As expected, Google unveiled android M, the next version of Android after Lollipop. While Lollipop was one of the biggest overhauls of Android since Ice Cream Sandwich back in 2011, Android M is an incremental update that seeks to polish the Android experience and quash bugs. Google has done a lot of streamlining to Lollipop since it was introduced as Android 5.0 last year with the latest update, 5.1.1, serving to address lots of the bugs that have plagued the new operating system version that currently has an adoption rate just below 10%.
Android M’s biggest feature is the overhaul of Android’s app permissions. For the longest time, permissions have been a thorn with most Android users. For instance, why would an alarm clock application want to access my camera and call logs? Why would a barebones puzzle game require access to my phone’s microphone?
Google is addressing all those concerns with the M release. Users will be able to control every permission applications require in order to function smoothly. They won’t be bombarded with a long list of permissions requiring a blanket approval. Every time an app requires access to a certain resource like say location, it will alert you and you can choose to either grant or deny it the permission to access GPS. That will happen during app install, throughout usage and even later. Users can revoke permissions they earlier granted as they wish.
Custom Chrome Tabs
The other change coming to Android concerns the app-to-web experience. How the two link. Google wants to make sure that users have a smooth experience when transitioning from an app to a web page in a browser or another app. For instance if you click a link to an Instagram photo on your Twitter timeline, under Android M, the system automatically detects that you have the Instagram app installed on your phone and routes your request directly to the app. At the moment, you’ll be redirected to a browser of your choice before that detection happens and you’re prompted to choose if you still want to proceed and view the photo on the browser or on the app.
App developers will be able to seamlessly include a full mobile browser experience within their apps so it still looks like the user is in the app while enjoying all the benefits of the full Chrome browser and not being constrained by the limitations of Android WebView. For instance, users can benefit from Chrome’s stored site logins and form fill information while not having to fully leave the particular app.
Ever since the iPhone 5s was unveiled with a fingerprint scanner, Android OEMs have stopped at nothing to also offer similar features. Samsung with the clumsy fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S5, HTC with another awkward implementation on the back of the One Max and Huawei with a decent implementation on the Mate 7. It is only recently that the likes of Samsung have started nailing it with devices like the Galaxy S6. Even then, all those were their own efforts and they required the custom overlays Android OEMs are so famous for. Support for fingerprint sensors wasn’t yet built into Android. With Android M, it now is and expect to see more and more devices coming out with fingerprint scanners.
Besides, Google is also prepping its own mobile payments service, Android Pay. The fingerprint scanners on Android devices will allow users to authorize payments quickly.
Battery life is a major concern for most users and Android devices are notorious for extraneous battery sapping mechanisms. That’s why on every half-decent Android device out in the market today, it has features like ultra power saving mode. Battery issues were to be a thing of the past with Lollipop’s Project Volta. That only got so far.
Android M brings with it a new dozing feature that will automatically detect when the device has been idle for sometime and save power power by entering it into an auto-hibernation mode. In that mode, everything runs on low power and there are fewer wakelocks and background syncs. Users will be able to notice significant increase in battery life as a result. That sounds good as announced and we really hope it will translate into real world usage when Android M finally leaves the preview phase later in the year.
In early March, Apple took the world by surprise when it announced a Macbook with just one port. Just one. A USB Type-C. It not only guarantees faster transfer speeds for both data and power but it also can be plugged in either way. A day after that announcement, Google unveiled the new Chromebook Pixel sporting the USB Type-C port as well. Since then, it has been very clear that the USB Type-C port, and not any other, is the future. Google re-affirmed that when it announced that starting with the next Nexus devices (will they be two smartphones minus a tablet?), all its mobile devices will ship with the USB Type-C. Why? It is about time and yes, Android now supports them as well. We expect most Android devices being announced from later this year to also follow suit and have it.
Android M will bring tonnes of other minor changes. Like the simplification of volume controls to give users more control over several audio sources like the alarm clock instead of having the ringtone volume dictating the volume of everything else other than notifications and media.
Android M is already available as a developer preview. While the first experimental builds are bound to have lots of bugs and will hardly be satisfactory for use as daily drivers, if you are feeling geeky and want to try them out, you can check the Android Developers website. Just make sure you have a Nexus device lying around. A Nexus 5, 6, 9 or the Nexus Player. Those are the only Nexus devices that can preview Android M at the moment. The older Nexus 7 tablets and the very old Nexus 10 aren’t invited to the party, yet.