It’s been almost a year since Android L (Developer Preview) was released, and it’s time for the next iteration of Google’s mobile operating system. At Google I/O 2015, the Mountain View Company revealed Android M (Muffin?) with images available for immediate download.
Read on for a first look into the new system.
As a developer preview, the system feels more like Android 5.2 than Android 6.0. In this release, Google has promised OTA updates monthly that brings new features with each update. Notable features announced during I/O are present, save for the coolest ones like Google Now on Tap. Hopefully, in the coming months, this OS can get to experience first hand the features that Google proudly announced.
A brief tour
Our good old developer preview warning greets us again! The welcome screen hasn’t changed much since Android Lollipop, but that’s to be expected since Google has poured so much into its material design.
The first thing that struck me was the changed lock screen clock font. Honestly, I prefer the one on Lollipop, but I think I’ll get used to this minor change quickly.
What’s more important is the tiny voice commands located at the bottom left corner. It may seem like a small change, but it represents a thoughtful change to suit our changing lifestyle. Instead of swiping to call (who ever calls anymore?) we get to use voice commands. Bearing in mind that Google Now on Tap is going to be released in the near future, this seems much more logical than the dialler. People who call often will probably dislike this, but hey, at least there’s no more butt calls!
The next most important change is the new app drawer. Personally, I’m more used to the side-scrolling one, but it makes sense to change because we are installing an ever increasing number of apps, and I take ages to locate an app via the side-scrolling drawer. The new search button also allows you to search for an app easily, in addition to listing four most used apps (not in picture), which really saves a lot of time combing for the right app.
In the developer preview, Google has kindly provided 25MB per app to save data in its Google Drive. That means that Android M is probably the last OS that you ever need to re-download all your apps (and play your Plants vs Zombies all the way again). The bonus is that the 25MB does not count towards your Google Drive space, which is an added benefit for people like me with limited space.
Not sure if this is only added to Android M, but it seems that the newest versions of Google Photos can now automatically search for photos of things that you specify. It’s like having Google Images for your own pictures. Now, before I get the privacy argument again, let’s move on.
Every version of Android always has its unique easter egg, and this developer preview isn’t any different. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Now on to the functionality improvements, the biggest hit this year would be the ability to give each app specific permissions. In the past, it used to be all or nothing. So you could either give your favourite app the permission to raid your contacts list or not install it at all. The downside now, I foresee, is that people would end up blocking access to Camera, then complain why they cannot take a photo from the app anymore.
By tweaking the device sleep patterns, Google has promised better battery life of up to 2 times that of Lollipop’s. So far, battery seems better in my personal usage, but it is worth to note that this hardly affects your screen time. So if you are a heavy phone user, this isn’t going to help you much.
The UI Tuner has been available in other Android ROMs like CyanogenMod for ages, and now it is finally available in the stock android. However, this feature is still a work in progress, and is carefully tucked away from view to the average Joe. It makes good sense, because out of 4 attempts to remove “Cast”, 3 of them crashed. At this point, it’s not clear whether Google will show it to everyone when M finally launches, but I certainly hope so.
Finally, the fingerprint API is integrated into Android itself. While Samsung and Apple have pioneered this for a while already, I don’t think Google is late to the party. As the technology matures, this is a great time for the API to be implemented. Now, there’ll be no more excuses for developers to implement a shabby, amateurish version of whatever insecure authentication methods.
Another bonus is that this API can facilitate the launch of Android Pay, Google’s competitor to Apple Pay. In Singapore, due to the lack of collaboration between banks, telco and developers, we aren’t likely to see these payments in the near future, but this paves the way for future development.
The last notable feature is one that allows SD cards to be treated like internal storage. After ignoring the existence of SD cards for so long, Google is finally welcoming them back to Android. Too bad I own a Nexus 5 which has no expandable storage.
I just wonder if Google did this to anger Samsung, considering that they just dropped the SD card slots from their flagship Galaxy S series.
There are more features in Android M, notably the Google Now on Tap that promises smarter voice commands in context, as a direct competition to Apple’s Siri. The only one that will suffer is Microsoft Cortana (laughs).
Besides that, Google has focused on making the user experience smoother through attention to small details, such as tweaked Volume Controls, Uninstalling Apps from Homescreen, Do Not Disturb and Direct Share.
The changes may seem less significant than the transition between Android 4 to Android 5, but it is exactly these small details that we care about, that makes a difference, that ultimately makes a phone useful.