is a lot here that should make long-time Android fans extremely happy. Google is likely saving some main consumer features for its big conference, but even the list of enhancements here, especially background limits and the new windowing features, will have a profound effect on how we use our phones. And giving developers extra time to get their apps up to speed before the public release is great news, too.
First and foremost, Google is putting continued emphasis on improving battery life and performance, this time around focusing on the access apps have while running in the background. There are three main areas that Google has targeted for automatic limits: implicit broadcasts, background services, and location updates.
For users, that means apps won’t be able to drain your battery when you’re not using them anymore, and Google notes that it is a “significant change in Android, so we want every developer to get familiar with them.” It’s not entirely clear whether Google will allow users control over which apps have background permissions or limit them altogether, but either way it should help our phones last a little longer.
Another new feature is something Google is calling notification channels, new app-defined categories for notification content. With Channels, users will have more granular control over notifications, and it won’t be an all-or-nothing toggle for apps anymore: “Channels let developers give users fine-grained control over different kinds of notifications—users can block or change the behavior of each channel individually, rather than managing all of the app’s notifications together.”
Also new in Android O is Picture in Picture, but it’s not just for video. While users will be able to continue watching videos in a small window while they use another app, the feature, which is available for handsets and tablets, will also let apps put themselves in PiP mode “from the resumed or a pausing state where the system supports it.” Developers will be able to specify the aspect ratio and a set of custom buttons and interactions, and it could be one of Android O’s most useful features. There’s also a new overlay window for apps to use instead of the system alert window, as well as multi-display support for launching an activity on a remote screen.
Android O’s icons have gotten a boost, too. Developers can now create adaptive icons that change dynamically, similar to the way the Calendar icon automatically changes with the date on the Pixel phones. According to Google, Android can now display icons in different shapes, based on a mask selected by the device, and the system will also animate custom interactions with the icons all across the system.
Developers will also be getting new Autofill APIs in Android O, which will make using password managers much easier. Where users previously had to jump back and forth between apps to fill in stored passwords, Android O will let developers build platform support for autofill, just like Smart Lock does in Chrome. Users will be able to select autofill apps similar to the how they switch between keyboards, with secure access to data such as addresses, user names, and passwords.
O, that’s not all!
There are many more changes under the hood in Android O as well. Fonts will now be a fully supported resource type, so apps will be able to display richer custom fonts. Developers will be able to use fonts in XML layouts as well as define font families, as well as declare the font style and weight along with the font files.
Elsewhere, developers will have access to a wide-gamut color for supported displays, high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs, new Wi-Fi and telecommunication features, “a more reliable, predictable model for ‘arrow’ and ‘tab’ navigation,” and a native AAudio API for high-performance, low-latency audio. And Android O will support several new Java Language APIs, including the new java.time API.
Finally, Google worked closely with hardware manufacturers and chip partners to target specific issues they had with Nougat, whether in the form of fixes or enhancements. Google specifically calls out Sony, which has contributed “more than 30 feature enhancements and 250 bug fixes” to the next version of Android. Perhaps this signals a way for Google to ensure future Android updates gets into the hands of all users, but either way, it’s great to see Google and OEMs working closer together.
The developer preview of Android O is not part of the over-the-air beta program, so developers will need manually download the factory image and flash the ROM to their devices. Google is also promising to open it up to the main beta program as development continues, and will be doing “a deep dive on all things Android” at I/O in May.