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Android M, the Ultimate Guide

News by admin on Thursday May 28, 2015.

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Android M
Android M

Google dropped Android M on us at the company?s I/O developer's event today, and while the software will not be released until later in the year, Google was kind enough to give us all a detailed breakdown of what is in store. With Android 5.0 Lollipop only seven months old and feeling pretty darn fresh, we expect Android M to wow us and bring something new to the party. Luckily the software really does that and is a pretty rich overhaul of the system, even if it is unlikely to do Android?s fragmented platform any good in terms of unification.

By the way, a watch face for Android Wear has apparently revealed that Android M will be called Milkshake, but while that is far from confirmed we will continue to call it "M" here.

If Android Lollipop was a sweeping overhaul of how Android looks (here's looking at you Material Design), Android M will be more about how Android feels. Google says this update is more about the user experience than it is changing the aesthetics of Android, not that M is void of the latter though. Indeed, we are going to be a bit cheeky and say that Android M is more of an extension of Lollipop than it is a completely fresh system. As we mentioned, it retains Material Design, and while it brings plenty to the table it feels like Google is polishing and fine tuning Lollipop; which is truly no bad thing.

What is potentially a "bad thing" is the fact that Android M exists at all, with the software certainly due for some criticism because Lollipop?s adoption levels are still only covering 10% of the Android market. That will improve to around 20-25% by time M actually launches, but nevertheless it will leave hundreds of millions straggling behind on old Android software. While we are hardly impressed by that, we really do not feel it is Google's fault. Mountain View is pushing its end of the bargain into the future each year, the fact that OEM?s do not keep up is something that is rarely down to Google. It highlights the open nature of the platform, but it seems asinine to blame Google for launching Android M when X amount of OEM's are still not making sweeping Lollipop updates.

So, what's new?

App Permissions

App Permissions have been refined and largely changed with Android M, a feature we think will divide opinion. An app permission is app A wanting to use your microphone, or app B wanting to use your location services, basically the permission notifications received when first firing up an app. Android M has introduced a system where you will only have to give app permission once for each requested task.

For example, if a specific app wants to use the microphone and asks permission, upon granting permission it will always be able to access the microphone thereafter, but not for example the camera (unless it asks for permission). There will be an App Permission menu in Android M that lets you refine which apps can use what, with more general options like "camera" and "microphone" now employed to make the tasks easier to understand.

At first, this new way of permitting apps may seem worrisome. Actually though it will make your permissions far more customizable as you will be able to decide what apps are specifically allowed to access. Want WhatsApp to have your camera, but not the microphone? You can do that with Android M. We do think however that some developers will just make their apps require all the permissions they want to function properly, so while the customization is nice, devs could swerve it to have more device access. We will have to see how this one plays out.

Improved Google Now

We love Google Now and with Android M we are about to receive the most robust version of the voice automated personal assistant. We won't get into a (probably unwinnable) debate, but Google Now is probably the best digital assistant out there (sorry Siri and Cortana) and Android M is going to make it even better.

The platform will introduce a new feature called "Now on tap" where the system will be better at recognizing the context is being used and which app or service they are using at that time. This opens some new possibilities for Google Now, so here?s an example:

If you are listening to music, you can tap the home button to call up Google Now and then the service will find all information about the track you are listening to. You can ask specific questions and Google Now will automatically know which artist/song you are talking about. The same is true of messaging services, planners, maps, and more. Google says the apps currently compatible with this feature will not have to be updated for it to work.

Android Pay

Yes, like Apple Pay, Google launched its own mobile payment service in the form of Android Pay, which is actually a reboot of the existing Google Wallet system that was around before Cupertino got on the scene. Like other such systems, if will use NFC to make transactions and Google is natively supporting fingerprint scanners so retailers do not need to.

Better Battery

In a world where we are fed increasing bamboozling numbers and stats regarding processors, RAM, and screens, it is easy to forget that battery life is one of the key features that consumers look for in buying a smartphone. To help increase battery life on a software level, Android M is introducing a new "Doze" mode that uses the devices' sensors to tell when it is not being used, like sitting on a desk or in a pocket.

When this is detected Doze Mode puts the handset into a deep sleep, where power is pushed to a minimum. Thankfully, any notifications or alarms will still be sent through, and Google says that the result is double the standby battery life compared to Android Lollipop. If that turns out to be a measurable truth then you can color us very impressed.

Direct Share

Sharing has been a big part of the mobile space for some time, but we could argue that sometimes it still feels like a chore to share a video or other media. Android M is attempting to tackle that with the software allowing the device to learn how and where you share, and even who with. The people you share with most often will be put to the top of the list, and while it is hardly revolutionary, it will make sharing with them a few taps easier.

Better Google Play Search

Here's a confession. We use Android smartphones and iPads for tablets, so you could call us fans of both iOS and Android and certainly think both have things to learn from the other. For example, Apple's App Store feels more polished and easier to use than the Google Play Store, it is just a much simpler system for us.

Google is attempting to change the often dizzying and muddy Google Play Store, not mean task considering it houses over 1 billion apps, much of which are utter crap (Yes, iOS has the same crap). Searching on the GP Store can be an outright hassle, especially if you are just going for a wander and seeing what you can find. Wading through the app excrement is boring and frustrating; but Google may have an answer for that.

All Android users will get a Google Play Store that allows for more personalization and comes with smarter search. The store will use apps you already installed, your previous searches, and other information to cater apps better suited to you, while search results will now be refined into categories. Another feature will help parents vet apps easier, with Google now including a green symbol that means an app is safe for family/children without even having to open its details.

New UI Features

Yes, while we said right at the top that Android M would not be enhancing the look of the platform, sticking to Lollipop?s Material Design goodness, Google has made some UI changes. Indeed, it seems the company has added a completely new UI theme to Android M... a dark mode.

Found hidden in a code was the option to change the theme from light to dark, a request that has been on the wish list of Android users for years. There will also be an automatic feature that will switch the device between light and dark accordingly.

That's really it from us, although we have really only scratched the surface of Android M's changes and we are almost certain to be talking a lot about this platform over the coming months before it launches in October of November. For now though, you can check out the full changelog (55 in all) below.

Android Pay

Easy word selection

Floating clipboard toolbar

Work contacts in personal contexts

Hotspot 2.0 R1

VPN apps in settings

Flex storage

Duplex printing

App standby

Seamless certificate installation for enterprise

Undo/redo keyboard shortcuts

Do not disturb automatic rules

Data usage API for work profiles

Material Design support library

Bluetooth SAP

Voice interaction service

USB Type C charging

App link verification

Battery historian v2BT 4.2

Simplified volume controls

IMproved bluetooth low energy scanning


Text selection actions

Improved text hyphenation and justification

Improved diagnostics

IT admin acceptance of OTAs

Google Now on tap

Chrome custom tabs

Auto backup for apps

Unified app settings view

UI toolkit

Contextual assist framework

Enterprise factory reset protection

Direct Share

Corporate owned single use device support

Do not disturb quick setting and repeat caller prioritization

Improved trusted face reliability

Improved text layout

Fingerprint sensor formance support

Alphabetic app list with search

Unified Google new runtime settings and permissions

Work status notification

MIDI support 5GHz

Portable Wi-Fi hot-spot Bluetooth connectivity for device provisioning

Seven additional languages

Power improvements in WiFi scanning

Data binding support library

Beta setup wizard

IMAP sign-in

Delegated certificate installation

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