Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Android Lollipop: All You Want to Know

Announced on 25th June 2014 with its short name "Android L", the newer version of Android finally got its codename and full name on 15th October ! We've already got an early look at Android L before it rolls out to the consumers properly - Google wants to attract the developers, and this is the way to do it. Sadly, the most important thing about the next version of Android remained a secret. We didn't know what the 'L' stands for. Google abandoned its pudding and confectionary-based development naming system at 2014's Google IO developer event, revealing that the next big Android release is known simply as Android L. The Android development team didn't even say if this forthcoming update is to be considered Android 4.5 or the full 5.0 update.

And Finally, Android L is here codenamed as "Lollipop" and considered as Android 5.0 which is ready to bring a raft of new changes, with Sundar Pichai, head of Android, proclaiming it to be one of the biggest upgrades to Android yet. It's going to have a radical new design, 5000 new APIs, will be available for developer previews soon, and it's going beyond the mobile form factor. Android L will be contextually aware of its surrounding, plus voice is going to me a major input source. The experience will also be seamless, so Android L devices communicate properly, although Pichai was at pains to point out the mobile phone will always be the priority.

What's New?

1. New Material Design look

A bold, colorful, and responsive UI design for consistent, intuitive experiences across all your devices
 - Responsive, natural motion, realistic lighting and shadows, and familiar visual elements make it easier to navigate your device
 - Vivid new colors, typography, and edge-to-edge imagery help to focus your attention

The big news for Android L is the change to the way it looks - and it's going well beyond the mobile phone to the tablet, TV screen, watch and even the car.

The new Material Design is strange in that it bucks a trend at the moment - yes, it's flat, but it's heavily based on making every animation, every ripple, every shadow look real, which is something that most brands are shying away from.

There will be no mistaking the arrival of Android L on your phone or tablet if you're using an unskinned stock version of the OS, as there are stacks of new visual touches on the way.

Google calls the new changes to the Android UI its "Material Design" approach, one that takes the Google Now cards system and adds depth, shadows and more to layouts across the system, with app elements able to slide into and atop each other.

And look, new on-screen software button icons are in there too, with a triangle replacing the Back arrow, a circle for Home and a simple square for accessing the Recent Apps multitasking menu. Every animation on screen will be allowed to connect to one another - so there's no 'teleportation between apps'. The home, back and multi-tasking window buttons on Android have been refined too, and overall, this is a massive step forward for a cleaner, more intuitive-looking version of Google's mobile platform.

Google tells us that this feels more intuitive, which means that there will be shadow gradients, 3D tiles that slide over one another and most importantly: access for developers to use this for themselves on their apps.

The idea of obvious: remove the fragmented way Android looks and bring consistency to the app world not matter what device you're on.

Roboto font has been updated too, so everything from watch to TV to mobile looks the same.

2. New animations and transitions

The Material Design look is supposed to give users visual clues as to how things work. Each app element has an "elevation level" that decides how high it can float above over information panels, with on-screen ripples and cues letting you know when a press has registered.

Animation effects kick in as you tap names in the dialler, with "nested scrolling" resizing the top bars and tabs on the fly as you scroll down lists.

Android L also adds seams and real-time shadows to panes as they slide around. And this isn't just for Android either. Google wants to roll out this design ethic across all of its products, with the desktop Google Drive productivity apps set to get a Material makeover too.

3. Full lock-screen and "heads-up" notifications

New ways to control when and how you receive messages - only get interrupted when you want to be
View and respond to messages directly from your lock screen. Includes the ability to hide sensitive content for these notifications
For fewer disruptions, turn on Priority mode via your device’s volume button so only certain people and notifications get through. Or schedule recurring downtime like 10pm to 8am when only Priority notifications can get through
With Lollipop, incoming phone calls won’t interrupt what you’re watching or playing. You can choose to answer the call or just keep doing what you’re doing
Control the notifications triggered by your apps; hide sensitive content and prioritize or turn off the app’s notifications entirely
More intelligent ranking of notifications based on who they’re from and the type of communication. See all your notifications in one place by tapping the top of the screen

The notifications system is finally getting a serious visual jazz-up, with Google transforming its dull grey list into a card-based, white tile system that's fully accessible and actionable from the lock screen.

The posh new notifications animate, pop out and expand using the new 3D layers and shadows, looking vastly more impressive than they ever did in the old style KitKat system.

And there's a new miniature "heads-up" notification too, one that adds a live notification overlay to games being played in full-screen mode without interrupting the action - which you're able to swipe away and continue playing if it's someone you don't really like wanting you to do something you don't really want to do.

4. Interlocking apps

Google wants your apps to be able to talk to one another - it used the example of searching for a place, only to have it served up in Google Earth, which is where it originally was being looked at.

The idea goes much deeper than that though - Chrome browsing has an API that other apps can take advantage of, so if you click a link to book a table in the browser you'll be taken to something like OpenTable directly, rather than the mobile site.

This feature depends a lot on app developers taking advantage of the new tools, but all the onboard Google apps will be much more dependent on one another.

5. Project Volta

The big moan as far as users of every type of smartphone in the world was addressed by Google's Android team, who claim that the "Project Volta" modifications to the code may increase battery life.

When running Android L, Google suggests a user might see up to 90 minutes of extra uptime on the Nexus 5 thanks to Volta and more battery/power management tools, which is significant given that particular phone's rather dismal battery life.

Developers are also able to access a Battery Historian feature to measure consumption by apps, spotting troublesome high-drain issues.

6. Personal unlocking

A very clever idea, this. The new Personal Unlocking feature has the ability to learn where you are and what other devices you use, and even use your voice print, as a method of verifying you as the owner of the device.

Activate this and, if the phone's sure it's you using it in the place you usually use it and with the things you have attached to it attached to it, it can bypass the PIN-protected lock screen and let you straight into the phone.

The example Google gave us was of a phone recognising a user had a known Bluetooth device within range, so it deactivated the lock. This is something Samsung had created with its range of wearables and we bet that the two had a little chat about this somewhere in-between shouting about Tizen in hotel rooms.

7. Android L is Faster, better looking and more efficient
A faster, smoother and more powerful computing experience
ART, an entirely new Android runtime, improves application performance and responsiveness
Up to 4x performance improvements
Smoother UI for complex, visually rich applications
Compacting backgrounded apps and services so you can do more at once
Support for 64 bit devices, like the Nexus 9, brings desktop class CPUs to Android
Support for 64-bit SoCs using ARM, x86, and MIPS-based cores
Shipping 64-bit native apps like Chrome, Gmail, Calendar, Google Play Music, and more
Pure Java language apps run as 64-bit apps automatically

Whilst Android comes with some nifty new features that make an immediate visual impact, Google has put a lot of work in behind the scenes to ensure that Android L is the fastest yet. If you're not big on codespeak, then this is the upshot: a new way of putting the platform together when you're using the phone makes everything slicker, faster and more efficient.

If you're interested, here are the finer details: ART, an optional runtime in Android KitKat, has now been made the standard for Android L and works with ARM, x86 and MIPS platforms and runs twice as fast as the Dalvik runtime that is found on previous Android iterations.

The biggest benefit to users comes that this won't require apps to be readjusted in order to benefit, instead all apps with benefit from ART right away. ART is also more memory efficient than Dalvik meaning that apps that are running in the background will benefit from megabytes of saved data.

ART is also 64-bit compatible allowing Android L to benefit from the larger number registers, cross platform support and the increased RAM support that 64-bit architecture supports.

Android L also allows mobile devices to further close the gap not only between mobile and console-quality gaming, but also between mobile and PC graphics. Working with Nvidia, Qualcomm, ARM and Imagination Technologies Google has designed the Android Extension Pack with the sole task of closing the gap between mobile and desktop-class graphics, which will result in "more realistic environments, more realistic characters and vastly improved lighting".

8. Android L battery life

Batteries on phones running Android L are going to become more efficient with Project Volta, Google's new way of showing why and how a phone's power pack is juicing down.

It opens up the battery use to developers so they can see what's ruining the experience, which should in turn help plug the gaps in power leakage. Nothing specific to talk about yet but will help make things look more efficient.

Battery Saver mode is integrated by default too, which can lengthen your use during the day by up to 90 mins. Not extreme power saving like on Samsung or HTC phones, but still useful to have baked in, even if all and sundry already have a likely more efficient version on board.

Even without Battery Saver mode Android L could do wonders for battery life. ArsTechnica put the new OS version to the test and found that a Nexus 5 running Android L had around 36% more battery life than one on Android 4.4 KitKat.

9. Android Wear gets kicked up a Gear

We saw a lot more about Android Wear - and not only that, but we were introduced to Samsung's Gear Live, the third member of the new smartwatch game Google is trying to put together before Apple throws its hat into the ring.

Android Wear will use the same tools as on Android for phones and tablets, plus square and circular screens will be supported. Sensors will be well integrated for fitness and social interactions, and help reduce the need to check a phone screen. It's basically wearables like the Galaxy Gear 2, really.

10. Android TV now baked right in too

Android L is also going to support TV, with information overlaid across the top of the information. It's called Android TV, surprisingly, and after the failure of Google TV the brand is having another go, such was the popularity of the Chromecast.

This means you've got content (games, films, TV shows etc) straight on your big screen and has a home button to get you back to the main display whenever you want.

Search is well-integrated too (through the mobile phone... or even an Android Wear watch), with Android TV very much powered by voice. So say you search for something like 'Breaking Bad' on the phone (when connected to the Android TV) it will show you the option to watch it on Google Play or any other compatible app installed.

The demo showed that Netflix was installed, but didn't appear in the search options - perhaps it was just a dummy app for now, but certainly that would be where the info would show.

And here's the great news: Android TV has been signed up to by some big names - the likes of Sony, Philips and Sharp have whole 4K ranges based on Android TV. Asus and Razer promise to have set top boxes to achieve the same thing too... although surely Google will update Chromecast to achieve the same thing.

This could really ramp up the smart TV game.

Android TV is looking to snap up the mobile gamer too. You can take the games to the bigger screen in the house. It looks like you need a separate gamepad too. With the new Android L-based Android TV, you can even play multiplayer games... or use it like a Chromecast too.

11. Media:

Bolder graphics and improved audio, video, and camera capabilities
Lower latency audio input ensuring that music and communication applications that have strict delay requirements provide an amazing realtime experience
Multi-channel audio stream mixing means professional audio applications can now mix up to eight channels including 5.1 and 7.1 channels
USB Audio support means you can plug USB microphones, speakers, and a myriad of other USB audio devices like amplifiers and mixers into your Android device
OpenGL ES 3.1 and Android extension pack brings Android to the forefront of mobile graphics putting it on par with desktop and console class performance
A range of new professional photography features for Android Lollipop that let you
Capture full resolution frames around 30 fps
Support raw formats like YUV and Bayer RAW
Control capture settings for the sensor, lens, and flash per individual frame
Capture metadata like noise models and optical information
State of the art video technology with support for HEVC main profile to allow for UHD 4K 10-bit video playback, tunneled hardware video decoding to save power and improved HLS support for streaming

12. OK Google

Easy access to information and performing tasks
Even if your screen is off, you can say "OK Google" on devices with digital signal processing support such as Nexus 6 and Nexus 9
Talk to Google on the go to get quick answers, send a text, get directions and more !

Android 5.0 is going to be exciting, there's no doubt about that. Let wait until you get an official update or grab Nexus 6 ! !

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