Google was so busy creating a WhatsApp rival and a chatbot on steroids that it didn’t have any new Android N features to share with us during Wednesday morning’s Google I/O keynote. Instead, the company decided to introduce the first “beta-quality” build of the new mobile operating system. Plus, Google wants your input on what Android N should be named when it rolls out later this summer.
“Often the hardest part of creating an Android release is coming up with the name,” said Android engineering chief Dave Burke during the keynote. “And I have no idea why, but this year the ‘N’ dessert name is proving trickier than all of the others.”
Instead of racking their brains, or looking for another corporate partner, Google wants to crowdsource this year’s Android title. If you think you’ve got a good one, head over to android.com/n and submit your idea.
In addition to naming the release, anyone with a Nexus 5X, 6, 6P, 9, or Pixel C can visit Android.com/beta to join up to get the latest beta build of Android N as an over-the-air update. Be warned, however, that beta builds tend to be unstable. Even though Google says this build of Android N is fairly stable, remember that it’s still a beta—and you may regret installing it on your primary phone.
The Big Stuff
While nothing particularly new showed up during the Android N introduction at Google I/O, the company did spend some time highlighting the OS. This year’s Android release is all about three main categories: performance, security, and productivity.
We’ve already seen the productivity features in earlier developer previews, but here’s what Google is most excited about: Android N is going to change the way the “recents” button (the square) works to help make using your device more efficient. Instead of showing you what feels like an endless stream of recently used apps, Google will cut it down to around seven. Burke says the company’s research discovered that’s about as far back as most users are willing to go.
The “recents” button also has a new feature called Quick Switch. When you double-tap that square, Android will automatically switch back to the previously used app. This will allow you to move between apps rapidly, like when you’re consulting your calendar while on a phone call.
Google also showed off its split-screen window feature for phones and tablets, and the picture-in-picture mode for Android TV. There was also a brief look at the new notifications functionality that lets you reply to messages inside the notifications window shade.
Finally, Android N will come with support for Unicode 9 emoji that include increased skin tone variations and more human-looking emoji. Google says it is the first mobile platform to support Unicode 9 emoji. The company also said it was deeply involved in the next generation of emoji including adding more images of women in professional roles.
Performance and Security
Android N will come rocking Vulkan, the new open standard graphics API that is also available on PCs. You can read more about Vulkan on PCWorld, but basically it’s the cross-platform alternative to DirectX 12 and the successor to Open GL.
Google also spent some time talking about low-level stuff such as Android N’s JIT (just-in-time) compiler. That may not sound like fun, but Google says the new compiler makes app installs 75-percent faster and reduces app code size by 50 percent. Smaller code size means less storage space required, which is an obvious benefit for Android users. Most importantly, however, the performance changes means the end of that “Android is starting” screen where your device “optimizes” every app on your phone before getting to the lock screen.
For security, the biggest addition is that Android will now update like Chrome does. In other words, Android is getting background updates with no user interaction required. It just downloads in the background, and the next time you start-up your device you’ll find a fresh Android build that is ready to go.
Google also said Android N will encrypt at the file level instead of the block level. One direct benefit for users is that you won’t have to enter your password when an Android N device starts up.
That’s all Google spent time on with Android N on Wednesday, but we’ll be keeping an eye on new preview releases for additional features. In the meantime, start submitting your ideas for the Android N dessert name.
Personally, I’m partial to Nantucket Cranberry Pie.