Why Google wants you to get less out of its next Android OS update
A central feature of Android P lets people stop using their phones so much. For more on that, and all the other key functions, here’s our guide to the new OS…
Every year, the two big phone giants Google and Apple upgrade their operating systems. Whatever the particulars are of the updates, the big takeaway for users is always the same:
Now you can do more with your smartphone.
A few days ago, at the I/O 2018 Developer Conference, Google lifted the lid on its ninth version of Android.
But this time the message is a little different. It’s more like…
Now you can do less with your smartphone – if you want.
Yes, Android P comprises a bunch of features to help people regulate or even reduce their phone usage.
Pretty brave, eh?
Well, maybe. But really Google is just responding to the prevailing mood. After ten years of smartphones, there’s a sense that some people need a little help keeping their time spent ‘in phone’ in proportion.
And let’s not get carried away. Android P also showcases a bunch of new ideas that help you navigate around the home screen quicker, and get things done more efficiently.
In other words, there’s plenty inside to delight people who are perfectly happy with their phone habits.
So let’s take a closer look at the new OS…
P may be the first OS to intentionally limit people’s phone usage
This is Google’s new thing: Digital Wellbeing. The main feature of this is a new Dashboard application that lets you monitor usage and set restrictions. For example, you could tell it to restrict your YouTube viewing to 30 mins.
Google has also ramped up the Do Not Disturb function. It’s much more hardcore. Notifications disappear completely with no visual or audible alerts. Finally, there’s a Wind Down mode. You can set the phone to close down functions and go mono after a set time to encourage you to put it down and get some sleep or actually talk to someone.
P offers an iPhone-style alternative to the home button
The home button has been front and center of phone UI for a decade. Not anymore. P gives users the option to replace it will with a pill-shaped bar. You can swipe up to get to your previous apps or left to jump to the most recently used app and so on.
Deep linking gets deeper: App Slices and App Actions
Google has been keen on deep linking to apps for a while. Its new twist on this idea is called App Slices. It lets users access specific actions inside apps when they are doing other things (i.e. not in the app).
For example, you could search Beyonce and one option in the result pane would be not just to open Spotify but to play a specific track.
Meanwhile, App Actions uses AI to predict the next action a user wants to take. It will display the right option in the launcher bar when appropriate. So, it might show an exercise app just at the time you normally do a workout.
Obviously, both Slices and Actions will only work on apps for which developers have implemented the APIs.
It supports ‘the notch’
When Apple launched its iPhone X design critics deplored the horrible notch at the top of the screen. But since then, the notch has come to denote quality. Lots of phones now mimic it.
With Android P, Google factors this in. Its DisplayCutout feature helps developers ‘find the location and shape of the non-functional areas where content shouldn’t be displayed’. i.e. where the notch is.
Cleaner, more functional notifications
P offers a cleaner layout for notifications. It lets you see images and provides the option of Smart Replies.
P takes maps indoors
P supports indoor positioning for Google Maps to an accuracy of one to two meters. It’s all thanks to support for the WiFi protocol known as Wi-Fi RTT.
It promises better photos – of course
We live in the era of the selfie, so photography will always be a battleground in the smartphone space. With Android P, Google has introduced a new Multi-Camera API, which combines streams simultaneously from two or more physical cameras. That supports advanced stuff like seamless zoom, bokeh (blurry backgrounds), and stereo vision.
It promises better battery life – of course
We’re used to phones dimming and so on to preserve power. Now, Google is using AI to, er, supercharge this process. The OS will learn from your habits when optimizing core system features, close apps and reduce brightness to keep your device ticking for longer.
Google is cracking the security whip
This is less about tech than rules. With Android P, Google will force manufacturers to distribute the latest Security Maintenance Releases (SMRs) every month.
Android P should land in late summer
Google has already launched its Developer Preview of Android P and also an Android P Beta, for the geekier members of the general public. The final release date is unconfirmed, but experts are predicting August.
Phone makers are backing it, but uptake will probably be slow
The distribution of each new Android OS is always an issue. Obviously, Google wants as many people as possible to adopt the latest version. But it’s held back by the fact that it does not control the process. The phone makers do.
So while Apple can guarantee that nearly all iPhone users will upgrade, Google has to accept that Android users mostly will not. For evidence, look at the distribution of Android platform versions as of February 2018.
- Marshmallow: 28.1 percent
- Nougat (7 and 7.1): 28.5 percent
- Lollipop (5 and 5.1): 24.6 percent
- Oreo: 1.1 percent
On a more positive note, P is a more dramatic update than normal. This might inspire more people to upgrade. Also, most OEMs seem to be supporting it.
P doesn’t have a full name yet
No confirmation yet. But Google always names is OSs after desserts. So suggestions include Pistachio Ice Cream, Pancake, Peanut Brittle, Pecan Pie, Popsicle, Pumpkin Pie and others.
Next time we will start to unravel the mysteries of App Store Optimization!