This post was published 1 year, 11 months ago. Due to the rapidly evolving world of technology, some material it contains may no longer be applicable.
Last Thursday Google announced Android M at their yearly developer conference, Google I/O.
Along with the announcement they also introduced early developer previews for the Nexus 5, 6, 9 and Player. I have been using this preview release on my Nexus 6 since Friday and my Nexus 9 since Saturday. Here’s all you need to know about what will likely be the sweetest version of Android yet.
There are a lot of changes coming in Android M to improve the way your device manages its power. A new feature called DOZE should at least double the standby time of your device.
This works by using your device’s built-in accelerometers to detect whether the device is in use or if you have just abandoned it on the coffee table for later. If you have put it down then device will shut down non-essential processes to save power. You can set apps to be excluded from being shut down, just in case there’s something you need to keep running.
Android M also gives you better control over how your device behaves when connected via to another device via USB. Previously it would give a slow charge and offer either file transfer via MTP or PTP. Android M also offers a charging-only mode, MIDI output the ability to charge one device from another. The former two of those features are already present options in the preview.
Moving forward more Android devices will most likely feature USB Type-C which will allow for much faster charging. This is something we could see on this years Nexus offering(s) alongside Android M. It is also probable that when you have a device fitted with a Type-C connector Android will also show the option to charge other devices.
Starting with Android M, we will finally be able to choose which permissions an app will have access to.
Rather than granting a long list of permissions at download time as we do currently, apps will instead ask for access as they need it. For instance, the first time the app wants to use GPS you will be asked and able to accept or decline.
You will also be able to grant and revoke individual permissions on an app-by-app basis from the settings menu. This is much more flexible than the current all-or-nothing policy we have now and gives the user greater control.
However, with power comes responsibility – you’ll now need to be a little careful not to revoke access to something the app really needs to use because that could cause it to not work correctly.
I can confirm though that revoking Facebook’s access to calls and SMS doesn’t break anything and it does make me feel a lot better knowing I am not granting it access to things which in my view it doesn’t need.
A lot of apps like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest use custom browsers to display web content shared on their sites. This can lead to an inconsistent experience which is confusing and annoying.
With M, developers will be able to make custom Chrome tabs that are tailored their app. It will carry over a design that is similar to that of the app, while still using familiar Chrome UI elements. Web app will also be able to send native Android push notifications through the Chrome browser.
The I/O demonstration previewed all this on an upcoming version of the Pinterest app and it seemed to work really well, however the feature is clearly far from being finished as has not yet been released on the M preview.
Fingerprint scanners have been around on Android for a few years now, but they have always provided quite an inconsistent experience as it has been up to OEMs to create their own support for them.
Android M will improve this by baking in full fingerprint support right into stock Android. This will mean that all fingerprint reader equipped Android devices will have a common system for biometric authentication and APIs will be made available for developers to add support in any app.
It will also allow you to purchase things on the Play Store using your fingerprints instead of a password and the feature will tie in nicely with the new Google Wallet for Android replacement: Android Pay.
Google are changing the way apps handle links to make for a less aggravating experience. If someone shares a Twitter link with you it will no longer ask you all the time which app you would like to complete the action with. Instead, the Twitter app on your device will just pick up that link and open it for you because it will have been verified by Google as the correct app for those type of links.
Fear not about third-party apps though, if you wish to override the default setting (say you use a different Twitter client like Talon), you will be able to dive into the settings and choose an alternative app to take control of all the links of a given type.
Backup and Storage
Starting with M you will be able to mount external storage such as SD cards and USB OTG devices right in the storage menu without any third-party software (even on stock Android devices).
What’s more, you will be able to completely install apps onto the storage medium of your choice. Not just part of an app as you can currently, but the full app including its private data.
This could be great for storing large games for instance – especially on devices which have hardly any internal storage like the Nexus Player. With M you could even hook up and external hard drive and install a tonne of apps and games on that.
It’s also interesting to note that the new stock Android recovery allows you to flash update zips from the SD card without having to sideload through ADB – like a custom recovery would accept presumably only official updates. I can’t verify that limitation for sure though since this feature is unfinished and only looks for an external SD cards (which current Nexus devices don’t have).
The backup and restore options that were introduced in Lollipop have also been expanded in this release. Now, upon activating a new device, restoring a backup will do more than just download your settings, apps and homescreen layout. The restore process will now also download backups from Google Drive containing the actual app data and any signed in accounts so that they will all be in exactly the same state they were on your previous device (or before your performed a factor reset).
It looks as though the Sony’s RRO layers theme engine which they contributed to AOSP is indeed heading to stock Android. Currently it is only partially implemented in this first preview, allowing you to rearrange your quick-settings tiles and change the theme between material light and material dark.
They will likely add more features as development continues, hopefully resulting in a fully functioning theme engine that will support custom theme packs.
The app drawer for Google Now Launcher had quite the makeover when Lollipop released and the same is happening with Android M. Instead of having multiple card-like pages, we are presented by a vertically scrolling list of all your apps grouped alphabetically.
Your four most frequently used apps appear in a row at the top along with a quick search bar. This doesn’t look as good as it could, but that will probably be refined over the coming months.
Google Now has also gained more contextual awareness with a new feature called “Now on Tap” which brings Google Now cards on demand over any app which have relevance to the app’s content.
For example, if I were to view a photo of a specific place on Instagram, holding down on the home button would bring up Google Now cards with information about that place. Or, if I were to text you asking if you wanted to see Age Of Ultron, holding the button would bring up information about the film, such as reviews and a link to the trailer or to order tickets.
This is also not fully implemented in the preview, but you do get a notification acknowledging that it will be soon in a future release and it looked very promising during the I/O keynote.
Reviewing App RAM Usage
A more detailed RAM usage overview is now included with Android M. It tells you which apps using the most system resources and how much RAM exactly each is taking up at any given time.
If you have a device that has limited RAM this may well be something that saves you a lot of grief trying to figure out which app is responsible for slowing your device down.
Heads-Up notifications have been renamed to “peeking” notifications and you can now turn them off on an app-by-app basis. Although the majority seem to enjoy the feature, there are some who may find these pop-up notifications annoying and so may want to turn them off. It’s not a huge addition, but it is a nice option to have.
Developer Preview & Beyond
As mentioned above, the first developer preview is currently available on multiple Nexus devices but it not intended for daily use for your average user just yet as things are incomplete and are likely to be unstable (although I have been pleasantly surprised with the stability thus far).
Google have announced that at least a further two previews are planned in June and July respectively. The full release should then follow sometime in the early autumn.
Updates to the preview will be pushed OTA to those on earlier previews versions and so no more factory image flashing will be required of current M preview users.
If you want to know anything else about Android M or the developer preview then please feel free to make a request in the comments or connect with us through social media I will answer as best I can. Currently I am still using the preview on both my Nexus 6 and Nexus 9. If you want to see Android M preview in action then be sure to check out our video hands-on with it here.