Last week, Google pretty much shocked the entire world by dropping the developer preview of Android N ahead of Google I/O. In the past two years, Google has previewed the next version of Android at Google I/O and released the first developer preview then. After that they release a few others, about once a month before the final release in the fall. Which is typically around late-September or early-October. This year, they are doing things a bit differently. Dropping the first developer preview for Android N in March and they are going to give us four additional previews before the final release sometime in August or September. So we’re getting releases about once a month as we typically do. However, Google is not allowing Play Store publishing for apps that work on Android N until the third developer preview.
Why put the preview out so early? Well, for feedback. Feedback is always important when putting out big updates like this one has shaped up to be. And the earlier that Google can put out the developer preview, the more feedback that will be generated and submitted for Google to fix things. And in some cases add things. It also gives developers a chance to work with the new API’s and get their apps and games ready for Android N when it does finally drop in the third quarter.
Now since Android N came out last week, there’s been a lot of people saying that Android N is a “minimal” update. Which is not true. While feature-wise, there’s not much new, no update is truly minimal when it comes to a mobile OS. There are always tons of improvements behind-the-scenes that many people don’t see, and those are just as important as the new features that people do see each and every day. In fact, one of the new features that is actually a behind-the-scenes feature is Doze. Well it’s more of an enhancement to Doze than a new feature. Doze was announced in Marshmallow last year and what it did was turn off everything on your phone when you’re not using it for a while. This provided some amazing standby time, and in early tests, the Nexus 5 nearly quadrupled it’s standby time compared to Lollipop. Which is a pretty big deal. Now in Android N, Doze will start immediately when you put the phone to sleep. Even when you’re holding it. Making standby that much better. Now while Doze does turn off everything, your notifications will still come through. Instead of being instant, the device will poll services every 10 or 15 minutes for new notifications. Instead of constantly polling for them. Means notifications may be a bit late, but not that late.
The headlining feature of Android N appears to be Multi-Window this time around. Something that Android users have been wanting for quite some time. It appeared in early builds of the Android M developer preview last year, but was taken out, likely due to it not being ready. It’s here now and works pretty well. This in itself isn’t a small feature either. There’s a lot of work that had to go into making this work, especially on different sized devices and different aspect ratios. Considering it works on the Pixel C, Nexus 9, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, and the Nexus 5X. Multi-Window was actually supposed to be available for the Pixel C’s launch last fall, which would have been especially useful for that tablet as it was made for the screen to split in two.
Google also refined the notification pull down. So now you have your notifications as usual, with icons at the top. So you can quickly toggle things like WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular network and other items. And you can pull it all the way down to get to all the quick settings. Additionally, the notification pull down now uses up the entire width of the screen. In Lollipop and Marshmallow, that was not the case. It looks a bit more clean and usable too. Another popular feature in the notification shade is app bundling and unbundling. So if you have a bunch of emails from Gmail, you can unbundle them and archive them individually. Finally, for the notification shade we get a quick reply API. Making it so that apps that utilize the API will allow you to quickly reply through the notification shade without jumping into the app.
As with any developer preview, some of these features may get better, some may even disappear. As we saw with Multi-Window last year in the Android M previews. Some have also dug around in the code of the Android N Developer Preview, and found a few interesting things. Like free-form windows. Which would give us an ecosystem similar to what Windows does on the desktop. Allowing you to have multiple windows open at the same time and available on the screen. Now that likely won’t be too useful on a smartphone. But on a tablet like the Pixel C and the Nexus 9, it could be very helpful. To help take advantage of all of that screen real estate available there for users. This may not have been in as much demand as multi-window was, but there are definitely plenty of people that would love to see this feature become a reality on Android.
Some more digging around has highlighted how Google may be changing the way updates are done in the future. With security updates being such a big issue as of late, and many not getting their security updates in a timely fashion, if at all, Google is looking to take this into their own hands. Essentially, it looks like Google is making Android so that they can push an update to patch some bugs and vulnerabilities to any device, without the manufacturer interfering. Think of it like this, Samsung updates Touchwiz, but Google updates Android on your new Galaxy S7. It seems a bit confusing at first, but it could be the start of something really great. It may not, and probably won’t, solve the issues of updates and major OS updates taking way to long to hit devices, but it’s worth a shot. Updates on Android will never be as good as what Apple can do, and that’s due to all of the variables on Android, and how many different versions are out there, even on Marshmallow, there are tons of different versions available.
There is a lot to like in this new version of Android, currently being referred to internally as “New York Cheesecake” according to a report that came out today. There’s a ton of work still left to be done on this version and it’ll likely all be done in the next few months. But there is also a lot of things to get excited about. In particular, the fact that Android could be used as a framework instead of just an operating system. This could truly change a lot of things. We may no longer have to be pissed at the manufacturer for taking 6 months to push Marshmallow to their flagship device (like Samsung did with the Galaxy S6). It’s been a long-standing problem with Android, and it got a lot more attention with the recent outbreak of security vulnerabilities. While Google has been updating their Nexus devices each month at the start of the month, so has BlackBerry and HTC with their unlocked devices. Many carrier devices are months and months behind. In fact the Galaxy Note 5 on Verizon is still sitting on December 2015’s patch. Which may actually be more up-to-date than most other smartphones on a carrier right now.
In Android N, it’s clear that Google wants to make Android more secure, also easier to update, and finally more of a desktop platform. Giving it the multi-window feature and possibly bringing free-form windows to the platform. Google’s vision of Android, at least for 2016, is starting to become a reality and we definitely can’t wait to see the final product. Which appears to be coming a bit earlier than normal this year – which should also mean Nexus hardware is coming at the same time.
On the surface, Android N may appear to be a small or minimal update, but please don’t call it that. All of the developers and engineers at Google that have been hard at work on the N release would not agree. This will likely be Android 7.0, based on how big of an update it is, and how Google has been numbering their Android releases recently. There are likely more surprises still in store for Android N, and we can’t wait to see them.