I/O 2015: Here's what to expect from Android M
Another year means another I/O, and eyes from around the world will be on Google's annual developer conference to see how the giant plans to lead the way forward in exciting new areas such as wearables and connected cars.
Google will want to ensure its operating system is found wherever there is technology to power, but such a bold ambition can only be realised with some important changes. In this article we will rundown what to expect from Android M, or '6.0' for those who still prefer to use numbers...
Most manufacturers of phablets have built their own functions to take advantage of larger displays; something which stock Android doesn’t do well. Most people prefer Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 over the Nexus 6, for example, because of its ability to split-screen multitask and stylus support.
Because the functionality is limited to Samsung’s device and requires developers to take advantage of the company’s API, it is not widely-adopted. Having OS support for powerful multitasking and simple functions (such as landscape support for the homescreen) will go a long way in the hearts of phablet users.
There is evidence that Google is bringing back support for more "granular" permissions to help users feel more secure and have more control over what data applications can access. Rather than request more permission than required, this will encourage developers to access just what is vital for their app or game to function.
Android still suffers from slow OS updates due to the time it takes for each manufacturer to customise it for each of their devices and then get it past carrier-testing. It’s a long and frustrating process which leads to users flashing their devices and potentially taking control out of Google’s hands altogether.
Google has been breaking-down their OS into smaller chunks which can be updateable as and when necessary over the Play Store. Aside from being important in terms of patching security vulnerabilities, this allows users to have faster access to all the latest and greatest features to come out of Mountain View. For developers, it means they can implement more of the latest features rather than being concerned about the marketshare of Google’s latest update.
Project Volta 2.0
Google has got into the trend of setting itself a “project” with each Android version to solve common issues. With the last update came ‘Project Volta which in theory should have improved battery life. Unfortunately, if benefits were to be had, they were offset by a serious rampant memory leak which drained your power bar quicker than your first weekend pint.
Battery is one of the most widespread issues across smartphones - despite sizes getting bigger and bigger. If Google can finish the job they started with Volta and deliver some true improvements, we would all be thankful.
Even as an Android fan - I have to admit I'm envious of Apple's "Continuity" feature and the ability to pick-up whatever I'm doing on whatever device I choose. Samsung has a similar service in beta which works across its own devices, and PushBullet offers a third-party alternative, but it's time Google built-in their own Continuity features.
This is especially important as Google enters new markets such as wearables and the connected car - both of which could offer certain functions when you leave another device.
Hangouts brought a cross-platform alternative to Apple's iMessage for some time, but it is far from complete and not the default messaging app which stifles its usage. It cleverly allows you to switch between IM and SMS on-the-fly, but it would be great to access and reply to your SMS messages from other platforms. Also allowing us to make regular calls from our computers using our smartphone allowance would be appreciated.
Lollipop added a delightful little toast which peeks in from the top when you get a notification. This is all well and good, but to do anything with it you still have to exit whatever you're using at the time. Android was a leader in actionable notifications, so it's time to be able to do simple functions such as - reply, retweet, like .etc
Whilst we're at it, the ability to access those notifications from Chrome on desktop wouldn't go a-miss either.
Smart Home Platform
The "smart home" is set to be big business, and Google's acquisition of one of its biggest players shows the company wants a slice of that delicious Key Lime...
Nest is one of the most proliferate IoT devices around, but it still feels quite isolated from other devices due to a lack of platform. Google announced such an initiative back in 2011 called 'Android@Home' but we've heard little development of it since.
That could be about to change as in an APK teardown of the latest Play Services by Android Police they found a bunch of new "smartdevice" strings. Along with this, a new feature called "Nearby" was discovered which should be self-explanatory in finding devices in close proximity...
It's likely we'll see Google continue its work to make the OS lighter and faster to run on more hardware - but it could be that a separate version is set to debut...
Latest reports point towards Google launching a stripped-down version of Android for the Internet of Things which will be designed to run on cheap, low-powered devices with just 32MBs or 64MBs of RAM. Google will be locking horns with others in this arena - including Microsoft.
Microsoft are launching a (free) Windows 10 for IoT which is intended to run on many places where Windows Embedded is used today such as ATMs, ultrasound machines, self-checkouts, and more. Another player, Huawei, recently announced their OS for the IoT which is just 10 kilobytes in size.
Don't expect a complete redesign of Android - as that happened last year. What we can expect is a continuation of the fantastic work started by Google's Head of Design, Matias Duarte, into his 'Material Design' vision which has seen some great uptake.
In a post on Google+, Duarte wrote: "We’ll start off by looking at some of the phenomenal design work happening across the many apps you can find in the Google Play store today. We’ll also look towards the future, and talk about the tools and other resources we’re building to make adopting material design even easier."
What are you hoping to see in Android's latest update? Let us know in the comments.