Google has just made the next version of Android official. During the Google I/O 2015 keynote address, Google unveiled that Android M will succeed Android Lollipop this year. Google says that Android M, which is debuting as a prerelease version today with a full release later this year, brings a host of new features and performance enhancements. But at the same time, Google's Sundar Pichai says the company has "gone back to the basics" and improved quality of the platform. Where Android 5.0 Lollipop introduced a new design and interface, M appears to be focused on improving the stability and usability of the software. Google isn't saying what the version number or name of M will be just yet, but it is showing of a lot of what will be part of the update.
Dave Burke, vice president of engineering at Google, says that the company has been watching what device makers have been adding to Android and is folding a lot of those ideas into the core system. There are six new areas that Google has focused on with M, ranging from new features to improved performance and efficiency.
One of the big parts of Android M is a redesigned apps permissions system. Users will be able to approve or deny security permissions, such as camera or location access, on a case by case basis. There are only eight categories of permissions available to apps now, and the apps will ask for them as they need them. That's different from how Android current works, which asks users to approve all permissions at once when the app is installed. It's also very similar to how Apple has handle app permissions in iOS for years. Apps will not have to ask for permissions with every update, either.
For Android M, Google is also revamping the web browsing experience with its Chrome browser. A new feature called "Chrome Custom Tabs" lets developers insert webviews directly in their apps, giving them the full power of Chrome without having to force the user to switch apps. Chrome features like automatic sign-in, saved passwords, autofill, and multi-process security are all now available to app developers within their apps.
Android's built-in app linking system (also known as "intents") is also getting an upgrade, allowing apps to open content directly instead of stopping users with a dialog box every time. For example, if you click a Twitter link in an email, the Twitter app will open directly instead of asking you if you want to use Twitter to view it.
Android M is introducing a new payments system called Android Pay. It uses NFC and Host Card Emulation for tap-to-pay services and essentially takes the place of the current Google Wallet app. Developers will also be able to integrate Android Pay into their apps for in-app payments and purchases.
Google says that Android Pay will be preinstalled on AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile devices and it will be accepted in 700,000 stores in the US. Android Pay will also natively support fingerprint scanners, such as the one installed on Samsung's Galaxy S6, as opposed to leaving it up to device makers to support it themselves. It works with any device running KitKat or newer.
It seems that Google promises better battery life and efficiency with every new version of Android, and of course, Android M is no different. M will bring a new feature called Doze, which lets the system manage background processes better. It relies on motion detection to determine when someone is using a device, and shuts down processes when activity hasn't been detected for a period of time. Burke says that this has extended the standby time of the Nexus 9 tablet by up to two times over Android Lollipop.
Android M also introduces native USB Type-C support, which allows for faster and easier charging. It also lets users charge other devices with their Android phone, which isn't something any of us have asked for, but it's there.
Google is also addressing a lot of the usability nags that have plagued Android for years with M. Little things like volume control and copy and paste are allegedly improved, and Burke calls M the "most polished Android release to date."
But it's apparently not ready to be taken out of the oven yet. As with last year's Android L early release, Google is making M available as a developer preview for the Nexus 5, 6, 9, and Nexus Player, with a full release later this year. The company expects developers and early adopters to test the system over the next few months to find bugs and improve stability before it's released to the public. Google says that more information and updates will come during the preview period this year, which was a pain point for many during the Lollipop preview.
M Preview available for developers today
Google is promising a lot with M, and if you've been following the progress of Android for a while, it's a lot of stuff you've probably heard before. Hopefully this time around Google hits the right stride between new features and stability that make for a truly exceptional mobile platform. The company is also introducing a number of new platforms and systems that tie in to Android and work with Android devices, such as the Brillo internet of things platform and the new Now on Tap search features.
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