Android O: Five features we would still like to see

There are a few features so useful that they ought to be integrated into stock Android. Here are our top picks.

By Rohan Naravane

In March this year, Google dropped the developer preview of Android O, the next version of the most used operating system in the world. It included some meaningful improvements like the Autofill Framework, advancements to the Notification shade, support for high-quality wireless audio, battery life and performance improvements, etc.

But as it turns out, what we’ve seen till now apparently isn’t the entire thing — according to the official blog post, “there are more features coming”, which we assume should be unveiled at this year’s Google I/O which commences May 17, 2017.

Now, to be honest, Android is probably the most functional mobile operating system out there. It’s also pretty flexible; so what isn’t possible by default can be enabled via an app or a custom ROM. But there are a few features so useful that they ought to be integrated into stock Android. Here are our top picks.

1. An Ultra Power Saving Mode

Almost every custom Android UI has an iteration of this feature. On Samsung phones it’s called ‘Ultra Power Saving Mode’, on HTC and Gionee phones it’s ‘Extreme Power Saving Mode’, and so on. What it essentially does is reduce your highly functional smartphone into a feature phone — only capable of making phone calls, sending SMSs, and using some basic apps like calculator, clock, etc. Everything that typically consumes battery life — apps, location, mobile data, cameras, background activity, etc is turned off. Heck, even that vivid high resolution display is made to show a black and white UI, to eke out whatever battery juice is left.

 Android O: Five features we would still like to see

The Standard Launcher, EZ Launcher and Super Power Saver Mode launcher (L to R).

Think about it, when your battery kicks 10 percent, would you rather shoot videos in 4K, or just conserve what’s left until you’re near a plug point? This feature would be extremely useful if it kicked in automatically after a certain threshold battery percentage. So when you go to bed with a near-empty battery, the chances of it surviving the night are higher. Who knows, maybe you don’t miss an important phone call because of it.

2. Centralised Media Controls

This feature has been unique to iPhones since iOS 7 with the addition of Control Center; as swiping up from any part of the user interface gave access to consistently placed media controls like the Play, Pause, Forward and Next buttons as well as volume control. You could even scrub to a particular point in the track. These media controls are applicable to any application that’s playing media on the iPhone — you could be listening to a song on Apple Music, Saavn or a podcast on Overcast, PocketCast, etc. The Control Center allows you to control what’s currently playing, or resume listening to whatever last thing you were listening to with one tap.

iOS 10 control panel

Unfortunately, there are no such centralised media playback controls on Android yet. Each app has its own media controls via a persistent notification. Sometimes the notification disappears (this is super annoying when you’re Chromecasting a video to the big screen), and if you quit the app, there’s no way to quickly resume the last thing you were listening to without reopening the app.

3. Fingerprint-Based User Auto-switching

Maybe a lot of people don’t know this, but since 2014 Android has supported multiple user accounts, like how Windows, Mac or Linux do on the desktop. When you shift from one account to another, it feels like a completely new device; none of your data — like WhatsApp conversations, photos, etc — will be seen. Now, there’s a reason why many people may not have discovered this, as phone makers like Samsung chose to ignore this feature and rather offer their own implementations.

One Android phone maker, Coolpad, decided to take multi-user mode to its next logical step — by letting users bind their own fingerprint to a particular account. Imagine this scenario: if you place your own finger on the fingerprint scanner, your user account will open. Assuming you’ve configured another person’s fingerprint, now when that person tries to unlock the phone, it’ll open up the user profile assigned to him or her. Now that’s magical, right?

I cannot emphasise how easy this will make handing over your smartphone containing all your precious data to another person in the house, like a child maybe.

4. One-handed mode

This is something that Samsung, Xiaomi and many other manufacturers have been shipping in their Android phones for a while, and there’s no reason why stock Android users shouldn’t be deprived of this feature. After all, since the past couple of years, Google phones haven’t gotten any smaller, with the gigantic Nexus 6, or the pretty big Nexus 6P, or the reasonably big Pixel XL. To make matters worse, displays on this year’s flagships like the Galaxy S8 or the LG G6 have gotten even taller thanks to that 18:9 screen aspect ratio, making it even harder to use the phone with one hand.

One-handed mode basically shrinks the entire interface towards the bottom of the screen, making it easier to operate single-handedly. This is great especially when you’re lying down in bed (probably you’re doing that right now), trying hard to interact with the screen while avoiding accidentally hitting something else.

One-handed mode in Android phones is also better than ‘Reachability’ on the iPhone, that lowers the interface to half of the screen length after a gentle double-tap on the home button. One-handed mode is better than Reachability because the interface on the latter expands right after you interact with anything, so you have to keep double-tapping the home button over and over to use an iPhone single-handedly for a long period of time.

 5. A Precise List of What’s Eating Your Battery

Last but certainly not the least, whenever I’m looking at what’s eating my phone battery, I’m usually puzzled. That’s because most of the times I see ‘Google Play Services’ consuming the most power. This doesn’t paint a clear picture as to what apps are really responsible for the battery depletion.

This happens because Google Play Services is responsible for multiple functions — from helping Google apps to do their job to providing location data to 3rd party apps. Because of this, there’s no telling what actually is consuming your battery.

I sincerely hope Google finds a way to show a more detailed report of the app or service that’s causing the battery drain, so users have a better understanding and can take corrective action if necessary.

In conclusion, there’s no telling if any of these will make it to Android O. Only way is to wait for May 17, 2017. So, what features would you like to see in the next versions of Android? Sound off in the comments below.

The author has been writing about technology since 2007. He’s often conflicted between what Apple and Google have to offer. You can find him rambling about tech on @r0han.

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