In the days running up to Google’s 2014 I/O it was made more and more obvious that we would be treated to the next version of Android. Would it be Android 5.0, or just a further suffix to 4.4 KitKat? Android users have been stuck on version four for longer than every other edition of Android combined. It’s time for a makeover.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what Google has given us. For now, we only know it as Android L. The chances are it’ll still have a cutesy, sweet treat-based name to it, but we’ll have to wait just a little bit longer to find out exactly what that will be. This is actually the first time we’ve been made to wait by Google in general – ordinarily the unveiling of a new Android comes during the launch window. This year, it’s opted for a more Apple-esque approach, revealing its new OS in the summer to build up hype for a winter release.
So, if you think can bear the wait, read on to learn of the big new changes set to arrive in Google’s Android L:
Material: a new all-round design theme
It’s the first thing we all look for whenever an OS receives a new update. Aesthetic changes are always exciting, so we’re particularly enthused about this new overhaul to Android. What has traditionally been a very plain, very dark UI is set to receive a little more depth. Literally… sort of.
Google is hoping that Material, as it’s calling it, will mimic ‘real world design’. That means more perceived depth and texture, elevation, shadows, transparency, ripple effects and more. It’s even flatter than the last release of Android, if that were even possible, and it also looks a little more colourful. The three iconic Android buttons, back, home and apps, have been redesigned too. You now get a triangle, a circle and a square. It’s a good look, and with more ambiguity to their form developers could assign a much wider range of features to them.
This look will extend outside of Android too, affecting both Chrome the browser and Chrome the OS.
Notifications are now cards
The notification process, which can be a little disjointed and haphazard on current Android, has been streamlined and unified. Notifications now appear on smooth, bright cards. Android L works out which notifications are the most important and reorders them for you. You can swipe to expand them, and you can now view them from the lock screen, too. The most important of notifications, such as incoming calls or battery life warnings, will pop up over whatever app you’re currently engaged within. You can acknowledge or reject them there and then, or you can swipe them up into the notifications shade to store for later.
The card theme continues into the realm of multitasking. ‘Recent’ is a new option which pops up all of your currently running apps, and allows you to flip through them like a virtual rolodex.
Sure, knock-to-wake, knock-code and fingerprint-recognition unlocking are all nice innovations. They streamline the process nicely, but what if there was a way to get rid of the process altogether? You can now customise the unlocking on your Android device in a more personal way than you ever could before. With Android L you can tell your device to unlock without a password when it detects that it’s near one of your connected bluetooth devices – for example a smartwatch, or in your car. Similarly, you can set it up to unlock depending on your location. When it connects to certain Wi-Fi networks, such as your home or work, you can tell it to not ask for any further verification. Pretty handy, unless you’re really paranoid of your co-workers and family breaking into your phone and stealing your secrets.
‘Up to 90%’ more efficient battery life
It’s a bold claim, but it what Google reckons its new Project Volta will give your device. It combines developer tools and a user app to help manage your device’s battery considerably more effectively. Developers can use it to tell the app when exactly to schedule jobs and fetch data, for example only when the device is on charge. The user, on the other hand, gets a new Battery Saver mode which can be both scheduled to activate automatically when battery reaches a certain percentage, or turned on manually for some preemptive thriftiness. It does all the usual battery saving tricks like we’ve seen in third party energy-efficient modes, such as clocking down the CPU, turning off data consumption and the like.
There’s certain to be a whole host of more little, less noteworthy tweaks which users and developers will no doubt discover whenever beta access is granted, but until then we’ll have to go by what was shown in the presentation alone. It may not have been as big a list of updates as some might have hoped for, and certainly not as many as we saw at Apple’s WWDC, but they’re nice changes nonetheless. As is often the case, just how big a leap forward Android L is for the platform will be decided by just how much developers manage to squeeze out of it. There’s still one more day left of Google I/O, so check back on this page later in the day for any new content revealed.