On March 9th 2016, Google announced the very early Beta release of its latest OS: Android N.
The release came as a pleasant surprise for android lovers who were expecting the new OS’s first revelation would come at the next developer’s conference, Google I/O, which is slated to be held at the end of May of this year.
It’s usually at the conference that Google unveils its newest OS to allow developers to test the new features and optimize their apps to run seamlessly on it.
This year, however, they’ve started 2 months earlier with their beta build because “By releasing a “work in progress” build earlier in development, we have more time to incorporate developer feedback.”, says Dave Burke, VP of Engineering.
Continuing with it tradition to name its OS after desserts and confectionary, in an alphabetical order, it’s now at N. Guesses and rumors abound what the N could stand for: Nougat, Nestle or perhaps Nutella! Although in an interesting twist, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, announced that Android N’s name could be determined via an online Poll!
So, what’s exactly inside the latest OS? Let’s find out!
New Android N Features that Weren’t in Marshmallow
This is perhaps the biggest, and most visible, new feature in N. As the name suggests, you can now open 2 apps side by side and work on them simultaneously. Although, split screens are nothing new to some Android smartphone manufacturers like Samsung – who’s been doing split screens for a while now! But, it’s the first time it’s come in pre-baked in an Android OS.
While in multi-window mode, you can adjust the size of apps’ windows. Although, Google warns some apps may not be adaptable to the multi-window mode and might not work before their code is adjusted according to the new parameters. However, because almost all apps are built using a screen size agnostic format, they can adjust to the new feature without any modifications.
To enable your app to take advantage of the split screen feature, all you have to do is set the attribute
android:resizableActivity to true.
2. Powerful Notifications:
Driven by the
RemoteInput Notification API, previously used in Android Wear, you can now reply to your messages directly from the notifications shade. Handy, isn’t it? But, that’s not all.
Apart from the direct reply, N now allows you to bundle notifications from the same app into a single group. It lets you can use the 2-finger motion to view each notification from a group, individually – and thus, reply to it if you want.
Notification.Builder.setGroup() in your app for collecting all the notifications generating from it into a single group.
3. Faster App Switches
With the N, you can now switch between your active app and the last used app much faster. You won’t need to press the Recents button and pick the last app you used from the carousel to call it. All you need to do now is double tap the Recents button to switch between the 2 apps. In essence, double tapping the Recents button performs the same function Alt+Tab does for Windows.
4. User Tweak-able Settings:
Google’s given quite a bit of freedom to the user in N. You now have the option to customize the status bar according to your preferences. All you have to do is access the System UI Tuner, (by holding down the gear icon in the notifications shade) and select/de-select the features you want to display in the status bar.
A limited version of the same feature was also available in Marshmallow, but it wasn’t widely known nor did it have as many options.
One of the tweaks is the Night Mode. This feature was first introduced in Marshmallow’s preview, but was not included in the final release. However, this time around it looks like it’s here to stay. When activated, the Night Mode switches the UI to a darker theme. There are two other toggles, which let you adjust the tint and brightness.
With DPI Scaling, you can increase or decrease the display size of a screen. It doesn’t just adjust the size of the font; it adjusts the entire interface’s size such as icon etc. Someone with weak eyesight can tip the scale to increase the size, while others with superior eyesight can minimize the size to fit as much information as possible on the screen.
5. Emergency Info:
Anyone can face an emergency, which might leave them incapacitated to help themselves. To keep you safe, and to help paramedics and any Good Samaritan trying to help you out, Google’s incorporated an Emergency Info feature.
The feature stores your important details such as Name, Address, Date, Blood Type, Allergies, Medications, Medical Conditions etc. When calling 911, the Emergency Info button will be only a tap away.
6. Faster App Installs
Powered by the new version of Java Android RunTime, the apps installed on the phone run and update quite a lot faster than before. With this update, the installed app won’t need time to optimize after every OS update.
Google’s Project Svelte continues to work on reducing the size and weight of the Android OS and make the background processes more efficient, so that it can run efficiently on devices with lower powered processors.
7. Longer Battery Life:
Marshmallow saw Doze conserving battery life when the device was stationary i.e. had not been activated for a while. In Marshmallow, Doze took several steps to conserve battery life when idle like turning off the Wi-Fi for small intervals.
With N, Doze saves even more power when the screen turns off. In N, the moment you lock your screen, Doze will get into action to conserve as much energy as possible.
8. Built-in File Manager
N has a gotten better at managing internal files. Previously, all Marshmallow could do was browse folders and make copies of files. Now, with the new file manager called Explorer, N lets you copy folders and files, move them, rename them, create new ones etc.
9. Call Blocking
Who doesn’t get annoying calls from spammers, telemarketers and automated IVRs? Now, N gives you the option to block specific numbers from being able to call you. Calls from these numbers won’t just be blocked; even their voicemails will be deleted.
Although, this is just a preview and chances are some of these feature might not make the cut for the final release, while other new ones might be added; Android’s future looks great!
Until now, iOS remained the better OS when it came to tablets. But, if Google plays it right, they can recapture the tablet market with N – and perhaps, turn Pixel C in to the success it was meant to be!
The fact remains; Android N is a significant improvement over the previous Android updates. May be N is the dawn of a new direction for Google – it’s that good!