Even though Google I/O (Google’s yearly developer conference, similar to Apple’s WWDC) isn’t scheduled until late May, Google surprised quite a few people by releasing an early developer preview of the next version of Android – currently code-named Android N – with almost no notice last week!
This first developer preview of N is intended for developer use only, and is not for use on everyday devices. In fact, it’s only available on newer Nexus phones – the 6, 5X, 6P, 9, Nexus Player, and the Pixel C. Unfortunately, it looks like support for the Nexus 5 will probably be officially over by the time N is released.
One really nice upgrade from last year’s M developer preview – this year developers can enroll their devices in the Anroid Beta Program and set up qualifying devices registered to their Google account to receive over-the-air (OTA) updates to the preview version as they are released from Google. This will make it much easier to use the most current N preview, and not have to fumble with flashing system images every time an incremental or bug fix update is released. You can still flash the images manually, but apparently doing this will disable the OTA functionality (Edit: it actually may not), so it’s probably more of a hassle in the long run.
What’s New in the Android N Developer Preview?
Probably the biggest thing that Google is adding to Android N: system-wide multi-window for both phones and tablets! Google has an example of both Maps and Chrome running side-by-side on what appears to be a Nexus 5X:
It looks like this feature will work with all apps, provided the developers include the ability to have their app resizeable. Developers can also set a minimum size for their app’s portion of the screen, add the ability to drag and drop data from one app to another (awesome), and it looks like there is support for a picture-in-picture mode as well. All in all, this looks a lot like Samsung’s multi-window mode that they have offered on their Note line for quite a while. It’s great to see that additional functionality come to stock Android!
The pull-down notification panel will get some cosmetic and user interface changes as well, along with some additional functionality in N. You can see two of the new features in this screen shot:
One of the first things you may notice if you’re familiar with Android’s current notification shade – you now have toggles for commonly-used settings right above your app notifications. This means that you don’t have to swipe down twice to toggle WiFi or your flashlight. It will be interesting to see if the order for these is customizable or if they reorder themselves automatically depending on your individual use.
Also of note – the Reply button on the Hangouts card. This button is a shortcut to directly reply to the message (or another action, depending upon the app) like so:
It’s worth noting that this new quick reply feature uses an API called RemoteInput – this means instead of every app developer having to design, build, and implement their own custom solution, any app can use the RemoteInput API (which is already used by lots of Android Wear apps) and have the features ready-to-go with little additional work.
The notifications screen will also now feature a new way to group multiple notifications for the same app. If you’ve ever used Inbox, Gmail, or any other email client where getting multiple new messages forces you to either dismiss the entire notification or open the app in order to deal with them, this new feature will allow you to “unfurl” all of these notifications, so that you can see the details of each message and act on them individually – all through the notification bar!
Other Android N Developer Preview Features and Additions
Battery life is probably the number one complaint for just about any smart phone owner, and Android hasn’t really been the poster boy for good battery management. For Android M, Google introduced Doze – a special low power state that reduced the background services and data use anytime the device wasn’t being used and was stationary for about 30 minutes. While this was great for those that set their phone down on a desk at work, if you carried your phone around a lot Doze wouldn’t do much for you.
For Android N, however, Google has given the Doze feature a two-tier setup, with the phone entering the first level after the screen is off for a certain length of time. In the first level, Android shuts off network access and automatic syncing. Only if the device stays still for a period of time after entering the first level of Doze will it enter the second Doze level, where all wakelocks, GPS, and WiFi scans are blocked.
Just like in Android Marshmallow’s Doze, though, Android will periodically wake while in Doze to perform all the necessary data transfer, syncs, and scheduled tasks, and then re-enter Doze once those are done. Plugging in or turning on the screen will cause the device to exit whichever Doze mode it is.
For a brief time in the M Developer Preview, there was a sort-of “night mode” capability, which turned most of the white backgrounds in Android system apps to black, to make the device easier to use at night or in a darkened room (like a movie theater) without completely destroying your eyesight. Well, it looks like that has also returned in the N preview, along with a couple of extra features. This time, in addition to setting the phone to automatically enter Night Mode depending upon sunset time and location, you can also have the phone automatically lower the brightness, apply a red filter to reduce eye strain, as well as replacing white backgrounds with black in the Android system menus.
There are lots of additional things that Google has added in the N preview (and, chances are, at least some will change between now and when it’s actually released), here is just a selection of them:
- Double tapping the Recent Apps button is a shortcut to your last-used app.
- An improved built-in file manager that allows you to rename files and folders, move files around, and create new folders. It’s about time!
- Number blocking will work at the system level, which means that any app can access this list – so 3rd party texting and phone apps will be able to use your “master blocking list” and you’ll never need to worry about blocking the same number in multiple apps. Additionally, the blocking list will be tied to your Google account, meaning it should persist across phone resets and even new devices!
- You can turn off Android’s “Do Not Disturb” mode when the next alarm goes off. So now you don’t have to remember to change your settings after you’ve thrown your phone across the room in the morning!
- Manually adjust display size and RGB values. These are both pretty powerful for developers or people that like to tinker with their devices, but there’s no telling if they will show up in the final release.
Android N Final Release and Name
N is expected to be released sometime in Q3 of 2016 – this means that it will likely be out sometime around the end of summer/beginning of fall. It looks like it will be made available to OEMs at about the same time, so it will likely be at least a few months until Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, etc. release their versions.
Currently the name of N isn’t known, although it looks like Google may be referring to it internally as “New York Cheesecake”. The final name will likely be revealed at Google I/O or shortly before the final release.