As we thought, Google has taken wraps off of Android N this morning, much earlier in the year than they did with both Android L and Android M, which went on to be Lollipop and Marshmallow, respectively. We’ve been hearing a lot about Android N lately and what this latest evolution could mean for Google’s mobile OS, but today we know just what Google have been working on. While there are of course a myriad of smaller changes under-the-hood of any major OS upgrade like this, Google has focused on two main areas with Android N; notifications and multi-window support. The new version of Android is launching now in its “First Preview” which essentially means that those with a current Nexus device will be able to try it out before it hits devices later this year. For now though, let’s take a look at what Google is planning for Android N.
First up is a feature that many have been crying out for for a long, long time; multi-window. Starting with Android N, devices will be able to run two apps side-by-side at the same time. This has been implemented in devices from the likes of LG and Samsung before, but those methods only apply to some, not all apps. With Android N, developers just need to use the “android:resizableActivity” as a manifest attribute to allow Android to change its size and thus use it alongside another app. Google have been experimenting with multi-window for some time now, and it’s good to see Android N will be launching with such a feature that applies to all devices and apps, so long as they use a couple of new attributes.
Notifications are also getting some attention with Android N, too. Right now, Google is only detailing two major changes. The first of which is the ability to quick reply to notifications there and then. A number of apps, including Google’s own Hangouts and popular SMS app, Textra, already support this through a pop-up window that covers the screen with a dark shade. In Android N, a reply to a Hangouts message will all happen in the notification shade itself, and developers can apply this to their apps with the new “RemoteInput” API. Google is calling this feature “direct reply”, presumably because the reply happens there and then, without the annoying pop-up window. Joining this is bundled notifications, which is another way of cleaning up the notification shade, developers can use this with the new “Notification.Builder.setGroup()” method. An example here would be the aforementioned Textra, multiple SMS messages from different contacts appear as separate notifications, but in Android N they could appear in a neat bundle.
Speaking of developers, a bigger change that’s under-the-hood is the change to Java 8. This also means a change to OpenJDK and the need for Google’s compiler, “Jack”, which neatly stands for “Java Android Compiler Kit”. For the most part, this is a move away from Oracle’s own Java to focus on Java that they won’t necessarily end up in court for. Developers will now have access to a wider-range of instructions present in Java 8, but whether or not these will work with previous versions of Android, such as Marshmallow and Lollipop is unclear.
Last but not least, Doze and Project Svelte are getting some attention in Android N as well. Notably, Doze will be more efficient when the device’s display is turned off, and for developers already targeting for Doze, their apps will already benefit from this further efficiency. As for Project Svelte, launched some time ago to reduce Android’s need for lots of memory, background tasks will now be more efficient and use less memory when apps aren’t in use.
Right now, Google has announced this as the “First Preview” of Android N, and while the final release is promised for “this Summer” that doesn’t mean that your current handset or tablet will get the update to Android N this summer. However, as N is being announced months before Lollipop and Marshmallow were, it could mean speedier updates for us all, and let’s remember, a preview is not the same as a full release in the first place.