Here's what's new in Android M, coming later this year

Posted May 29, 2015 by James Walker
As expected, Google revealed a new version of its Android mobile operating system at its IO developers conference yesterday. A very early preview, some of Android M's features include a new app launcher, built-in fingerprint support and more battery life.
Android M
Android M
One of the most notable changes to the casual user will be the all-new app drawer. Gone is the horizontally-scrolling pages of cards from Lollipop as a new vertical list seems to be the future of Android.
Google Launcher
The drawer retains the bright white background of Lollipop. There is a search bar at the top and the letters of the alphabet along the left edge, showing where you are in the list. The drawer currently shows rows of four icons across, scrolling vertically in a way reminiscent of now ancient Android versions.
Another key aspect of the launcher has also been changed. In Android KitKat and Lollipop, swiping to the left on the homescreen takes you directly into Google Now. This behaviour is gone in "M," where swiping left reveals another blank homescreen for your apps and widgets, again like how Android behaved in years gone by. Google Now is activated by a long press on the homescreen.
Google Now
Now itself has seen a lot of attention. It has become much more deeply integrated into the operating system with a new feature called "Now on Tap". Accessible at any point by long-pressing the home button, Now on Tap displays you information cards on whatever is your screen when you launch it.
Google Now on Tap
Google Now on Tap
The feature is aware of context and aims to answer your questions about whatever you're reading - without you having to ask it to. It is so new that it isn't even available in the developer's preview of Android M that is available for download now but Engadget reports on how Google did show it off on stage.
One demonstration involved looking up a record by blues artist Miles Davis on eBay. Holding the home button, Now on Tap appeared and displayed Miles Davis' biography and some links to listen to his music on Spotify, without any user searching. Now on Tap is aware of the context of what is on the screen and uses this to display relevant content.
Payments & Security
Google has reworked its payment system yet again. Now called Android Pay, you can complete transactions from your phone by unlocking it and simply tapping it against any NFC payment terminal.
The process of actually unlocking the phone will also become much simpler. Android M supports fingerprint sensors at the API level which should encourage many more manufacturers to incorporate the technology into their phones.
Although some manufacturers already include fingerprint sensors in their phones, they currently have to make their own software to power it. With Android M, the technology is already there so it is much easier for manufacturers to implement.
Power & Battery Saving
We have heard this claim many times before but once again Google is promising to put an end to the traditional battery life issues of Android phones and tablets. A new smart power-saving mode called "Doze" will automatically drop the device into a low-power state whenever possible while still being capable of receiving notifications.
If the operating system's new enhanced sensors detect that a running app isn't in use, it will simply kill it to use less power. Google says that the new power-saving modes can nearly double the battery life of its Android Lollipop HTC-built Nexus 9 tablet although it remains to be seen whether users will also experience this.
New app permissions alerts in Android M
New app permissions alerts in Android M
The best of the rest
Security aficionados will be pleased to learn that Google is reworking app permissions for Android M. Users can now choose whether to allow an app to access a particular feature or hardware device when it requires them and toggle switches allow users to customise what each individual app has access to.
This is a huge improvement over the current method of the Play Store presenting a huge list at install and the user having a simple choice of "accept" or "deny," with deny preventing the app from installing and accept granting access to everything that the app requests without any selection.
Android M is also bringing improved support for offline app data. On a quest to reduce data usage, apps including YouTube and Google Maps will be updated so that you can use content while offline. For people buying a new Android phone, it is increasingly likely that they will come with USB Type-C ports which the platform now officially supports.
Overall, Android M looks set to be a great release of Android for every kind of user. Improved battery life, more information, better privacy and easier payments, Android M is finally putting an end to some of the biggest issues with Android Lollipop.
The developer's preview is available for download now to Nexus 5, Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 devices but do remember that this is a very early build that will contain major bugs and unfinished areas. Additionally, the new "Now on Tap" feature is not yet available for use. Google will be updating the build and changing things several times before the eventual release, most likely in the third quarter of this year.