Google has announced the next update to Android will be dubbed “Android M”, Mountain View has now released a developer preview for its Nexus 5,6,9, and Player devices.
Keep in mind that Android M is in “beta mode,” meaning that it’s likely you’ll encounter bugs and dysfunctional features along the way. The whole goal of releasing the update for developers is to help Google squash whatever bugs may exist within the update before it becomes available to Android users at large in Q3. If you’re aware of the experimental release, go ahead and download away.
We’ve already mentioned some new features of Android M that Google announced at I/O 2015 (native fingerprint security support, Google Now On Tap, Doze, Android Pay, Chrome Custom Tabs, etc.). However, as we’ve started digging into Android M’s developer preview, we’ve discovered some additional features that Google didn’t have time to announce on stage this past week. We can’t detail them all, but we’ll be glad to provide additional insight into what you can expect when you flash the developer preview images on your device. If you can’t flash the images or are unable to, you’ll get a good look at what you will receive when Q3 arrives.
Dark and light themes in settings
Dark and light themes are now available in developer options within the settings menu. If you’re the type to not fidget with these, you can set it automatically so that the theme color will change based on your environment, lighting conditions, and so on. Should these changes come to the UI and complete look of Android, you’ll be able to change your theme colors whenever you want. Android Auto will be thankful for the theme color changes, particularly if you find yourself on the road at night and need a “light” theme as opposed to a dark one.
The dark theme will personally benefit AMOLED users of Google’s Nexus 6, as well as Samsung Galaxy users. AMOLED screens conserve battery by emitting light from within the display as opposed to liquid crystal displays (LCDs) that require a backlight to help users read what’s on-screen. When AMOLED displays feature dark themes on phone desktops, battery life is saved – meaning that your battery lasts longer. White and bright colors, like brightness levels, deplete battery life more quickly.
App drawer now alphabetized
Google devoted its Android M announcement to tidying up the little things about Android, one of which relates to the app drawer. Whereas the app drawer has always been based upon the order in which you download or move apps, you can now use a search within the app drawer to find your app.
Yes, apps have now been alphabetized so that you can search and find the apps you want. Also, Google has made your apps more intuitive so that the ones you use the most (you, as opposed to the general user base) are the ones placed at the top. As your app needs and desires change, the app drawer layout will adjust to reflect those changes, making your smartphone experience more “smart” than ever.
Dialer shortcut on lockscreen now replaced with Google Now
Google Now On Tap, as we have mentioned before in our Google I/O coverage, is all about Google making its voice assistant more resourceful than ever before – letting you use it to “tap” your way into new information, even if you never speak a word. It seems that with Google Now (GN), Google wants to encourage the use of its voice assistant. Very few Android users engage Google Now (single-digit percentage), and Google wants to change that with Now On Tap.
Google provided a lockscreen shortcut to the phone dialer so that users could make a call right away, but it seems as though Android M brings a little less emphasis on calls and more on GN. Mountain View has substituted its phone dialer on the lockscreen for the GN icon (microphone). Some Nexus users may find themselves frustrated by this change, but Google’s got its reasons behind the change.
App auto backup
Google has always allowed users to backup their contacts, email, photos, and other necessary information before restoring a device so that, when getting a new one, the user could restore that data as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, apps didn’t fall within this important information – until now, that is.
Now, apps are backed up automatically to Google Drive so that, like contact information, email, and so on, getting a new device will require a short set-up process so that you can get your device up and running quickly. For those who perform a reset of your device (for various reasons), you’ll also have the same option to backup your apps before the device is restored. As has been the case with iOS for some time, you’ll see your apps re-installed on your device once the phone reset has been completed.
You should also know that the apps will have their own folder in Google Drive and will not count toward your Drive cloud storage. In other words, app backup is a free service offered to each Android user, where users need not choose between app backup and free cloud storage for documents and photos (pics, screenshots, downloads, etc.).
There is a problem with cloud messaging at this point, since backing up your registration ID can undo push notifications. As we warned earlier, there are some quirky bugs within the Android M beta preview.
Uninstall apps from the home screen
Android users can always remove an app from their home screens, but have not had the luxury of uninstalling them directly from the home screen. To uninstall an app, Android users have had to go within the applications manager to perform the service.
Google’s new update will allow Android users the privilege of uninstalling apps from the home screen. Now, you need not worry about removing the app from your home screen and uninstalling the app in two functions. Instead, one function will “cause two ripples in the river with one stone.”
Doze can be customized for individual apps
Remember “Doze,” Google’s new battery-saving feature that the company has said will increase your battery life to twice its current life? What Google didn’t say on stage (but we’ve found in Android M) is that Doze can be set up for each app on its own terms. In other words, if you want to use Doze for your most-used apps but don’t care about using it for your least-used apps (the ones you use once or twice a month, for example), Doze can be customized for those apps based on your preferences. We have a feeling that most users will use Doze across the board for all of their apps, but for those who feel like “tinkering” a little, customizable Doze will add another layer of options.
Android M now has a new RAM manager
Google’s always had a RAM manager for its devices (called the task manager for all devices), but the RAM manager hasn’t been known for its detailed information. Often times, whenever battery life is being displayed in the battery settings, you might see “Android OS” and “Android System” listed as battery-hogging applications. These labels, however, are not detailed enough: are there specific apps reducing battery life and, if that’s the case, which ones?
The new RAM manager provides more information than just “Android System” or “Android OS,” we’re told, but also gives details on apps that are updating while at rest. Even with “Android OS,” for example, your Twitter, Google+, and Facebook apps could all update – but you never know they’re running in the background. Google, we’re told, will now provide more information on what specific processes and apps within Android are working to hog battery life. The result is that you’ll now know which apps are responsible for depleting your battery life and smartphone experience.
MicroSD storage works for numerous apps
MicroSD storage has been an archnemesis to Google, with the company frustrating users who’ve prized their microSD storage in Samsung devices. Google and Samsung seem to be out of sync, particularly with regard to microSD card slots since Samsung decided to transition to faster, fixed flash storage this year. Many tech reviewers, in light of Samsung’s decision, seem to believe that microSD card slots are “a thing of the past,” but Google has had a change of heart.
MicroSD storage will now allow you to save numerous apps to your microSD card, not just a few select ones. For example, I’ve been successful at saving my camera to my microSD card on my Galaxy S5, but I can’t save certain apps that I use a lot (save a few news apps, for example). Android M will allow more apps to be saved on the microSD card, outside of the usual camera app and a few others. As a tech writer who relies on photo downloads and screenshots constantly, I hope that the new benevolence with microSD storage extends to particular details within the camera experience.
While the new microSD storage compatibility will allow you to extend your device storage and save on your local memory, you won’t be able to use the card on other devices. In other words, Google will mandate that the microSD card on a particular device have data encryption so that it will be device-specific. What Google wants to do is make microSD storage safe and secure, while expanding your storage all at the same time.
Android M has all these wonderful features detailed above, but it also comes with USB On-The-Go (USB OTG) storage that lets you use external memory storage devices to connect to your Android smartphone (and extend your storage), MIDI support for musicians (particularly keyboardists), and hotspot support for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz connectivity bands.
Android M will be released to the Android mass at large in Q3, and Google has promised to release Android M updates once a month until its public release.