It seems we’ve moved past the era of fast and furious UI changes to mobile operating systems. Google showed off a little of the upcoming Android O update today at Google I/O, and while it looks very familiar, there are a few cool new features on the way.
Right at the top of the list is picture-in-picture. It seems like 2017 is the year for that — Microsoft just brought the feature to Windows 10 in the Creators Update pushed out earlier this year. Android O will do the same for Android devices, allowing you to minimize videos to a thumbnail (that can be resized) at the bottom of the screen. That video, which can be anything from a YouTube video to a video call, will continue to run even if you open another app. That’s particularly interesting for YouTube — one of the most attractive features on the $10/month YouTube Red subscription service is background play of YouTube videos, making YouTube a viable streaming music platform for mobile devices. While the tunes still won’t play when the phone is asleep, they can at least keep playing while you use your phone for other purposes thanks to picture-in-picture.
As usual, improvements to performance and battery life are also in the works. For battery life, Google is working on making Android even more efficient when idle by limiting how much apps can do in the background — usually, apps are constantly doing something to stay updated, and that can have a big effect on your battery life.
Google has also found a way to protect users from sideloaded apps, or apps that start off as legitimate before taking a turn for the shady. Unlike with iOS, it’s possible to install apps on Android that aren’t from Google Play. That’s risky — getting on Google Play requires going through a vetting process that screens out malware, so installing apps from elsewhere can often lead to a security breach. Google Play Protect, which will debut in Android O, will regularly scan all of your apps for malware after they’ve been installed, giving users an extra layer of ongoing protection.
The most noticeable change is going to be to notifications. Some apps on Android are already getting little notification markers on their icons, sometimes displaying how many new messages have come in. In Android O, you’ll be able to tap on those markers to view and interact with those notifications from the home screen, instead of having to pull down the notification center. Google will also be adding more ways to group and organize notifications. For example, you’ll have more freedom to organize work-related notifications, so you can just focus on those during the working hours without getting distracted by all the personal stuff (not that any of us are going to stick to that, but at least it’s possible!).
The last thing we’re excited about? Copy and paste! It’s the little things. Google knows that a lot of its users need to copy and paste addresses or phone numbers from websites from time to time, so they’ve made that process a little smarter. Instead of having to drag your finger just far enough to highlight the whole address, Android will be able to identify when there’s a whole address onscreen, allowing you to copy it just by double-tapping anywhere on the text.
Android O is in beta now, and will likely see a public release this fall — we’d expect to see the release date sync up with a refresh to the Google Pixel.