Friday, June 27, 2014

Android L: the 10 things you need to know

Android Lollipop?

ChromeOS and Android finally play nicely together.

It's ahead of schedule, but we've already got an early look at Android L before it rolls out to the consumers properly - Google wants to attract the developers, and this is the way to do it.

Sadly, the most important thing about the next version of Android remains a secret. We don't know what the 'L' stands for. Google abandoned its pudding and confectionary-based development naming system at 2014's Google IO developer event, revealing that the next big Android release is known simply as Android L.

The Android development team didn't even say if this forthcoming update is to be considered Android 4.5 or the full 5.0 update. But on the plus side, there are still a lot of new features, big visual changes and clever tweaks added to Google's latest refresh to get excited about.

Here are 10 of the most important and obvious changes you'll find, should that phone of yours be lucky enough to get the Android L update at any point in the future.

An all -new design.

1. New Material Design look

There will be no mistaking the arrival of Android L on your phone or tablet if you're using an unskinned stock version of the OS, as there are stacks of new visual touches on the way.

Google calls the new changes to the Android UI its "Material Design" approach, one that takes the Google Now cards system and adds depth, shadows and more to layouts across the system, with app elements able to slide into and atop each other.

And look, new on-screen software button icons are in there too, with a triangle replacing the Back arrow, a circle for Home and a simple square for accessing the Recent Apps multitasking menu.

It's both 3D and flat.

2. New animations and transitions

The Material Design look is supposed to give users visual clues as to how things work. Each app element has an "elevation level" that decides how high it can float above over information panels, with on-screen ripples and cues letting you know when a press has registered.

Animation effects kick in as you tap names in the dialler, with "nested scrolling" resizing the top bars and tabs on the fly as you scroll down lists.

Android L also adds seams and real-time shadows to panes as they slide around. And this isn't just for Android either. Google wants to roll out this design ethic across all of its products, with the desktop Google Drive productivity apps set to get a Material makeover too.

Lockscreen and notifications in one.

3. Full lock-screen and "heads-up" notifications

The notifications system is finally getting a serious visual jazz-up, with Google transforming its dull grey list into a card-based, white tile system that's fully accessible and actionable from the lock screen.

The posh new notifications animate, pop out and expand using the new 3D layers and shadows, looking vastly more impressive than they ever did in the old style KitKat system.

The in-game notification.

And there's a new miniature "heads-up" notification too, one that adds a live notification overlay to games being played in full-screen mode without interrupting the action - which you're able to swipe away and continue playing if it's someone you don't really like wanting you to do something you don't really want to do.

4. Project Volta

The big moan as far as users of every type of smartphone in the world was addressed by Google's Android team, who claim that the "Project Volta" modifications to the code may increase battery life.

When running Android L, Google suggests a user might see up to 90 minutes of extra uptime on the Nexus 5 thanks to Volta and more battery/power management tools, which is significant given that particular phone's rather dismal battery life.

Developers are also able to access a Battery Historian feature to measure consumption by apps, spotting troublesome high-drain issues.

5. Personal unlocking

A very clever idea, this. The new Personal Unlocking feature has the ability to learn where you are and what other devices you use, and even use your voice print, as a method of verifying you as the owner of the device.

Activate this and, if the phone's sure it's you using it in the place you usually use it and with the things you have attached to it attached to it, it can bypass the PIN-protected lock screen and let you straight into the phone.

The example Google gave us was of a phone recognising a user had a known Bluetooth device within range, so it deactivated the lock. This is something Samsung had created with its range of wearables and we bet that the two had a little chat about this somewhere in-between shouting about Tizen in hotel rooms.

6. Chromebook phone notifications

Google's finally looking at ways to link its ChromeOS ambitions with Android a little more deeply, with Android L devices able to tell a Chromebook the user is nearby and have the laptop automatically login -- doing away with the password once again.

Google also demonstrated Chrome OS notifications that can display SMS messages and call details on a Chromebook, also popping up warnings that your nearby phone is running low on battery. Google wants us to start treating Chromebooks like massive Android Wear devices.

This is similar to what Apple is doing with OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 - it's always nice to see two companies coming up with the same idea, isn't it?

A much deeper search.

7. Enhanced card-like mobile web search results

Google will also completely redesign the Search features within Android L, again bringing more of a Google Now-style cards approach to web searches.

Search results are displayed in a rich card format, complete with animations and shrinking header tabs, with Google proudly claiming it uses 60fps animations to transition between page elements.

An image carousel automatically pulls out visual results, while results related to apps you have installed can instantly open within the relevant app.

A more intuitive look at what you've just done.

8. New Recent Apps list with Chrome tabs

Another fairly huge change to the usual Android way of managing your phone stuff, Android L tweaks the Recent Apps multitasking menu in a couple of ways.

First is a complete visual overhaul that turns it into more of a rolodex type affair with shadows and perspective elements, while the other change sees recent Chrome tabs appear in the list too.

So if you're looking for a recently visited web page, it'll be right there in your recent stuff list -- making the multitasking menu much more useful.

Faster, better, stronger - Daft Punk would approve.

9. ART the new default for better performance

A huge under-the-bonnet change has also been made, with Google switching from the long-running Dalvik runtime to the experimental ART option that arrived as a slightly-hidden developer option inside Google's previous KitKat release.

To the end user this won't make much or perhaps any difference in the way the phone operates, although Google claims an up to two-times performance boost may be seen in some situations, without developers having to lift a finger or change a line of code.

ART is also more memory efficient, saving megabytes of RAM -- and it's fully 64-bit compatible for future hardware bragging.

Now you've got a good reason to pull out your Nexus at the office. 

10. Separate home and work profiles

Another big pair of introductions should make blagging a nice phone for work a little easier. The Android for Work system allows users to have multiple app instances on one device, separating work app data from home app data.

The certified Android for Work programme is coming in the autumn, with some features also set to appear on devices running software older than the new L-update.

As well as this, Samsung's well thought of Knox workplace security tool is also coming to Android L, with Samsung's tools getting integrated into Google's core code.

Source: TechRadar

The Chief Technomancer
VB Kid

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