An­droid O’s top 10 fea­tures

MICHAEL SI­MON ex­plores the de­vel­oper’s pre­view of An­droid’s lat­est op­er­at­ing sys­tem and found some ex­cit­ing new things

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Google I/O is just around the cor­ner, but we’ve al­ready had a sneak peek at what Google is plan­ning for An­droid O. To help devel­op­ers make sure their apps are in tip-top shape for the pub­lic re­lease later this year, Google has given them the first pre­view a lit­tle early, open­ing up a brand-new box of tricks and tools.

While we’re not sure how many of these fea­tures will make it out of De­vel­oper op­tions and the Sys­tem UI tuner and into the main re­lease, but there are a bunch of cool tricks we’ve found while ex­plor­ing the new set­tings. Here are our 10 favourites.

1. Su­pe­rior Set­tings

The most ob­vi­ous front-fac­ing change in the first An­droid O De­vel­oper Pre­view is the Set­tings app. Not only does it have a new icon, it’s been re­vamped from the ground up, with a new look and smarter or­ga­ni­za­tion. And we’re hop­ing Google ex­tends it to the rest of its apps, be­cause it’s vastly su­pe­rior.

For one, the slide-out menu is gone, so all re­turn nav­i­ga­tion is done via the back but­ton. It also steals a bit from its part­ners with a sug­ges­tions tab at the top, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion is more con­densed and log­i­cal (for ex­am­ple, data us­age and Wi-Fi are bun­dled into Net­work & In­ter­net). It makes nav­i­gat­ing the app much more pleas­ant and should cut down on the num­ber of times you need to search for some­thing you can’t find.

2. Cooler no­ti­fi­ca­tion shade

We’ve al­ways had a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with the no­ti­fi­ca­tion shade. But thank­fully Google un­der­stands that there’s room for im­prove­ment, and in An­droid O it’s made an­other round of use­ful changes.

When you pull down, you’ll see more icons in the sta­tus bar, in­clud­ing bat­tery and per­cent­age, Wi-Fi and SD card sta­tus. It’s a sub­tle change, but a good one. Also Google has added more func­tion­al­ity to no­ti­fi­ca­tions. Long-press on one and you’ll get an op­tion to dis­able no­ti­fi­ca­tions for that app rather than just si­lenc­ing them. And when you swipe right you’ll also see a new clock icon that lets you snooze it for 15 min­utes, 30 min­utes, or an hour. Again, this is a sub­tle change, but it’ll go a long way to­ward help­ing us keep the shade clut­ter-free.

3. No­ti­fi­ca­tion chan­nels

Speak­ing of no­ti­fi­ca­tions, Google has re­vamped more than just the shade. In An­droid O, no­ti­fi­ca­tions won’t just be an all-or-noth­ing af­fair. You’ll have more con­trol over what you see and what apps can send you thanks to a new fea­ture called no­ti­fi­ca­tion chan­nels.

Just like you can choose which ESPN chan­nel you want to watch on your TV, no­ti­fi­ca­tions chan­nels let you se­lect which type of alerts you want to get from each app. For ex­am­ple, mes­sage apps could only send you no­ti­fi­ca­tions for mes­sages from peo­ple in your con­tacts lists, or you could opt to only get au­di­ble alerts for cer­tain sys­tem pro­cesses. It has the po­ten­tial to make no­ti­fi­ca­tions way more man­age­able on An­droid O.

4. Bet­ter se­cu­rity

Whether it’s a Google beta or the new­est ver­sion of What­sApp, a lot of us side-load apps onto our phones. Over the past few ver­sions of An­droid, Google has taken steps to help en­sure that ma­li­cious apps can’t make their way onto your phone, and in An­droid O, Google has made it even more se­cure.

Now, when you try to load an of­fi­cial APK or an app from an unknown source for the first time you’ll have to give ex­plicit per­mis­sion from the app it­self, not just for the file. That means an app won’t be able to in­stall any­thing with­out your per­mis­sion and the chances of one of them sur­rep­ti­tiously in­stalling a piece of mal­ware on your phone is sig­nif­i­cantly less­ened.

5. Pic­ture in Pic­ture

An­droid TV users have en­joyed pic­ture in pic­ture since Nougat landed last year, but in An­droid O Google is bring­ing the fea­ture to phones and tablets, too.

Pri­mar­ily for video play­back, the fea­ture puts a tiny float­ing win­dow on your screen that will con­tinue to show what you were watch­ing while you work in other apps. It’ll stay on top of what­ever you’re do­ing un­til you ei­ther max­i­mize it or close it. There are a cou­ple caveats – it cur­rently only works with the YouTube app, re­quires set­ting the nav­i­ga­tion bar key code to 171 to get it to work, and the im­age isn’t quite right – but it’s sur­pris­ingly watch­able, even on a phone.

6. New badges

If there’s one fea­ture we’ve wanted from iOS for years, it’s icon badges. A few launch­ers and some man­u­fac­tur­ers have al­ready seen the light, but Google has been re­sis­tant to adding them to An­droid proper, un­til now.

Over in the no­ti­fi­ca­tion set­tings there’s a new “Show badge” tog­gle for each app that lets you choose whether to show an un­read counter on the ac­com­pa­ny­ing home screen app. The fea­ture isn’t live yet (the im­age above shows how it looks on the LG G6) and you’ll still need to keep the sta­tus bar no­ti­fi­ca­tion turned on, but we’ll take what we can get.

7. Ex­tra nav­i­ga­tion but­tons

One of the best things about phones like the LG G6 (page 70) are the ex­tra op­tions they give you in the nav­i­ga­tion bar at the bot­tom of the screen. Along with the usual back, home, and over­view, you can add things like a screen cap­ture and no­ti­fi­ca­tion shade short­cut, and now you’ll be able to do it all across An­droid.

It’s still lim­ited to the Sys­tem UI tuner, so we’re not sure what but­tons Google is go­ing to al­low in the fi­nal prod­uct. But so far there are op­tions for the clip­board and key­board switcher, as well as a key­code that can be con­fig­ured with ei­ther a circle, plus, mi­nus, cur­sor, or menu icon. You can also tweak the lay­out to be com­pact, left-leaning, or right-leaning, but we’ll have to wait un­til the fi­nal re­lease to see how much per­son­al­iza­tion Google will give us.

8. Lock screen short­cuts

We’re all fa­mil­iar with the lock-screen short­cuts for the cam­era and voice as­sist, but on other phones, we’re able to change them to apps that we use more of­ten. In An­droid O, Google is giv­ing us the same abil­ity.

In the Sys­tem UI tuner there’s a new Lock screen op­tion that lets you change the left and right short­cut to just about any­thing you want. Along with launch­ing one of the apps of your phone, you can also add short­cuts for a load of use­ful ac­tions like open­ing a new tab in Chrome, tak­ing a selfie, or com­pos­ing a new Gmail mes­sage. It’s a neat twist on the stan­dard cus­tomiza­tion, and it could turn the stock lock screen into one of the best launch­ers around.

9. Bat­tery ben­e­fits

The one thing we all want above all else is bet­ter bat­tery life. And Google is look­ing to up its game in An­droid O. One of the most im­por­tant changes to the way the OS func­tions be­hind the scenes is in what apps can do when you’re not us­ing them. For starters, An­droid O will place re­stric­tions on how of­ten back­ground apps can re­trieve your cur­rent lo­ca­tion, as well as tar­get bat­tery-drain­ing ac­tiv­ity in im­plicit broad­casts and back­ground ser­vices.

And there are some changes you can see, too. The bat­tery icon in the sta­tus bar now puts the per­cent­age along­side it rather than cram­ming it in­side so you can ac­tu­ally see it. Ad­di­tion­ally, the set­tings have been changed to put im­por­tant op­tions like the bat­tery saver and adap­tive bright­ness front and cen­tre.

10. Awe­some aut­ofill

We’re long used to aut­ofill for sim­pli­fy­ing web forms that re­peat­edly ask us for our ad­dress and phone num­ber. But if we’re not us­ing Chrome, the sys­tem isn’t quite seam­less, re­quir­ing jumps be­tween pass­word man­agers or switch­ing to spe­cial key­boards that in­te­grate with our stored data.

Google is mak­ing it eas­ier in An­droid O by open­ing up an aut­ofill API. So, if you use a pass­word man­ager, it’ll be able to in­te­grate a se­cure aut­ofill method right into the pass­word field, let­ting you quickly log in to what­ever app you’re us­ing. While it’s not live yet, both 1Pass­word and LastPass have al­ready demon­strated how it will work within their apps, and it looks in­cred­i­bly fast and ef­fort­less. As AgileBits de­scribes it, “Like all great tech­nol­ogy, it feels like magic.”

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