Google is set to release Android 7.0 Nougat and it's already being called a boring update save for the introduction of a platform-supported split screen mode, which will see service on the Google Pixel C. As such, Android 7.0 might be considered to be Android 6.1, just as Android 6.0 Marshmallow might be considered to be Android 5.2, reflecting the apparently small number of changes between the different versions. It is but a number, but consumers expect more for their number upgrades – and we can point the finger at Apple's "our most advanced iPhone operating system yet" adverts for whatever version of iOS had been released that year. Of course, Google and Android device manufacturers have jumped on that bandwagon, but now that operating system platforms are maturing, the list of visible changes is reducing. In short, the manufacturers have less visual features to fix as the operating systems are working well as they are.
Android 7.0 Nougat introduced another potentially significant change that will be seen as much less exciting by consumers in the shape of seamless updates, which follows Google's policy of keeping devices (or at least Android) up to date: seamless update technology makes it cleaner and less disruptive to customers to update devices. Unfortunately, seamless updates are unlikely to be retrospectively included in existing devices whereas Nougat's split screen technology will be. There are other changes and improvements being introduced with Nougat, which are mostly dismissed as polish to the user interface: things such as a quick reply template being introduced to the lock screen, a night mode to help our eyes and brains relax when it's time to sleep, enhanced accessibility features and the ability to access emergency contact details from the lock screen. Many of these updates to Android are already available to the platform via third party applications, which is a trend we've seen with Android: this is not a bad thing. Google are also shoring up the platform's appeal to enterprise customers, which fits in with a new thrust of their platform business and other changes we are seeing.
Going back to the Google Pixel C convertible tablet, Google's well built and powerful tablet has one weakness: the platform is not as effective for "productivity" as other competing platforms, these being Apple's iOS and Microsoft Windows 10. Split screen technology – that of running two applications side by side – is seen as something of a holy grail for making tablets a more productive machine. This is because running two applications simultaneously or "multitasking" has been presented as a way of achieving more in the same space of time. There are many occasions when running two applications on the same screen (or on multiple screens and the same computer) can help people work smarter, such as comparing data in tablets, or copying and editing information from one application and manipulating it into another. It is also a great way to reduce productivity: watching ninja cat YouTube clips on one half of your tablet screen whilst working on an article in the other is probably a great way to earn an irate email from your editor.
What's the big deal about multitasking, anyway? Ever since the first software engineer figured out a way to run a music player in the background, our devices have been multitasking. Android is based around multitasking – that is, keeping processes running in the background. One of the reasons why Android has a reputation for being power hungry is because devices are doing so much under the surface. When our device is connected to the Internet and we are using a Google account, the device is likely to be maintaining a connection to the Google service, which means an occasional heartbeat. When the Google service has something to update in our Android device, it will either wake up and do the necessary, or it will start a background process and do this. Change your calendar on an Android tablet whilst sending a text message on your connected smartphone and the calendar is updated almost immediately on the 'phone. The split screen view will make this more obvious. Modern versions of the Chrome Browser on the Android platform multitask beautifully, memory permitting.
Unfortunately, the split screen view won't be enough for the Pixel C to become a productivity powerhouse. Application developers still need to "fix" their applications to better suit the platform. It is not that Google Docs doesn't work on the Android platform, but that it could work so much better. In the detail, Google's execution of split screen technology on the Pixel C is commendable. Holding down the "recent application" softkey opens up the split screen view. You tap on the application you want to run in the split screen. The interface changes to show the split screen and Android will run anything like this, but warns the user if the application isn't designed for the split screen. Some applications that require more screen real estate than is provided by the feature will not be fully functional and this is something the developer will need to fix rather than Google. Google's software engineers faced the challenge of adding additional functionality using as few on-screen touches and icons as possible and it will take users a little time to get used to how to run multiple applications on the same desktop view.
Ultimately, Google's ongoing development of Android is a good thing as they are providing the platform for application developers to build the products and services that customers want. Microsoft learnt this the hard way: after years of pushing Windows Phone devices onto customers because it offered the best Office 365 experience, they have now developed good Android and iOS versions of their software, meaning that anybody using the world's most popular productivity software can now continue using it on whatever mobile device they own. Android 7.0 Nougat will almost certainly encourage developers to improve their productivity applications, but this is a change that won't happen overnight. Instead, consumers may take another look at the platform and as they use it more, developers will likely be encouraged to improve things.