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Google details Android N features ahead of late summer release

Google details Android N features ahead of late summer release

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Performance improvements married to a major push into VR

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It wouldn't be a Google developer conference without some time dedicated to Google's most important software platform: Android. The next iteration, codenamed N, was announced super early in March of this year, and today at Google I/O more details and features are being revealed.

Google says the response to the N Developer Preview has been "overwhelming" and many developers are already working with it on a daily basis. The company has improved Android N performance in two keys ways: graphics and runtime. Android N will introduce the Vulkan graphics API to Google's mobile platform. Vulkan promises to deliver better graphics with greater efficiency, which is always nice to see — especially with the amount of power now available in modern Android smartphones and tablets. This cross-platform API was recently shown off by Nvidia with its latest graphics cards playing Doom on the desktop. The compiler in Android N works a lot faster, as much as 75 percent faster, and it's reduced the the space required for app installs on your phone. So basically, it's an under-the-hood win that shouldn't be hard to feel on the surface too.

In terms of productivity, Google has decided to streamline the multitasking menu. User research has shown that we usually only jump back to one of the last seven apps we've used, and so Android will now start to automatically shut down the oldest background apps. By popular request, Google has also added a "Clear All" button to dismiss all active apps at once, a feature that's been commonplace among phones from its Android partners.

Split-screen and picture-in-picture modes are coming to Android! The latter is limited to Android TV, allowing you to watch a live channel in one corner while you do something else in the Android interface. The new multi-window feature, which allows you to run two apps side by side, each getting half the screen, should be a major upgrade for Android tablets especially. It's handy on phones too, but Android tablets have long been in need of features that capitalize on their greater screen real estate.

Split-screen, daydream, and quick replies in notifications

Notifications are also getting an upgrade from Google, with the addition of the option to quick-reply to messages directly from the notification, without having to open any app or get away from what you're already doing. Unicode 9 emoji are also coming to Android N, with skin tone variations and some new, more human-looking emoji.

The biggest addition to Android, though, will be a VR Mode, as part of a wider VR initiative from Google called Daydream. Check out our full coverage of Google Daydream for more. Phones that adhere to a new "Daydream Ready" spec will come from all the major Android manufacturers this fall. Google has also secured content partnerships with HBO, Netflix, Hulu, CNN, the NBA, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and also IMAX. Yes, you'll be able to watch IMAX movies on your Daydream-compatible Android phone.

In total Android N has more than 250 new features and enhancements, and Google promises to make it available later this summer. A "beta quality" version of Android N is available to download today for Nexus devices and the Pixel C tablet.

Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that picture-in-picture mode would be available on Android tablets and phones, but it is limited to Android TV.

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