In case you weren’t aware, there’s a new version of Android in town – and by “in town” we mean an early copy is available for developers and the rest of us should have it later this year, after it’s been given a proper name. Milkshake? Mango? Mars bar?
If you’re wondering what exactly Android M brings to the table, we’re here to fill you in on the highlights – we’ve taken everything that Google has announced about the new mobile operating system and distilled it into five key features that are worth getting excited about.
Better battery life
Android M is going to roll out a new feature called Doze, which is actually a lot more interesting than it sounds: essentially it can identify when your phone or tablet is sitting idle and shut down redundant background processes accordingly. It’s like the deep sleep mode on your laptop but applied to your mobile device instead.
With fewer processes running, the battery takes less of a hit, so if you lose your Android tablet down the back of the sofa for a few days it shouldn’t have run out of juice by the time you find it again – Google says devices can eke out up to twice as much battery life with Doze enabled. The trade-off is that your apps don’t ‘wake up’ again quite as quickly, but we think that it’s a price worth paying.
Improved app permissions
Android is going to take a leaf out of iOS’ book by revamping the way app permissions work. Currently, an app asks for everything it needs when you install it, and you can either accept these terms or refuse to run the app at all. In Android M, apps are granted a basic set of permissions to begin with, then add more important privileges one-by-one as needed.
So the first time an app needs the camera or your location, you’ll have to grant it access, and you can bring up these individual settings at any time – you could keep Facebook installed but deny it access to your contacts list, for example. It’s the same way that apps work on iPhones and iPads and it should make it easier to control your privacy and security.
Touch ID for Android
Speaking of Apple features being borrowed by Google, Android M is finally going to adopt a native fingerprint sensor standard. Up until now this kind of technology has been added as an extra by the manufacturers (primarily Samsung) but from Android M onwards it will be built right into the mobile OS and available for unlocking your device, making payments and so on.
Unfortunately it doesn’t have a catchy name like Touch ID but the idea is the same: because the relevant code is built right into Android itself, it means any app will be able to tap into the technology to verify your identity or confirm a payment. The quality and layout of the sensor is going to be down to the phone makers but it promises a lot more convenience and security for Android users.
Plenty of companies are taking fresh look at mobile payments right now and Google is no exception. With Apple Pay out in the wild and Samsung Pay on the way, Android Pay was something of an inevitability – it takes the old Google Wallet and builds on top of it, letting you pay for items in stores with a swipe of your phone as well as facilitating purchases inside apps as well (like the Google Play Store).
Of course this is all dependent on stores actually supporting the technology, but with so many Android devices on the market it makes sense for retailers as well as users. As for Google Wallet, it doesn’t look like it will go away completely – we should know more when Android M is eventually released and Google explains the changes in full.
Smarter Google Now features
Google Now is more important to Android than ever – there are rumours that Apple has a direct competitor in the works – and it’s going to get its own upgrade when Android M appears in the form of a new feature called Now on Tap. It brings the usual Google Now smarts to individual apps, provided the developers give Google permission to recognise what’s happening at any given time.
In practice that means Google Now can spot a movie title inside your email app (bringing up reviews and trailers) or a task that you need to do inside your chat app (bringing up a reminder). Another example Google showed off is being able to tap on an actor’s name in Chrome and see more information about that particular person instantly.