Google clearly got the bragging rights when it rolled out the first Developer Preview for Android P at Google’s I/O 2018 developer conference. So much so that Apple’s WWDC felt like iOS was still playing catch up to Android after the announcement. Things only get worse when you consider how little emphasis was given to Siri, when you had that mind-blowing (and controversial) restaurant call demo placed by Google Assistant (with some help from Duplex) still on your mind.
So yes, Google does seem like it has taken quite the lead with Android P. While it has yet to christen the new software with the name of a new sweet dish, the search giant has now rolled out the second version of its Android P Developer Preview, and it comes with a few visual changes.
While the visual changes are minor (some coloured icons, new emoji, quick reply, etc.) it’s the introduction of new and promised API’s that will make for a richer overall experience. These API’s are now finally available to developers and they will make for a richer user experience once Android P and the updated app by those developers are rolled out.
Firstly, what is an API? It’s simply a software bridge that allows two or more applications to talk to one another. This allows developers to bridge their apps to Google’s Android and help take advantage of the hardware available in Android smartphones to deliver a richer software experience.
So let’s begin with what’s new:
1. Machine Learning
While artificial intelligence and machine learning are the most frequently used phrases at any smartphone launch these days, their usage is a bit limited and restricted to their own native apps or some customer-skinned software at best. But when Google makes these changes in the base version of Android, they have a far greater impact.
A. Power management
In the Android P developer Preview 2 (henceforth referred to as DP2) Google has introduced plenty more machine learning smarts. The blog post reveals that its partnership with DeepMind let Google engineers create an Adaptive Battery feature, which uses machine learning to prioritize resources to the apps that you use the most battery.
With Android P DP2, developers will now see new power-management features apart from Doze, like App Standby Buckets, Background restrictions and improvements to the Battery Saver feature.
App Standby Buckets let the system limit an app's access to a device’s available resources (CPU or battery) depending on how you use your smartphone.
Background restrictions on the other hand will prompt the user to restrict an app’s access to battery and CPU if it is found to have a negative effect on the system.
Although an existing feature, when turned on in Android P, restrictions will be placed on all apps with no prioritization to any app.
B. App Actions
While App Actions help developers increase the reach and user engagement of their app, it also helps users get to what they need faster at a time when they need it the most.
Once activated by developers, App Actions will see your favourite apps appear in a multitude of places like the Google Search app, Google Assistant and even in the Play Store, as shown below.
App Actions will even appear when you copy paste text, where machine learning will be used to determine which app relates to the text that has been highlighted, letting you jump or search directly using that app with better results.
Slices are new with Android P and will basically provide users with richer content that is both dynamic and interactive. Once app developers start taking advantage of this, users will begin to see interactive content appearing in both the Google Search app and Google Assistant with live updates, images, video and more, as opposed to just plain text Google search results.
The data for Slices comes from third-party apps and basically will drive the user to click and open that result they were looking for right within the respective app instead of searching for it aimlessly without the right app or service in mind.
D. Adaptive Brightness
Yes, as announced at Google I/O 2018, machine learning will now also be used to control Adaptive Brightness settings on your Android smartphone. While this will not only improve the image quality of content viewed on your display, it will also improve the experience of watching it for sure.
Google’s collaboration with DeepMind, will provide a more customised display brightness setting that learns from your smartphone usage and will then adjust the brightness based on your surroundings automatically.
2. The notch
It’s a touchy topic for many and while some love the idea of a bigger display with something in their way, others simply hate it and cover it up with a software-enabled notch-hiding features provided by smartphone manufacturers.
So the news about Google embracing the display notch may not necessarily be good news to all, but it should be and here’s why.
In DP2, Google has added new APIs that will let manufacturers and developers better adapt the notch to their software interfaces. The new APIs now let third-party app developers deliver the edge-to-edge viewing experience on the best displays with the notch.
By adding cutout support, Android P will now manage the height of the status bar to properly separate your content from the notch. Currently, only a few Android smartphone manufacturers have mastered this (OnePlus included) using their own software customisations. With others, you will see the notch ending above the status bar, which means you can expect a lot of trouble when it comes to fullscreen video.
There's a reason why Google is all out to add new smartphones (other than its own Pixel devices) this year, and the reason for the same is display cutouts. They're popular, and every other smartphone manufacturer is making them without the right kind of support. Some have got it right, while others have messed it up entirely.
And Google (being Google) is usually the last to adapt to hardware trends. In short, Google does not have any smartphones with a display notch, which is why it has extended support to devices like the OnePlus 6, which have them letting developers test their Android P apps with them until a Pixel with a notch arrives. Sadly, true notch support for most users will arrive only after the next version of Android is announced.
3. Under display fingerprint readers
While the only people who need to worry about this feature right now are owners of the Vivo X21 UD (X21 in India), Google is coming to the rescue. In my upcoming review of the Vivo X21, I have explained how much of a problem it is for Android smartphone manufacturers to embrace an under display fingerprint reader without support from Google.
With area to place your fingerprint reader under the display, it’s easy to point out the security issue, because there is no placeholder for it yet. The fingerprint icon simply appears over the third-party app and you place your finger on it for authentication. Once authenticated, your fingerprint taps on the next thing below that area which could be anything from a funds transfer button to a pay button, making it a risky affair.
With Google’s Biometric API, the obvious solution throws up a small card that will cover the screen around the fingerprint sensor on the display, covering half of the app. In this way, users won’t end up pressing buttons on the app below the authentication area, making it easier to use.
This could be one of the reasons why some manufacturers have refused to utilize an in display fingerprint reader. Well, now that Google officially supports it, it’s high-time we start seeing more of this technology appear on smartphones this year. The Biometric API also supports Face and Iris authentication which should make Android’s love for biometric forms of authentication a more secure experience.
4. Visual Changes
The Android P DP 2, brings 157 new emojis with several bringing a more diverse variety of emoji to Android users than ever before. The bacon strips now appear to be well done, colours are more defined and food dishes have clear vegetarian and non-vegetarian segregation, so your salad emoji is egg-free.
The recents menu is now a lot smoother, and a (quick) swipe up from within an app to the app drawer now works better, reducing the need for two short swipes as in the DP 1.
Another noticeable change is the recents menu includes a ‘clear all’ button to clean up apps that are hogging up your smartphone’s RAM and tying up resources.