Android O: This is new; it will also be different

Google has released the first Android OS development release without notice. It promises great things like an extension of the battery life, improved notes and finally also notification icons. We have tried the preview.

So far, there is no official version number, nor a complete codename for Android O, but Google has provided the first test version for its current Nexus and pixel devices as well as the SDK for developers. The final version of the alleged Android 8.0 called system will appear as usual according to Google in the third quarter.

Google explicitly points out that the first developer preview of Android O is intended only for developers and is neither complete, nor error-free. For this reason, Google only offers full system images for Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Pixel C, Pixel, and Pixel XL for download, which you have to flash manually on your device. The actual beta program with OTA updates will begin later. We grabbed the Nexus 5X and got a first impression of the system.

Energy-saving and responsive

A new look has been added to the settings. As with previous Android versions Google is working on the energy consumption of the system. With Android O apps may be even less in the background. The system restricts its activities as in the Doze mode. So background services in Android O are now automatically terminated after a few minutes from the system, as soon as an app is no longer active in the foreground. The app developers should implement changes to make their app compatible with these changes, but many did not. For example, to continue to synchronize data on a regular basis, the app developers are now supposed to use the Job Scheduler from Android and to handle recurring tasks which are resource-saving.

In addition, it should not be so easy for the apps to wake up the system. Instead of general broadcasts, which many apps listen to, the developers should either use the applications tailored to the application or also use the Job Scheduler. In general, background services are also no longer able to query the site as frequently. How often, Google wants to set still during the further development, for the time being the query is limited to few times per hour.

All this is intended to save energy on the one hand, but on the other hand also to ensure that applications running on top of the other resources guarantee more resources and make the system faster overall. The restrictions will not have much effect at first, they only apply to apps that support Android O and the new API level 26. All others may continue to be active as usual in the background in order to avoid compatibility problems.

The speed will also be beneficial to support new Java 8 APIs and optimizations at the Android Runtime. Google promises in some application benchmarks a doubling of the performance. In our own benchmarks, we were not able to measure any conspicuous differences, but the Coremark test had up to 10 percent improvement.

More sophisticated notifications and badges

Google has again screwed up the notification system. In the future, developers can divide the notifications of their apps into categories. Each of these categories (or channels) can be individually configured; for important actions the user activates sound and vibration, and can block unimportant notifications on the other hand. The app division, however, depends solely on the App developer. If the advertisement continues to push, he does not have to offer his own category for it. The division remains limited to the respective application and thus rather arduous.

A new feature is the possibility to put messages to sleep after 15, 30, or 60 minutes. In addition, apps notifications may now have time-outs, after which the message disappears.

Many Android users want to see the number of unread mails and the like next to the application icon. With the so-called badges, Android N will possibly also support this natively soon. So far, however, this is only an entry in the notification settings in its Android-O concept, which does not have any compatible apps as of yet.

With the new adaptive icons, apps can now support more than just a launcher design. Instead of Google’s preferred round symbols, the same template also allows square or rounded variants. To do this, the developer must provide a template with two layers: one for the icon itself, which is 72 x 72 pixels significantly larger than before. In addition, there is a transparent background layer. From this, the system then creates a suitable symbol, depending on the specification. In addition, it can insert graphical elements such as shadows or parallax levels, and without asking the developer to build animations like a pulsating icon.

The adaptive icons allow all sorts of gadgets, which the system implements without the developer. With the new system-wide autofill function, password managers are supposed to be able to do their work more easily in future, thus filling fields in the browser as well as other apps more easily. In addition, the new system allows to install several of these services and to select the desired one in the settings.

Support for larger color space and picture-in-picture

Android O will support so-called wide gamut displays, which are already installed in many high-end smartphones: Apps can now signal to the system that they would like to use an (extended) color space and then load images with an embedded color profile. How exactly the support in practice looks, is not clear for lack of applications. So far, some device manufacturers have created their own solutions, in the future, Android will also directly support this feature.

From Android TV, the possibility to run video as a picture-in-picture via other apps is now available. The new multi-display support makes it possible to start or move content to a second screen and work there.

Apps have to choose a special layout for overlays, and can no longer output as system messages or show critical system messages. These new app overlays can then simply block the notifications.

Better audio codecs for Bluetooth and arrow key support

In the new Android, there is a native support for higher-quality, but proprietary audio codecs. On compatible smartphones, the system can now use Qualcomm’s aptX (HD) and Sony’s LDAC; the device manufacturers no longer have to bake the necessary software into the Android. This should not only shorten the adaptation period, Google also emphasizes the strengthened cooperation with the hardware partners.

The “AAudio API for Pro Audio”, which is designed to offer professional audio applications as low latencies, is still experimental.

With the support for Wi-Fi Aware, appropriately equipped devices will be able to communicate directly via WLAN without having to go through the Internet. In this way, smartphones can be automatically informed of printers, displays, and the likes that can be reached in their vicinity by means of WLAN, and can exchange small information folders, such as location information or sensor measurement values, without setting up a dedicated connection. What is missing so far are suitable devices.

Google promises an improved keyboard support for Android O and justifies the interestingness with the availability of Google Play apps on Chrome OS. The more likely union of the two systems seems to prevail. Overall, the arrow keys and the tab key should now work more consistently, as is used by other (desktop) systems.

Numerous other changes in detail

Apps from external sources are now released for each of the executable programs, so you can use third-party app stores more securely.

Apps from external sources are now shared with the running program.

Still many things can change to the final version of Android O. The development version already has been changed numerous times without explicit mention of Google. The installation of apps from external sources is now somewhat more sophisticated: instead of allowing the side loading to be forbidden or prohibited, the permission is now given to the app that has loaded the package. Thus the installation can be prohibited from the browser, but the Amazon Appshop or F-Droid generally will be allowed. The option also moves to the other app access rights to the Settings menu.

The settings have changed visually and are now divided into a few upper categories, but they become more nested. Partially, Android expands advanced settings to make the list optically shorter. Only a higher finger pressure brings all the elements to the fore. At first this is because of numerous redistributions to get used to the new design; it reminds more of Samsung’s Android interface.

Work is being done on the speed settings. In the compact view now more functions are accommodated; in the opened version, a print on the symbol is visible again directly in the settings.

The still hidden SystemUI tuner now allows the navigation bar to be changed and the distribution of the buttons left or right-aligned. In addition, two additional buttons can be added to the left and right, such as a link to the clipboard. The blocking screen can now be linked to two apps left and right down, so far, the camera app has been put under it. The SystemUI-Tuner is, as before, comes with a long pressure on the gear icon.

With Android O, the WebView component should run in a separate process by default. This would cause content from the network to run separately from the app that WebView calls for. This should increase safety and stability. With Android 7 and in the current development preview, the “WebView Simultaneous Processing” must still be activated in the developer settings.

The first impression

Still, Android O is clearly in the development status, many features are not yet mature, some are only hints and others lack the app support. What can be said today is that Google is still trying to integrate popular features from other systems into Android and, on the other hand, many of the device manufacturers have built the same features for years and some even have the functions built directly into the system. Google’s new OS will mature in time, hopefully…

Also the stronger co-operation with the manufacturers with the audio codecs and the again very early provision of the development version leaves at least a little hope that the Android ecosystem are not further frayed.

How much more efforts it will take to have a longer battery life, only time will show. But as with Android 6 and 7, it is clear that Google deprives the developers of more and more freedoms, so Android can get rid of the reputation as a power and resource devourer.

About the author

Adil Khan

Adil Khan

Adil Khan is a 30 years old Nerd who has been playing with his toys, computers and electronics, since the late 90's. His passion lies in the digital world of 1's and 0's i.e. until quantum computers are available for purchase :)

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