Android 6.0 is official. Like clockwork Google has again used its I/O developers’ forum to publicly unveil Android’s next major iteration (currently dubbed ‘Android M’) and – while it has some potentially game changing features – the devil is in the detail.
Here are 9 hidden gems within Android M that Google chose not to disclose on stage yesterday…
Secret # 1 – Full App State Backup
Quite frankly I’m stunned Google left this out of its presentation because it’s huge. With Android M Google will now automatically backup all app preferences and settings within Google Drive.
This brings Android into line with iOS and means restore or upgrading a phone will be virtually painless: apps will not only be reinstalled, but fully setup. Better still apps don’t need to do anything to be compatible with this change, Full App State Backup is built into the core of Android M.
There is a limit of 25MB per backed up app in Drive so it won’t be saving large downloaded app media (such as gigabytes of offline Spotify tracks), but that doesn’t happen in iOS either. The real win is, once apps are setup on Android M, you should never need to do it again.
Secret #2 – Redesigned, Searchable App Drawer
Android M brings with it a heavily redesigned app drawer. The new design is likely to be polarising (I think it looks cartoonish and wastes space) but it offers much greater functionality than before.
For starters users can search for apps at the top of the app drawer, handy for those with lots of apps installed. Secondly recently used apps get their own top row for quick access, and thirdly apps are more clearly alphabetised for better visibility.
Interestingly the app drawer also now scrolls vertically instead of horizontally. This hadn’t been seen since the second generation of Android, but since vertical scrolling is generally considered more comfortable and our collection of apps gets ever longer, so switching back makes sense.
Secret #3 – System UI Tuner
Praise be! Google is finally allowing users to customise quick access settings in the pull down Notification bar. The likes of aeroplane mode, auto-rotate, torch, hotspot, Cast screen, mobile signal and more can now be moved around or removed completely.
As yet there are no replacement options for any shortcuts you do remove in the initial Android M beta, but expect them to appear in the final release.
Useful as these are, Secrets 4-6 will be the real highlight for many users…
This has been so long awaited that some third party Android skins already allow it: long pressing apps on Android M homescreens now gives the option to either remove the shortcut or uninstall the app completely.
Previously the only option was to remove the shortcut and users had to trawl through the app drawer to find the app before it could be uninstalled. The new change is simple, logical and very welcome.
Secret #5 – Dark Theme
Not a fan of Android Lollipop’s extensively white respray? Google forgot to mention Android M will bring a new dark option to menus and settings which realigns it more closely with the colour scheme of Android KitKat.
There is also an ‘automatic’ option which will use the white theme during the day and switch to dark during the evenings. Hopefully further colour options will also come between now and release.
Secret #6 – Native Support For External Storage
Many (rightly) bemoaned the way Android Kitkat reduced the functionality of expandable storage. Lollipop brought back some lost functionality, but Android M will go a step further and treat microSD cards just like native storage.
This will get a big cheer from many given microSD cards are getting so much faster there is less of a performance penalty for offloading apps and media to them. It will also be a poke in the eye for Samsung which has controversially removed expandable storage from the Galaxy S line.
Secret #7 – Google Voice Search Lockscreen Access
Representative of the changing way we use our phones, Android M will ditch quick access to your phone’s dialler from the lockscreen in favour of quick access to Google Voice Search.
While this move won’t please those who make many calls a day, it will prove handy to others and shows Google’s determination to put itself back at the heart of Android. Something also clearly seen in the potentially revolutionary introduction of Google Now On Tap.
Next Secrets 8 and 9, plus a look at Android M’s biggest challenge…
A small tweak, but when using your Android phone or tablet as a mobile hotspot you will now be able to broadcast the signal using 5GHz WiFi not just 2.4GHz.
It is debateable whether tethering ever reaches speeds where the superior performance of 5GHz WiFi would be felt, but given the rise of ever faster iterations of 4G this should future proof your tethering for a number of years.
Secret #9 – Native A2DP Bluetooth Streaming
Lastly we have something of a catch up feature. Most Bluetooth speakers and earpieces already employ A2DP’s dual channel stereo technology, but by building it natively into Android M developers have one less step to do and it should take away the excuse to make any subpar A2DP incompatible devices.
That said I would have preferred to see native support for AptX in Android M, this is a much higher quality Bluetooth streaming protocol already widely used by many device makers – including Samsung. It goes on my wishlist for Android 7.0 N.
Of course the best news with all these Android M secrets is there is still time for Google to implement many more before release.
When will that release come? For Nexus owners it should arrive in late August/early September (alongside new Nexus phones) but the bigger issue for Google is how quickly third party handset makers will adopt it. The fact Android Lollipop is barely on 10% of devices one year after it was announced shows the size of this task.
Then again if Google can deliver on Android M’s promises of superior performance and battery life (with features like Doze– above) it may well give hardware partners the impetus they need to be much faster this time around…