The release of Android's next operating system is getting ever closer and with each iteration released to developers we're getting a clearer picture of how it's going to take shape.
The fourth, and most likely final, version of Android O has been released and doesn't see many changes. In the release to devs, Google shores up some of the changes it's making and stabilises it's APIs.
With very few changes being made from the third to fourth release of O, it's highly likely that Google will be releasing the first public version in the near future. While we're waiting for this to drop, here's all the things you should be aware of in the OS.
What is Android O?
The software will be the next version of the Android operating system that runs on both tablets and phones. O follows Android Nougat, which was released in 2016.
Why's it called O?
Android has gotten into the convention of naming its OS' in alphabetical order, and mostly after desserts. There's been Jelly Bean, Kit-Kat, Lollipop, Marshmallow and Nougat. When Android O is made public there'll also be a new name. However, this time around Android has teased an octopus within its developer previews, hinting a change in naming could be afoot.
When will it be released?
The first version of O was released to developers in March. Since then, there's been three following versions that have improved upon the first version. Based on the launch of Nougat, which was first rolled out in August 2016, we're expecting O to be released to the public sometime towards the end of this month.
What devices will it work on?
At the moment, in the developer previews, there's only a limited number of Android phones and tablets that O will work on. These are: Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Pixel C, Pixel, and Pixel XL. However, when the public version is released this will be expanded over time.
Android O features
“Building on the work we began in Nougat, Android O puts a big priority on improving a user's battery life and the device's interactive performance,” Android says on its developer blog.
To try to improve how long a phone stays alive, Android O will automatically limit what an app can do when it is open in the background. This will stop an application from consistently using data when it is not the main app that is being used. Google says limits will focus on apps broadcasting in the background, services, and location updates.
The blog post says: “These changes will make it easier to create apps that have minimal impact on a user's device and battery”.
Push notifications come in many forms: Facebook messages, emails, FitBit reminders are just some of them. It’s possible to drown in alerts that may not be wanted at that time or are irrelevant. Android O is trying to change this with ‘notification channels’.
The new channels will allow developers to create a 'unified system' to let phone users manage the notifications they see. For the operating system, it will be possible to set notification priorities and importance levels through an entire channel.
“For example, you might setup separate notification channels for each conversation group created by a user in a messaging app,” Android says of the feature. It will also be possible for a phone to use the same interface to manage notification settings.
Like Chrome and other major browsers, it will now be possible for Android devices to autofill content into forms. Through new autofill APIs for developers, those using phones will be able to “select an autofill app, similar to the way they select a keyboard app”.
When multitasking on a device or tablet the new Android O will make it possible to view videos in a Picture in Picture (PiP) mode. This means you won’t have to stop watching Netflix to send an important email.
Audio improvements and connections
Android O is introducing new Bluetooth audio codecs to enable connecting and streaming to wireless audio devices at a higher quality. To improve the Bluetooth connectivity, Android says Sony helped it with more than 30 feature enhancements. The new operating system is also adding Wi-Fi Aware, to allow hardware with the software to connect to other devices without the need for connectivity between them through a Wi-Fi access point.
Across the Android ecosystem, there are a variety of device manufacturers. Google produces its own phones but those from LG, Sony, HTC and many more run on versions of the Android operating system.
Every Android device is a little different and the firm is changing how an app’s icon can display on different devices. “Android O introduces adaptive launcher icons, which can display a variety of shapes across different device models,” it says in a blog post. This means on a phone, an app can have a circular icon on the home screen and on another phone it may be a square.
In other Google news, the tech giant is expanding its Posts on Google feature to more organisations. The trial, which ran during the 2016 US presidential election allowed candidates to post Twitter-like updates directly to search results. This trial is being expanded to Brazil.
Google is said to be testing a Copyless Paste feature in its Chrome Android app that uses machine learning to predict what the user will want to paste, cutting the process down to just one tap. For example, if the user looked at a restaurant website then switched to the Maps app, the keyboard would offer the restaurant name as a suggestion. Google has not confirmed whether the feature will definitely arrive with Android O.