Updated 03/09/16: Added the link to the over-the-air beta update enrollment page.
If you’re a diehard Android fan, the leaks and rumors making the rounds about what’s in the next version of Android can be serious torture.
Fortunately for you, you won’t have to endure any of that much longer. Today, Google announced that it’s seeding the Android N developer preview much earlier than it usually does—it’s so early, it’s practically alpha. Or, as David Burke, Vice President of Android Engineering at Google joked, “Parts of the engine are still on the floor.” Proceed at your own risk.
In the past, Google has typically waited until hours after the Google I/O keynote to release the first version of a new preview build of Android. This year, it’s launching it before anyone has even secured their badges for the annual conference. “The reason we’re doing this is kind of two-fold, for two different audiences,” explained Burke. “For app developers, we just want to get it to them early so that we have time to incorporate their feedback.
And for device makers, the idea is that we’re making source code available much earlier…to work in parallel, so that they have a shot to get new devices on the shelf.” Hopefully this means we’ll see faster software updates for Android’s device partners. There’s nothing worse than waiting for the latest version of Android six months after its release.
Along with the developer preview, Google has also provided a glimpse at some of the new features inside Android N. Here’s some of what to expect.
Google kept its promise and Multi-window support is officially a part of Android N for both smartphones and tablets. We’ve only got a screenshot so far, but it looks as though the feature works somewhat similarly to the way that Samsung’s TouchWiz interface implements it. Developers can also drop in a bit of code to specify the screen’s minimum allowed dimensions, so that you can’t make the window too small and distort the original app interface.
Android N lets developers pipe in a bit of code that groups together notifications from the same app so that you’re not constantly faced with a cluttered notifications shade. “Over half of notifications are messaging notifications, so what we wanted to do is optimize for that use case,” said Burke. Google also gave developers of messaging applications the ability to utilize the same direct reply functionality recently added to Hangouts. The feature allows you to reply to a message from within the Notification shade so that you’re not constantly switching between applications.
Speaking of which, if you do happen to leave the application you were in to type out a lengthy reply in another one, Android N lets you double-tap the Recents button to return the app you were in previously. “It’s one of these simple things that just changed my life,” said Burke. “Let’s just say you’re in Facebook or something and you press Home, but you wanted to jump back into Facebook, you don’t have to go hunt for the icon.”
Doze mode for your pocket
Doze mode is one of the best features in Marshmallow, but it requires your phone to be in sleep mode and stationary for awhile (like on a table) before it kicks in. Android N expands the feature so that it works any time the screen is off, regardless of whether or not you’re moving around with it on you. For instance, if you’re on a hike, but you haven’t actually pulled your phone out of your pocket, the phone will shut off any network activity and only check for new content every 15 minutes or so. Of course, applications can make priority notifications (like texts) come through immediately.
When I asked Burke if this is like Doze mode for your pocket, he replied, “Exactly! Pocket Doze.” This could potentially have a huge impact in your phone’s daily battery drain.
Developers, developers, developers!
Google will make it easier for developers to start testing their apps on Android N with the new Android Beta Program. Beginning today, developers can update their recent Nexus device to the developer preview of N via an over-the-air update. No more awkward ADB flashing! The company plans to eventually open the Android Beta program to consumers, too, but for now it’s limited to developers.
There’s more in store for Android N than just these few features—after all, this is just the first version of the preview build. Google plans to have five preview builds, with the aim of handing off the final Android N code to device makers this summer. That’s several months earlier than usual, and it will hopefully mean that all those holiday phone and tablet releases will ship with Google’s latest OS, instead of getting it months later.
Get it now
For more on the first Android N developer preview, check out the Google Developers Blog.
You may also want to read Hiroshi Lockheimer’s Medium post.
If you want to receive Android N beta updates over-the-air, you can enroll your device at this site.