Google has released the developer preview for the next version of its operating system (OS), Android O (which will eventually get a sweet-themed name to follow Lollipop, Marshmallow and Nougat). The new OS includes a suite of small improvements – and a few large ones – that will make life easier for Android users everywhere.
The most significant is a new approach to dealing with apps running in the background, which Google says should markedly improve the battery life of phones, tablets and other devices. Now, apps are automatically limited in what they can do when they’re running in the background, in three specific areas: background services, location updates and implicit broadcasts.
Those three areas are often at fault when it comes to battery-draining apps, since they can result in a moderately large power draw on an ongoing basis. In the future, developers will be limited in how much they can do in the background. Location, for instance, will only be updated a few times each hour, while background services – programmes which run continuously doing things like checking inboxes while the user is in another app – will now be closed automatically after a short period.
If the changes sound familiar, it might be because they’re similar to how iOS handles background applications. The two operating systems have been converging on this ground from opposite ends since their inception: Android once had no limits at all on what apps could do in the background, while Apple once banned every single background process that it didn’t create.
Elsewhere, the new OS has some more obvious user-facing updates. Most noticeably, a new notification system should come as welcome news to users who are used to getting a significant chunk of their daily information through app alerts.
Starting with O, Android developers can group their notifications into categories called “Channels”, allowing apps to offer more fine-grained control over how users receive their notifications. For instance, a news app might offer notifications for breaking news, and for replies to comments; now, the user can explicitly tell Android to let the former play a sound, vibrate and show on the lockscreen, while quietly sliding the latter into the notification menu.
Smaller, but no less transformative, is the introduction of a “snooze” button to notifications. If you’re the sort who needs an empty inbox, but can’t deal with that one text quite yet, Android will now simply resend it a bit later.
The rest of the changes are a grab bag, with some only mattering to developers, but a few which will be noticed by end-users:
- New autofill APIs allow users to store personal data in specific apps, just like they do with password managers, and autofill them across the whole platform, in a similar way to how keyboards can be swapped out in current Android.
- Picture-in-picture display is now available for phones and tablets, letting users watch video while using other apps.
- New Bluetooth audio codecs are supported, enabling higher audio fidelity when using headphones like Sony’s MDR-1000x (Google specifically thanks Sony for the amount of help it gave to developing this new version of Android).
- Users who pair Android with a keyboard will find it’s easier to navigate around most apps using the arrow and tab keys.
- And finally, developers can now make adaptive icons, which will always match the icon style of the particular flavour of Android, whatever type of rounded rectangle it uses.