Skip to main content

Google releases Android O to developers, promising better battery life and notifications

Google releases Android O to developers, promising better battery life and notifications


Developers can start work on it today

Share this story

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

For the second year in a row, Google is making a developer preview for the next version of Android available in March, well ahead of its presumed consumer release in the fall. This one is codenamed “O,” and your guess is as good as mine as to what dessert the final version will be named after. It isn’t yet available for regular users to try out. Although developers can begin testing it right away, it’s best for most people to let things stabilize a bit more before they try it out. Developers can download it today.

Google isn’t yet telling us everything that’s coming in O, but the marquee feature is meant to address a perennial smartphone problem that has seen equally perennial attempts at fixing it: battery life.

For O, Google is continuing its trend toward aggressively managing what apps can do in the background (as iOS has long done) to ensure that runaway processes don’t destroy your battery. As Android VP of engineering, Dave Burke, puts it: “We've put additional automatic limits on what apps can do in the background, in three main areas: implicit broadcasts, background services, and location updates.”

Android multitasking will work more like iOS

It’s possible that these “automatic limits” could wreak some havoc on existing apps that assume a more liberal stance toward what they’re allowed to do in the background, so developers will want to check up on how it works with their particular apps.

Improvements to battery life is a hard thing to judge — especially with early versions of software. So we won’t know whether Google’s strategy here will be effective on most phones for quite some time.

Easier to judge: changes in the notification system in Android. It seems like notifications get tweaked with every iteration of smartphone software, but Android’s approach has generally been better than the competition’s. For O, the big change is that apps can “group” their notifications into categories called “channels.”

Image: Google
Image: Google

That’s pretty vague, but what it sounds like is that you’ll be able to set what kind of notifications you want from each app from within Android’s main notification settings pane. So if an app offers “high-priority alerts” and “marketing,” you can turn them off directly in Android’s settings rather than digging through the app’s interface.

And speaking of “vague,” Burke also says O has “new visuals and grouping to notifications that make it easier for users to see what's going on when they have an incoming message or are glancing at the notification shade.” We’ll need a bit more clarity before we can know exactly what this all means — or if it’s just random new options for developers that will get used rarely. For something as essential as notifications, it behooves Google not to mess around with the interface too much, unless there’s something genuinely great here.

Here’s one great addition we just found in Google’s developer documents: you can snooze notifications so they appear at a later time, just like you do with email. That’s pretty great.

Image: Google

Battery and notifications are the biggest changes announced today, but there’s a grab bag of other stuff which may appeal to you. For example, Google is aiming to improve sound quality with wireless headphones with “high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs,” as well as Sony’s LDAC codec.

Google is also letting app developers create “adaptive icons,” which will change their look and shape depending on what home screen theme the user has opted for. That’s either a sign that theming is going to be a bigger deal than it used to be on Android, or it’s a sign that all those Android icon packs are getting popular but are still too confusing to set up for most users. Let’s go with both.

GIF: Google
GIF: Google

Here are a few more additions that hang together thematically, related to how stuff gets displayed or navigated on the screen:

  • A genuine picture-in-picture mode for videos
  • A new pop-up window that apps can use instead of the system alert window (actually that sounds terrible)
  • “Multi-display support for launching an activity on a remote display,” which could refer to something like a PowerPoint presentation mode or a Continuum-style Android-on-the-desktop mode. Either way it sounds weird.
  • New ways to support keyboard navigation, including especially arrow and tab button navigation

Take that grouping together, and you begin to see signs that Google is pretty serious about making Android work better on Chromebooks. Of course, the current version of Android Nougat is still not available on Chrome OS. I’ve been told that the plan is not to allow Android on Chrome OS to stay a generation behind, but that after it exits beta this spring, it will be kept at parity with the current phone release.

However it shakes out, it seems clear to me that Chrome OS with Android apps is Google’s strategy for big screens going forward. If there’s another Google-made flagship Android tablet, I’ll be mildly surprised.

Lastly, there’s a mix of stuff that’s clearly filling out cases developers have asked for to ensure their apps feel either more professional or less of a hassle to use (or both):

  • Autofill APIs, which will make it easier for password managers to register themselves as the official autofill app for punching in your oft-entered yet still-sensitive information into other apps
  • Support for fonts as full Android resources, so they can be used and defined more simply in XML layouts.
  • “Wide-gamut color for apps,” so that they can take full advantage of the stupid-good screens on flagship phones
  • A “telecom framework” so third-party VOIP apps can act like first-class phone apps as far as the OS is concerned
  • WebView (the thing that lets apps use the Chrome rendering engine to display web content) is going to work a little more smoothly because apps will have “multiprocess mode” enabled by default and handle crashes themselves. They can also use Google’s Safe Browsing verification to ensure users aren’t caught on phishing sites.
  • New Java stuff, including “Java 8 APIs and runtime optimizations” and “the new java.time API.” Google also claims the “Android Runtime,” the code behind the code that runs your apps, will be “faster than ever before, with improvements of up to 2x on some application benchmarks.”
  • Something called “Network Aware Networking,” which should allow Android devices to communicate directly with each other over Wi-Fi, even if the network isn’t connected to the internet

Developers will be able to test Android O in a desktop emulator or on one of the following devices: Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C. If you want to try it, you will have to manually download and flash it yourself, rather than sign up for an over-the-air update. That’s for the best, probably: last year the first few developer previews were very much not the sort of thing you’d want to use on your primary phone, and chances are good the same is true this time around.

I asked if there would be a beta this year and Google’s not saying yet — but last year it waited until Google I/O in May to release a truly public beta that made it easy for regular people to try it. Perhaps the same will happen again this year — we’ll be at Google I/O May 17th–19th to let you know if it does.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.

External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.