It’s that time of the year again, when hard core Android set out to get our hands dirty by flashing the new version of Android on our devices.
As we are inching towards the annual Google I/O event, Google has published the preview of the next version of Android. Simply dubbed Android N, the preview of the operating system can be installed on these devices: Nexus 5x, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Nexus 9G, Nexus Player and Pixel C.
Users can download the images for their devices and installed them manually or enroll in the Android Beta Program. One big advantage of enrolling in the program is that you will automatically get all updates over-the-air. If you choose to flash N manually then you won’t get automatic updates and you will have to install updates manually. (When I last checked the beta site was giving a 404 error.)
OK, but what’s new in N?
Google is bringing split screen capability to stock Android. Unlike the iOS implementation of split screen, this feature is not restricted to tablets; I can do it on my phone as well. A neat feature of Android split screen is that you can either have two apps side by side or you can have one above the other. And you have complete control over resizing the apps.
In order to take advantage of the split screen feature, developers will to add a line in their code.
Android N also supports drag and drop. Dropping content into an app to open it. An example would be dragging a picture and dropping into an image editor like Snapseed.
If you are running an Android TV device, like Nexus Player or Nvidia Shield, then you can also put apps in picture-in-picture mode so you can, for example, watch video in a smaller frame while reading a CIO.com article in a larger window.
Does the N stand for Notification? There are some significant improvements in the notification area, which Google notes on the developer preview page:
Template updates: We’re updating notification templates to put a new emphasis on hero image and avatar. Developers will be able to take advantage of the new templates with minimal adjustments in their code.
Bundled notifications: The system can group messages together, for example by message topic, and display the group. A user can take actions, such as Dismiss or Archive, on them in place. If you’ve implemented notifications for Android Wear, you’ll already be familiar with this model.
Direct reply: For real-time communication apps, the Android system supports inline replies so that users can quickly respond to an SMS or text message directly within the notification interface.
Custom views: Two new APIs enable you to leverage system decorations, such as notification headers and actions, when using custom views in notifications.
Google is expanding the quick setting tiles by paginating it. They are also giving developers access to Quick Setting tiles so they can offer users more control over their OS. But Google also warns that Quick Setting tiles are reserved for controls or actions that are either urgently required or frequently used, and should not be used as shortcuts to launching an app. As a user, what’s exciting is that now I can choose which tiles appear in Quick Settings and where they are placed.
Data consumption remains a big challenge in the age of HD streaming. Google is trying to address the data consumption issue by introducing a Data Saver mode in Android N that gives more control to user over which apps use how much cellular data. Developers will be able to take advantage of the Data Saver mode to make their apps efficient in terms of data consumption.
There are many more new features in Android N, but these are the ones that will affect the average user. I am heading to my Linux box to flash my Nexus device and will come back with a detailed review of the preview.