At the developer conference I/O 2014, Google has unveiled the next version of the Android operating system. It could get the version number 5.0, but this is not yet confirmed. Anyway, for Google it is a big step forward.
What you observe immediately when you start the new system is the significant gain in performance. In previous versions there were occasional delays – especially in comparison to iOS 8 -, for example when scrolling through lists or switching between applications. That does not happen anymore. Scrolling is flowing without problems, switching between applications is done smoothly. Also, data-intensive apps with lots of graphics, such as maps, run without noticeable lags.
The main reasons for this are two changes. First, important graphics routines have been revised. Second, ART (Android Runtime) is used as runtime. ART has been introduced already with version 4.4, but was optional there. With the new version, it is the default runtime. The main advantage is that the apps created with it are faster, because an improved garbage collection and an Ahead-of-Time (AOT) compilation are implemented. Another reason is that Android supports 64-bit processors, which further accelerates working with apps, as more registers and new machine code instructions are available. In addition, the development process itself is facilitated, because debugging is easier.
Although we use beta version for developers, the operating system and almost all apps run without major problems with this runtime. In certain cases, it is still possible that apps designed for the previous versions no longer work correctly. Therefore, it is important to have them checked by the developer to find out whether they need to be adjusted. Google itself gives indications related to this issue on their website.
Design and Functions
Similar to the gain in speed you notice immediately that the design has been changed. It is called Material Design, and imitates natural surfaces and shapes. It contains pastel colors, a lot of white surfaces and comes with a simplified and more pragmatic surface. Many small animations are aligned with scenes from the real world. Immediately noticeable are also the revised key symbols at the bottom.
Overall, the interface somewhat resembles a mixture of iOS 8 and Windows 8.1. The general clarity may be a matter of taste; at any rate, the developers in our office like it and say that the operation of the devices is now smoother and faster.
In addition to the operating system itself, Google has integrated at the present time three apps in the new design: telephone, keyboard and calculator. The keyboard now simply displays only letters or numbers with no 3D effects and without any boxes. This needs time getting used to, but is easy after some exercise. Nice detail: already during the swype process the system makes propositions for words appearing at the finger that can be accepted directly.
Of the functions belonging to the operating system, especially the notifications, the task manager and the settings have been adjusted to the new design. The notifications have more functions. For example, the lock screen shows the most important messages; these are possible to be read immediately without unlocking. If there are many messages, they all fit on the screen. This is achieved by the Google trick that you can slide up messages under the most recent ones, and down over the oldest. In this way, it is possible to easily reach all messages.
Google use a similar trick in the Task Manager. Here, all open applications are displayed one above the other, as in an animated card box. You can scroll through all of the tasks in this way, without leaving the screen boundary. But it is not longer just about to display all open apps. Rather, the intention is to center the whole process better on the user. According to this, Google names the function “Recents” – thus, it is made clear that it is about the activities of the user, not about the programs. Overall, the whole thing looks well thought out, is easy to handle and is fast – you wonder why it is not used everywhere.
The settings have definitely become clearer with the new design. They look flatter than before, and by the use of large white spaces no one is distracted from the essentials.
An incoming call is indicated by a display at the top of the screen, where it can be accepted or rejected without leaving the app. It is hardly conceivable that there could be a simpler method.
Even for business customers Google has come up with something. It has implemented a data container system, so that personal and business data can be separated better. Companies can use this area as a safety zone, and install apps from a distance, or store and delete data there. For this, part of Samsung’s “Knox” was used, which prevents unauthorized access even if someone roots the device. This has advantages both for employees and for the boss: no one needs to fear that private data is seen by strangers or that important company data leaks to the outside.
Improved energy efficiency
With the new version of Android, Google has started the project Volta. It is intended to make the platform more energy efficient and to allow developers more control over the use of resources. In this project, all measures are combined which extend the possible running-time, even those that have been introduced for a different purpose and enable energy savings only as a side effect. Example is the use of ART, which enables a lesser CPU load.
Tests show that a running-time extension of two hours (depending on the device) is possible. Admittedly, there are only development versions until now. In the final version, the progress may be even higher.
New features are also installed here. You can now keep track of exactly how much energy which app has consumed. In addition, Android contains a function which switches-on energy saving measures if the system falls below a defined battery charge status. This feature was already integrated by some manufacturers in their smartphone hardware; now it is part of the operating system.
There is a whole range of Android-derivatives: the normal Android for smartphones and tablets, Android Wear for smartwatches, Android Car for cars, Android TV for TV, Android One for cheap phones and Chrome OS for notebooks, to name the most important. Similar to Apple, Google is working on an integration strategy for all these versions, so apps and messages can be used across different hardware.
This allows for example to control the TV using a smartphone or a smartwatch. Or the functions of a car are controlled via Android Car interface by apps that run on the smartphone; entries are made via the touch screen on the dashboard or using speech. Similar to Apple, a comprehensive usage of apps is possible. For example, you could edit your mails with the phone, then turn it off, and subsequently continue with the laptop at the same point.
Google now also enters the health (Google Fit) and the home market, both business with a lot of potential for sales and much need for interaction of the hardware. The group has not spent in vain a high amount for Nest, a company that offers products for the Internet of Things. In addition, one should not forget that the competitors from Apple and Samsung also expand their activities in these areas.
The new Version
Not all features presented on the I/O 2014 exist already, and the Material Design is not implemented everywhere. So there will be some changes in the next few months. The new Android will be officially introduced during fall – then also the final name will be set.
Of course, the upcoming version of Android is the best ever – at least for Google. This has never been different for operating systems, because always new features are incorporated and many things are revised. However, one has to acknowledge that the new design is clear and functional, that the speed of iOS is reached, and that the new features make sense.
As always with new versions of Android it will take time for the companies to integrate it into their devices, if at all. Anyway, Google wants to integrate more functions in the play service, which makes updates more easy. Special versions such as Android One, Android Wear, Android Car and Android TV are not intended to be adapted by the manufacturers. Therefore, a regular updating is not a problem, because it is performed by Google itself.
If you are wondering what you need to consider so that your app is ready for the next Android-version, please contact us for a consultation. We make your app fit for the update, so you can use all the features of the new operating system and will not face any unexpected behavior.