Design takes center stage in the next version of Android, with a new look that will feature animated transitions and spruced-up interface elements. What it won't have is a catchy official name, at least for now—Google just calls it “Android L.”
Android's latest release arrives Thursday in preview form, bringing with it an enormous number of changes highlighted by lots of user-facing interface changes and more than 5,000 API features for developers. It’s Google’s biggest release to date, and it will be available in the form of Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 images, together with an SDK for developers.
Google spent a lot of time at Wednesday's I/O keynote in San Francisco talking about “Material Design,” its name for new features aimed at sharpening up interface elements for users. There’s a lot to unravel with Material Design, but the big takeaways are depth and animation. All interface elements can be given a “depth value” by developers, and the Material Design framework will automatically generate subtle shadows and perspective to make it clear which elements are “on top of” others.
It also makes it simpler for developers to make animated transitions from any screen to any other screen, even to another app, so users more easily understand how their apps are interacting. There are tons of touch animations, from ripples to shadows and bouncing, so users can be more clear about exactly where they’re touching and how the app is responding.
Google is starting with Material Design in the Dialer app; it will bring the interface overhaul to all its apps over the coming months.
Android L offers more than just design changes. Improvements to notifications allow users to interact with them right from the lock screen. They’re organized and prioritized, but you can always swipe down to see all of them. A new type of notification, called the “heads up notification,” can pop up over your app without stopping it, allowing you to interact with it or swipe it away without stopping what you’re doing.
Personal Unlocking gives the OS a bunch of new ways to get into your phone. It can take cues from Bluetooth devices or location, so you can set your phone to open without asking for your PIN code if, say, it detects your watch is nearby (proving it’s you), or if it knows you’re at home. (We cover Personal Unlocking in greater detail elsewhere on the site.)
As predicted, Android L drops the Davlik runtime for the new ART (“Android RunTime”), which improves performance of apps by up to 2x and reduces memory usage. L is also fully 64-bit compatible, ready for the glut of 64-bit, ARMv8 chips coming later this year.
Graphics performance is getting a big boost with Android Extension Pack, which adds a lot of OpenGL ES extensions like tesselation, compute shaders, and geometry shaders to help “close the gap” between Android and desktop-class DirectX 11. This was demonstrated with a demo of Epic’s Unreal Engine.
Project Volta is Google’s name for its efforts to bolster battery life in Android L. It improves the ability of the system to measure battery life, along with a host of changes to various subsystems and new scheduling features for developers. Google promises significant improvements to battery life in its new OS: up to 90 minutes more life in a typical day’s use. Oh, and there’s a new Battery Saver mode that can be triggered manually or set to trigger when the battery gets low.
We’ll have a whole lot more about the “L” release of Android in the coming days and weeks.