Major changes to Android later this year

Google Photos vice-president Anil Sabharwal demonstrating a product using a smartphone and props during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in California last Wednesday. Google's artificial intelligence software will make its presence felt mo
Google Photos vice-president Anil Sabharwal demonstrating a product using a smartphone and props during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in California last Wednesday. Google's artificial intelligence software will make its presence felt more keenly in Android O.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Google's mobile operating system, Android, received minor updates at I/O this year, with most of the major changes to be rolled out with its latest version later this year.

As with previous years, Google released the beta version of its latest Android operating system on the first day of its yearly Google I/O developer conference.

This year's update, which still goes by the codename Android O, has two areas of focus: making the user experience more fluid, and improving background performance.

App notification dots - an oft-requested feature already present in Apple's iOS - will make an appearance in Android O. When an app receives an active notification, for example, a dot will appear on the top of the app, which acts as a visual signal to the user to open it.

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Long-pressing the app will open a smaller window that lets users see the notification at a glance, without going into the app proper.

Android O will support picture- in-picture mode, which will allow users to make a video call or open a YouTube clip, for instance, and view it in a minimised window when they switch to another app.

Google's artificial intelligence software will make its presence felt more keenly in Android O. The operating system will recognise when you are highlighting a phone number or address, for example, and provide options to either call the number directly or start navigation to the selected address.

App security will also be more prominent in Android O, through a new feature named Google Play Protect which scans apps in the Play Store every day and removes malicious or virus-ridden ones from devices.

Phones running Android O will likely have better battery performance, as a new feature called Wise Limits will restrict the amount of juice sapped from apps running in the background.

However, with every Android update, hardware requirements go up, which widens the gap between expensive flagship phones and cheaper, entry-level ones.

This gap is what a new initiative, Android Go, aims to resolve. All Android phones with 1GB RAM or less that are manufactured this year - and which are typically cheaper, entry-level handsets - will run a modified version of Android O optimised for lower-end hardware.

This is to expand Android's reach to the "next billion users", said Mr Sameer Samat, vice-president of product management for Android and Google Play.

When asked by The Straits Times' Digital if there are plans to roll out Android Go features onto older Android phones which meet the 1GB criterion, Mr Samat said the initiative's focus is currently on new models.

"We're focused right now on new devices. We haven't decided on upgrades," he said. "There are so many more people coming online today who are buying their first phone as prices continue to decrease. So we're focused on what that first phone will be, and there are so many of these people that it's the priority now."

Lester Hio

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Major changes to Android later this year'. Print Edition | Subscribe